Friday, June 19, 2009

Great Blue Heron: Gone Fishin'

Yesterday I posted a teaser, for which I apologize. I'm no fan of cliff-hangers. I want resolution now, I don't want to carry it around for a week, something conditioned by those one-hour CSI, Law&Order, and Desperate Housewives shows. That said, I'm glad you're back to see how the Great Blue Heron went from "I'd like a fish" to "I got one!"

Heron sightings are abundant this spring in Sapsucker Woods, you only need to look at the nest they built to find one. During, or shortly after, their nest construction I found one perched on a downed log near the middle of the pond. Hoping to photograph the bird in flight, maybe delivering a stick back to the nest, I set up the camera and waited. I didn't catch a return to the nest sequence, but watch the embedded slideshow below (man, I hope this works) to watch what I captured. You can also visit the web album to view the (larger) still images.





If that worked, you will have witnessed a couple of events I found interesting. First, I won the staring contest. You can see in the first slide the intense glaring I received for about a half-minute, and then the moment of victory (second slide) when the bird was distracted by something in the water. But I had no time to savor the moment.

The second event relates to heron foraging behavior. As Great Blues are fairly common almost anywhere there's water, and they are such large, easily observable birds, I'm guessing most everyone has watched one snag a prey item at one point or another. If I'm right, you're familiar with the methodical stalking as they patiently step their way through the water or across a field, leaning forward as they sight a fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal, bird - they're really not that picky.

The actual capture takes but a second. A rapid thrust of the neck and head, and voila! Before you can blink they've got something tightly squeezed between their mandibles.

What I've never seen was a heron jump in the water from dry land, or floating log, after something, and almost fully submerge below the surface. But this one did, and, best of all, it came up with a snack. I particularly like the image of the bird returning its gaze towards me with the, "That's right, homeclown, I got the fish!"

It's always satisfying to witness a successful hunt, the food web in action, especially when it includes a new method of food capture. At least, this was a new method to me, perhaps you've seen this before?

-

6 comments:

dAwN said...

That was pretty cool..I have not seen one jump in like that either..
nice photo video show!

jan m said...

Nice slide show Mike. I love watching great blues, but have never seen one leap into the water or go under either.

noflickster said...

Hi dAwN and jan_m - thanks! I wasn't sure how the picasaweb slideshow functionality functioned; wish it could be larger rather than thumbnailish. But I like the effect!

I watch one of the herons perched on a similar log today - no jumps. I was wondering if it's just this particular heron's strategy. I lost today's staring contest.
-Mike

Larry Jordan said...

Nice slide show Mike but I liked looking at the individual photos from your Picasa site better. Larger photos, more detail.

Incredible captures! I have never witnessed this behavior either. I love the series, especially the last three shots. So you did get your in flight shot and you won the stare down! Sounds like a great day to me ;-)

noflickster said...

Hi Larry - thanks for the comments! I tried several pre-formatted Picasaweb layouts, hoping one would work well as an embedded slide show. Unfortunately, as you noted, the one that fit on the page is woefully small. I'll have to see if the Picasa folk come up with something better, or perhaps I should spend more time in Flickr or other options.

As you know, every once in a while you get lucky with the camera pointing at the right place at the right time.

Thanks for dropping by!
-Mike

deejbrown said...

As a volunteer w/Wildlife Conservation Corp (1st year I've done this) I have been monitoring GBH rookeries in Passaic County NJ for NJ Fish & Wildlife. One large rookery topped out at 37 fledglings. Last week they were exploring first flights. Hope they are as clever as t his one.
Your post makes me wonder about species evolution....

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