I needed to see the feet–yellow or black? The roosting birds were not showing even a toe when Dave spotted them out the train window shortly after we pulled away from the station at the Newark Liberty International Airport. It was dusk and the white birds appeared to have settled in the trees next to the marshy wetland for the night, legs and beaks snugly tucked into their feathers.
At home I have bird identification guides stashed for easy reference: National Geographic next to the breakfast table, Sibley at my desk, and Peterson in the car. However, I didn’t have any of them with me on the train. Luckily, as with most things in modern life, there’s a smart phone application (app) for that.
Within moments I had Audubon available at my fingertips, not only photos and range maps, but also recordings of bird calls with a warning not to play them in the field (confusing not only to other birdwatchers, but also to the birds). Once I had the app it didn’t take me long to decide that what I had seen were egrets, but were they snowy egrets or great egrets? Based on their size, which I misjudged, I thought they were snowy egrets (Egretta thula).
Wanting to be more certain I sent an email to Marie Winn who wrote Redtails in Love and has a blog about birding in Central Park. She was kind enough to immediately reply to my question. She, too, had seen these birds on train trips in the area and thought they were probably great egrets (Ardea alba). But she said it’s hard to know for sure without getting a look at their feet (snowy feet are yellow and greats are black) or beaks (snowy bills are mostly black and greats are yellow). I trust that Marie’s guess is better than mine.
The rest of my trip was a bust as far as birdwatching: two robins on a lawn in New Jersey, a few sparrows flitting around on the High Line, and a row of pigeons on the arm of a light post next to Central Park, which made me certain that Pale Male was not in the vicinity.