Monday, April 27, 2015

Great Blue Heron


Some years back, my photographer friend Joe Motto took my favorite wildlife picture above.  It is a great egret, Ardea alba, related to our herons.  It is so dramatic that it screams "photoshop" but it isn't.  Their style of dining is similar to our great blue heron, (GBH), Ardea herodias.

The GBHs are back from their winter vacation and now are patrolling the creek for dinner.  For years I have tried to get a good photograph of one, but have never been able to sneak up without flushing it.  I was surprised at the series of pictures I was able to capture last week.  Lacking Joe's patience, talent, time, equipment, and photo blind, I substituted dumb luck.  I was driving across the creek and saw this heron standing on a gravel bar downstream.  I rolled down the window and shot a series out of my "truck blind."

The GBH is a study in contrasts.  Its croaking call is an mixture of raucous guttural squawks, a sound like clearing your throat while speaking with a German accent.  Its long legs and awkward appearance contrasts with its stately gait, resembling an Elizabethan dance.



Its patience as it stalks its prey is impressive.  Slow measured steps barely seem to disturb the water.  It will hold its pose, neck in a beautiful S-shape like a ballerina, patiently frozen until like a  lightning strike it nails its prey.


Once it strikes it usually has its fish prey sideways in its pointed beak.  Patiently holding the flapping victim, occasionally shaking it or plunging it into the water, it flips it slightly, releasing it to turn it around until positioned head first and then it's rapidly down the gullet.

Gotcha!
Moving it toward the mouth
Down the hatch!
When I got home and downloaded the pictures, I was startled by the results.  The only thing I was missing was Joe's open mouth shot as it tosses the fish up to catch it like a kid eating a piece of popcorn.
Heron with a rodent appetizer- Joy Motto
Great blue herons will eat nearly anything within striking distance, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, rats and gophers, insects, and other birds.  They have been known to choke to death by taking on a fish too long for their S-shaped necks.  What they can swallow is incredible as seen in this video where it rejects a smaller fish for a larger meal.  As incredible as that is you can also watch it gulping down a gopher.
They look awkward in flight, especially as during takeoff.  Don't let that fool you, they have a heavy carrying capacity.

Joe and Joy Motto travel extensively, photographing wildlife with a special emphasis on birds.  You can see more at his naturescapes.net portfolios.

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