Since last Sunday a rare-for-North America Western Reef Heron has been alternately frustrating and rewarding birders from the Empire State and beyond as it appears and disappears from an unassuming stretch of waterfront property in the borough of Brooklyn, New York City. It was back again today and I was in the neighboring borough of Queens so of course I went off on the hunt.

Actually, I would never have thought to go after the bird, as it had last been seen in Brooklyn on Wednesday, if not for Jory, may he see all 10,000 Birds, who was kind enough to call me just after 7 AM to give me the heads up that it had just been resighted. He’s just lucky Daisy and I were already awake or she might have hunted him down and done him unspeakable harm for calling so early on a Sunday.

But death threats aside, I was en route to Brooklyn within half an hour of getting the news and the ride down the BQE and across the Belt Parkway might never be made so quickly again. I parked behind the Home Depot where I saw another birder unlimbering his spotting scope, walked through a gate and fifteen yards down a path and was rewarded with this stunning view:

What?  You can't see it?

it’s there in the lower right

Was I ever kicking myself for leaving my big lens in Albany! But here is a much more cropped shot:

Now you see it, right?

note the golden slippers, just like a Snowy Egret’s

The bird was very active, flying from perch to perch, harassing a Double-crested Cormorant, and preening. It was fun and exciting to watch: it was also fun to see the delighted expressions on other birders’ faces as they showed up and got their first looks.

picking a new perch

moving to a new spot

After about twenty-five minutes of hanging around close to shore the heron took off and looked like it might be heading out to who-knows-where:


But it turned out that it was just moving around a bend into the cove and it settled on another pile of decrepit logs, possibly the remains of a pier or barge. That was enough for me: I headed back upstate and was glad to get a call from Jory to let me know he had arrived in Brooklyn to see the Western Reef Heron before it pulled its disappearing act again…and he also got out to Jones Beach to see the Yellow-headed Blackbird that is still present so I think we’re even!

Now the big questions out there are is the Brooklyn bird the same as the one that was in Maine and New Hampshire last year? If so, where did it winter? And what’s the deal with the taxonomy of this species?

And am I ever glad that I got to see this bird. It just wouldn’t be right for 10,000 Birds, with two New York-based birders, to miss this one after a New Jerseyan got it.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.