Have you been to Ottawa NWR this week? For several days, the marsh has been literally covered in wading birds! There have been dozens of Great Egrets with Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons and even a couple of cattle egrets mixed in along the road near the Trail head parking lot. The water in the marshes here is the perfect depth to catch fish, frogs, reptiles, and invertebrates.
Great Egrets are quite unique. They were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century for their feathers, sparking some of the earliest bird conservation efforts and organizations such as the National Audubon Society. The birds have made a resounding come back and are amusing to watch as they stalk their next meal. Right now, a patch near their bill is a beautiful neon green for breeding season, and creates a striking contrast against the once sought after white plumes.
Did you know that egrets and herons are colony nesters? The largest Great Blue Heron and Great Egret rookery (nesting colony) in the US Great Lakes is on West Sister Island NWR, part of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The water right around the island is too deep for wading birds like these to hunt for fish, so they fly back to shoreline beaches and inland marshes to feed. Completing an 18 mile round trip, they fly back to West Sister Island to regurgitate their catch to feed their chicks. Those are some dedicated parents!
West Sister Island is a designated wilderness area and wildlife refuge, meaning it is only open to permitted researchers. Later this summer, you can get a great look at the island from the Jet Express on our West Sister Island Sunset Cruise with special guest Teddy Roosevelt. This will surely be a trip to remember!