The Great Blue Heron is abundant, widespread, and well-known throughout its range in Texas. It is highly adaptable, both in habitat requirements and diet. From about 1860 until 1907, its breeding plumes as well as those of Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) and Great Egrets (E. alba) were in demand in the millinery trade where they were used to adorn women’s hats. There are reports of Great Blue Heron plume collecting on the Texas coast in Flour Bluff (Nueces County) and Refugio County (Casto 1983). However, their populations were not decimated as were those of the egrets.
Great Blue Herons nest singularly or insingle species or multi-speciescolonies throughout most of Texas. The largest colonies are in the forested east inland region and on coastal islands where they nest with other species of colonial waterbirds. Breeding has been recorded in all regions of Texas; but, until 1998, there was only one record from the Trans-Pecos region — at El Paso in El Paso County (Oberholser 1974). In 1998, a pair nested at McNary Reservoir in Hudspeth County (Lasley et al. 1998). Based upon Texas colonial waterbird censuses (1973-1990), most of the breeding population is coastal (49-91%).
Great Blue Herons nest in single pairs or in single-species or multi-species colonies. They tend to nest in relatively undisturbed sites where they are buffered from disturbance, e.g., in areas of low road density and where they are surrounded by large areas of forest (Gibbs and Kinkel 1997) as well as isolated islands. Typical nesting habitats include lowland swamps, upland hardwood forests, islands, forest-bordered oxbows, ponds, reservoirs, and riparian woodlands, including conifers (Butler 1992). However, nest sites are highly variable: trees, shrubs, duck blinds, channel markers, artificial nest platforms, on the ground on coastal islands; and, in west Texas, dead trees in cattle ponds and on cliff sites. Nests are usually in trees up to 30 m (100 ft) or higher above ground. Where trees are not available, they will nest on the ground, usually on predator-free islands (Butler 1992).
Herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, with 64 recognised species, some of which are referred to as egrets or bitterns rather than herons. Members of the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus are referred to as bitterns, and, together with the zigzag heron, or zigzag bittern, in the monotypic genus Zebrilus, form a monophyletic group within the Ardeidae. Egrets are not a biologically distinct group from the herons, and tend to be named differently because they are mainly white or have decorative plumes in breeding plumage. Herons, by evolutionary adaptation, have long beaks.
Herons are medium- to large-sized birds with long legs and necks. They exhibit very little sexual dimorphism in size. The smallest species is usually considered the dwarf bittern, which measures 9.8–11.8 inches in length, although all the species in the genus Ixobrychus are small and many broadly overlap in size. The largest species of heron is the goliath heron, which stands up to 60 inches tall. The necks are able to kink in an S-shape, due to the modified shape of the cervical vertebrae, of which they have 20–21. The neck is able to retract and extend, and is retracted during flight, unlike most other long-necked birds. The neck is longer in the day herons than the night herons and bitterns. The legs are long and strong and in almost every species are unfeathered from the lower part of the tibia (the exception is the zigzag heron). In flight, the legs and feet are held backward. The feet of herons have long, thin toes, with three forward-pointing ones and one pointing backward.
Herons and bitterns are carnivorous. The members of this family are mostly associated with wetlands and water, and feed on a variety of live aquatic prey. Their diet includes a wide variety of aquatic animals, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic insects. Individual species may be generalists or specialise in certain prey types, such as the yellow-crowned night heron, which specialises in crustaceans, particularly crabs. Many species also opportunistically take larger prey, including birds and bird eggs, rodents, and more rarely carrion. Even more rarely, herons eating acorns, peas, and grains have been reported, but most vegetable matter consumed is accidental.
Shakett Creek Island is one of Nokomis’ pristine communities positioned on a peninsula along Shakett Creek. This small, deed restricted community has all utilities underground, including central water and sewer, paved street and gated security.
Dona Bay, in Nokomis, is downstream of Shakett Creek, Fox Creek, Salt Creek, and Cowpen Slough. The watershed was dramatically altered by the construction of drainage canals in Cowpen Slough in the 1960s. Resultant increases in freshwater changed the estuarine ecosystem and has even been known to prevent tides from entering the Venice Inlet during summer rainy season. This tiny bay is protected as an Outstanding Florida Water and is part of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program study area. There is a designated area for water sports activities in Dona Bay.
The area provides some of the most diverse and abundant recreational environments and facilities in the U.S.
The naming of Shakett Creek dates back to the arrival of Jesse Knight’s family to Nokomis in the late 1860s. They traveled overland from northeast of Tampa with covered wagons, buggies and mounted horses. When the group reached a sizable creek at the head of Dona Bay, the mules pulling the lead buggy refused to enter the water. To encourage them to move, one of Knight’s sons shook a dried deer hide. The resulting cracking sound so startled the animals, they plunged into the creek, upsetting several vehicles. The resulting name, “Shake-it” Creek, has survived with only a spelling change.
Estuary, “the cradle of the ocean”
An estuary is a semi-enclosed area, such as a bay or lagoon, where fresh water meets and mixes with salt water. An estuary is a dynamic system with constantly changing tides and temperatures where waters are alternately salty and fresh.
Survival of plants and animals in estuaries requires special adaptations. The ebb and flow of tides may leave some animals and plants, such as oysters and seagrasses, temporarily exposed to air.
Life in an estuary is naturally adapted to withstand ranges in salinity, tides, sunlight and temperatures. They must, however, have a balanced flow of fresh and salt water. This balance can be upset if too much fresh water enters the estuary.
Estuaries, considered “the cradle of the ocean” are home to more than 95% of Florida’s recreational and commercial juvenile fish, crustaceans and shellfish.