{a weekend with a bird, bees and butterfly buffet}

This week I was reminded that it’s possible to create a friendly and hospitable habitat for all sorts of visitors–the invited and the party crashers.

Last year, at just this time, Karina and I sat in our back yard and witnessed a Black-Crowned Night-Heron swooping into our backyard pond. 



This week he showed up again, presumably on a fishing expedition. I had nothing to feed him, so off he went!

I have thought about restocking the pond  many times, but  I’m ambivalent. The poor fish!


I probably should have considered the possibility that he might return.

I recently read that wild Black-Crowned Night-Herons have been invading the Smithsonian National Zoo each summer for over 100 years. It’s the only known rookery for black-crowned night-herons in the region, and each spring the birds stop by to gobble up the zoo’s fish.


But where do the migratory herons go in the autumn?

Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center tells how they started putting transmitters on the herons in an effort to monitor the birds’ habits. Over the past three years they’ve tracked birds as far south as the Florida Everglades, and it’s suspected they return to the Zoo because it sits on a high point, offering the birds a good view from which to forage.


My oak tree offers a high point above the pond. If I offer him the incentive of a meal will he be back?

I recently learned the black-crowned night-heron was almost extinct at the turn of the 20th century. The long feather on its head, known as a filoplume, adorned women’s hats during the Edwardian Era and Jazz Age–makes me cringe to think of it!

They may now be plentiful in number overall, but they’re not typical inhabitants in suburban Southern California, and perhaps I have a responsibility to add to its survivability. Maybe just a few fish?

I do think that every little bit of effort to support urban wildlife potential increases my own well-being.

This weekend my focus is increasing my bee and butterfly garden potential. The bees are all over the lavender and rosemary. And I’ve had a Monarch butterfly spending a lot of time close by! This afternoon I found her on one of the new milkweed plants, but by the time I grabbed the camera she was gone.

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Despite the presence of pests and watering issues (you can see the pests in the slideshow photos) I’m  hopeful that seeing the Monarch land on the milkweed today promises eggs.  I am hoping to witness the complete lifecycle.

Butterfly chasing! The perfect level of activity after a busy week. What are your plans for a weekend “exhale?”

Whatever you do, I hope you breathe a little lighter–maybe just sit and watch for butterflies!

NWF sign


38 thoughts on “{a weekend with a bird, bees and butterfly buffet}

  1. You managed to get some great poses from the heron. Such fantastic and brilliant colors, too. Being named after a bird (or Batman’s sidekick?!) Means I gotta love birds 🙂

    1. You’re right, Robin. I think of birds with your name, and forget about Batman’s sidekick, but I’ll bet others make that connection from time to time! LOL! I do love birds of all kinds, and this heron has been such a surprise. We’ve had our pond for a decade, and last year’s visit was the first time we’d ever had him stop by! I’m hoping he gives us another try…I think I’m ready to buy a couple of fish. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  2. The story of the herons was interesting! And it will be interesting to see what the drought may do. Do they eat salt water fish, too? I don’t know specifically of your locale but parrots have proliferated here. It will also be interesting to see what happens to them. And fantastic photography once again!!

    1. Good question about salt water fish, Koji. I don’t know that answer. I don’t live too far from the Huntington Library and the Los Angeles County Arboretum and I know they both have very large ponds with koi and other large fish. I think we get some of the migrating birds that keep an eye on those constant food sources. The parrots are still nesting in the trees next door. I’m not quite as happy with them as I was a month ago. They are really so noisy! LOL! My mother-in-law used to tell us about an aviary fire in Arcadia/Pasadena in the 1940’s and all the parrots that escaped. She felt these flocks were part of that original “release” and it’s as good a story as any else I’ve heard! They do seem to be all over SoCal!

  3. “I do think that every little bit of effort to support urban wildlife potential increases my own well-being.” I could not agree more, Debra – and look at your sign. 🙂

    It is amazing how quickly the monarch found your milkweed. That is a good sign and I hope you see those tiny eggs soon. I keep checking my milkweed here, which is the common kind, and multiplying. From Canada to southern California, there are mindful efforts to help the monarchs. A very good thing. Enjoy your butterfly chasing this weekend. I agree – a perfect way to slow down and breath lighter.

    That shot of the black crowned night heron is so atmospheric. I love how he is camouflaged with the oak. I stopped by the Graue Mill last week and just stood for a bit on the outcropping where we saw our night heron last year, and suddenly, there he was, swooping into the tree overhead. I love that we both share this species.

    1. It delights me, as well, Penny, that we have both seen this wonderful bird! I am still so fascinated that he found us. I suspect that food sources are growing scarce. There are still a lot of backyard ponds and nurseries with koi and other goldfish, but more and more people are investing in netting and grates that cover and protect their fish investment. I think I need to go ahead and stock our modest little pond and then just let nature take her course. I didn’t see any more monarchs this weekend, but a butterfly I’ve never seen before! If I find eggs I’ll be absolutely jubilant. I hope you have a great week, my friend. 🙂

  4. We had a pond in our yard with fish. It was attacked by raccoons – fish gone, plants dug up, etc. That was the first year of the drought, so we decided to replace the pond with a nice planting bed. We now have a lot of bees and butterflies visiting.

    1. Oh my yes! We, too, have had some really nasty encounters with raccoons in the pond. They can really do damage. I am not ready to give up the pond, but I have thought about the future and wondered long-term what we might need to do. Your planting bed sounds lovely! And a much better investment under drought conditions!

    1. In some ways I’m happier with the heron taking the fish than the raccoons. The raccoons thrash around and make such a mess! I know you’ve experienced that. I do feel that I need the fish. I felt so sorry that the poor bird flew away disappointed. 😦

  5. The pictures are brilliant Debra. And of course I knew nothing of the herons until I read your words. Other than they existed, and were birds…. So there is a cycle of life. Personally I would feel guilty about putting out fish knowing the birds would return and eat them. But what if the birds don’t have their fish to eat? What happens? If part of the fish’s existence is to be part of this food chain….. Oh the dilemma!

    1. I’m so glad you have understood my dilemma, Colleen. LOL! I am really unsure about the fish, but the birds do have to eat! I will put the fish in the pond with the lilies and that at least gives them a fighting chance. 🙂

  6. I remember when that guy flew in last year! Such a stunning looking bird. I hope you got some butterfly eggs! Wouldn’t that be fun?! Sounds like a great way to exhale!

    1. No eggs yet, Kristy, but I will keep hoping! I think we’ve decided to get the goldfish after all, and then I hope Mr. Heron will spend some more time in my yard. He’s fascinating. 🙂 I hope your family is enjoying your summer (almost summer!) 🙂

  7. I never heard of a black-crowned night-heron before, I do like his colouring. Fluttering butterflies are wonderful to watch and so calming when they choose to land on my arm.

    1. I think we decided we will get the fish, although the heron is typically the least of my problems. The raccoons get in there and thrash all my lilies…nonetheless, I’m going to try one more time! 🙂

  8. I love the will-o-the-wispness of butterflies! 🙂 And he’s a handsome looking bird too. A friend puts netting over her koi pond to keep out big bad Mr. Heron but he still manages sometimes.

  9. I also want to increase the number of bees and butterflies I have on my property. We don’t have a problem with herons but we have issues with kookaburras. In our last property we had a large pond and I had to put a cover over it or all the fish would have been swooped on by opportunistic kookaburras. And thanks for asking about Arabella; she is still on her crutches but only for one more week then she will start therapy and begin to move the leg again. She is managing to get to uni so she hasn’t become behind in her studies which is really good. But I can’t believe she’s been on crutches since Feb 22! xx

  10. The heron is certainly a colorful bird but I can understand why you don’t want to restock your pond. I normally do not let my herbs go to bloom but this year I let my chives, sage and thyme bloom and my herb box has been the host to lots of bees and butterflies.

  11. What a good hearted post. I understand your ambivalence about the fish.. I love how you find joy in the small critters of our big world and take the time to observe and care about them.

  12. How wonderful Debra that you encourage and often host winged-friends into your garden…it must be a lovely place. I hope you did indeed breathelighter in your very own wildlife habitat!

  13. You’ve got a catch 22 haven’t you Debra… Provide free goldfish for a Heron that is a species that is endangered whilst accepting that you’re offering up those fish for death. An idea that may help you… How about checking out your pet suppliers for native fish (probably carp of one sort or another) that are better camoflaged than goldfish and suitable plants to give them cover. Make the Heron work for his dinner! Then your concsience can rest asured that you’ve done your best 🙂

    1. I think that’s a great suggestion, Martin. I do have good-sized lily pads that give the fish some camouflage, but the raccoons get in the water and thrash them from time to time. I hadn’t considered another color fish. Bright orange is quite a beacon. 🙂 I also didn’t know anything about heron being an endangered species of bird, but even considering that makes me want to at least do my part. Thank you for the good suggestion!

  14. Pingback: The answer, my friends . . . | Lifeonthecutoff's Blog

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