There are several year-round resident birds within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. But some of those “common” birds are much harder to find than others. No matter when you visit, I can guarantee you are going to see several dozen Eastern Phoebes. Also year round, but more often heard than seen, is the Gray Catbird. Red-shouldered Hawks and Pileated Woodpeckers always seem to be screaming from the tall cypresses any time of the year. And there is typically an opportunity to see several of the larger wading birds in the Okefenokee.
One of the more elusive Okefenokee year-round birds is the Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax. Although I had photographed them in other locations, it wasn’t until March 2019 that I spotted my first within the refuge boundaries. Just like the name might imply, I found my first Black-crowned Night Heron at night along the Suwannee River Sill and a photo wasn’t possible. I got another opportunity to photograph one at dusk while camping at the Okefenokee Round Top shelter.
Black-crowned Night Herons are described as stockier and more compact than the other herons and egrets. They don’t extend their necks too often and sit more “hunchbacked”. They also have shorter and thicker bills than the other long-legged waders of the swamp. Adults are easy to discern from their cousins, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, because of the different color caps. But some skill and familiarity is needed to distinguish the juveniles of the two species.
My October 2022 Okefenokee paddling trip was my lucky break for a Black-crowned Night Heron photograph. As I turned my canoe off the Suwannee River Sill to head up-current along the Suwannee River (brown trail), a juvenile sat perfectly posed out in the open fishing from an old, wooden pylon. And not too much further up the canoe trail, two adults flushed from the scrub that lined the channel. One stopped long enough for a good photograph as well.