Friday, April 26, 2019

Snack for a Heron

If I had pitched a tent at Pinckney Island NWR, (not that it's allowed, mind you), and spent a week there, I would not have run out of things to photograph. So. Many. Birds. Birds nesting. Birds feeding. Birds fighting. Birds dancing. 

As I made my way around the pond I came across a tri-color heron working his way around the shoreline. He didn't seem too bothered by me, and I was able to stand about 10 feet from the edge of the water and watch him as he searched for food.






The long-legged wading birds always look so odd to me when they're on a branch. I remember the first time I saw a heron land in a tree (not knowing that they nest in trees) and was stunned--it looked like it would topple out. But while they have large, partially-webbed feet for walking along lake bottoms, their long toes allow them to get a strong grip on branches. Green herons especially are known for gripping a vertical branch and holding themselves horizontal over the water, waiting for something to swim by. The larger herons don't have enough strength to pull off that feat, but their longer necks afford them a similar hunting position.





He spent a few minutes searching along this branch, then flew a few feet to try a new spot.











Finding nothing, he moved again.



I had just gotten the camera set when SPLASH, he thrust his head into the water. I prayed it was in focus.


Pulling his head up, I could see he'd caught himself a snack. I was hoping he'd turn his head so I could get a better look at his fish, but he flipped his head back and swallowed it before I could get a good look. Not sure how many minnows you need to fill the crop of a heron, but I bet it's a lot!


Friday, April 19, 2019

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons Build Their Nest

During this week in Hilton Head, South Carolina, we've spent time at Pinckney Island NWR, Jekyll Island in Georgia, hiked, gone to the beach, paddled Broad Creek. We saw rescued sea turtles, hundreds of nesting egrets and herons, dolphins with their calves, and one rousing thunderstorm, but the best sights happened right outside our door--the green heron from a few posts ago, whom we watched catch and eat a fish, and a pair of yellow-crowned night herons who are building a nest almost right across the street and canal from us. 

It has become my habit this week to go out several times a day to check on them. A few days ago when I dragged my camera along with me I was treated to a wonderful display of nest building activity. The male, I assume, was flying back and forth along the creek, gathering sticks to take back to his mate at the nest. I was able to photograph him while he labored away, not the least bit concerned with my presence.

He would hop around in the shrubs tugging at dead sticks until one broke loose.


Then off to the nest he'd go to deliver the building material.


I'm sure she was more pleased than she looks.


He'd hand it off...


...and she'd work it into the nest.


Off he'd go again, looking for more sticks. He gave this one a few tugs then moved on.


He collected another stick...


...and back to the nest he went.


And again.





And again.


What a good papa he will be!


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Great Egret Takes Flight

One of the must-do's on this trip to the Low Country was to spend a day at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge boasts several ponds with islands of their own that are packed beak to tail with breeding egrets and herons. The rookery is so dense that it's nearly impossible to even count all the birds there. Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue, Green, and Tri-colored Herons, Anhinga, Black and Yellow-crowned Night Herons all cram onto these islands and fight for their breeding space. For a photographer it's a little like shooting fish in a barrel--it's hard not to get good images of birds there. Plus, all the birds are in their breeding plumage this time of year, and doing all kinds of courtship dances and territorial displays, and the sound, as you can imagine, is impressive.

Here's a series of shots of a Great Egret stretching in preparation for take off.
























Sunday, April 14, 2019

Green Heron Fishing

Hello, what's this? A blog post? Can it be so??

I've been struggling these last few years to find the time to write. Sooo much going on since we went to Yellowstone in 2016 and I've been utterly overwhelmed. But we are finally on our first vacation since that trip out west, and I've decided, instead of throwing some photos up on Facebook and calling it good enough, that I would throw some photos up here and then share that on Facebook. Trying to get back in the groove.

This April finds us in Hilton Head, South Carolina, having rented a week at a condo here. It's a great time for nesting birds and turtles down here, and it's snowing back home, so we are really happy to be in the low country.

Across the street from our condo is a canal/ditch. I birded the area this morning, and saw the green heron fly by, her bright orange feet flashing, but I didn't see where she landed. Turns out she didn't go far, and I found her hunkered on a branch in the water. I took some shots before she started to walk down the branch, away from me. I followed along.






Not long after I got my tripod set up and focused on her she spotted something in the water. Stretching her neck out, she paused...


...then struck with a splash!


She was nearly completely underwater at one point...


...but she came back up with a juicy morsel!


She hopped up on her log...


...gave the impaled fish a few shakes...


...and down the hatch it went.


She gulped and swallowed, working her tongue around the small fish.


Now with a full crop, she walked back down the branch, turned, and hopped up into the shrubs overhanging the canal.

Excuse me, madam, but your pantaloons are showing!



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Yellowstone's Final, Magical Gift

 Final Yellowstone 2016 post--yay!

We pulled up our tent stakes early on the morning of September 26, and headed south towards the Tetons. It was a chilly morning, with frost on the van windshield. The autumn sun was just peeking over the trees as we drove along the Firehole River, and I stopped to get a couple photos of the mist rising off the water.



We came around a slight bend to a small traffic jam. I couldn't make out what was going on, then saw, down the road, bison crossing. I looked to my left and there were more--lots more--crossing Nez Perce Creek and moving into the flood plain. I found a place to park our rig, grabbed my camera, and made my way back to the bridge.



I could not have envisioned a more beautiful, or magical, setting. Clouds and mist spread diffuse light across the creek, providing a stunning backdrop. It was so quiet I could hear the huge beasts breathing as they made their way down the bank and into the creek.









I don't know how big this herd was, but it was sizable. There were bison way up on the rise past the bend in the creek, bison in the floodplain, and more kept coming across the road and into the creek.




The morning dew frosted their heads and backs, and ice formed on their beards as they paused to take a drink. I stood, mesmerized, letting the moment wash over me. It felt, for a time, like it was just the bison and me. It felt, for a time, just as it should be, as these iconic animals spread across the valley.















Of all the things we'd experienced, from the wolves in Lamar to the Great Grays at Bay Bridge, this is what stands out the most. This cold, misty morning, surrounded by wild animals, tolerant of my presence, passing through a moment in time, at peace.