Green Herons

Green Herons

The day I found the nesting Purple Gallinules at Brazos Bend State Park started out great, but by mid-day the rain clouds were gathering. I like overcast days since the shadows are not harsh, but rain was forecast and I expected a shower. Remember I showed you the little cart we got in last week's adventure? With a big, black trash bag and some clips we were prepared if it did rain.

And it did.

We quickly protected all the camera gear and sheltered under a tree at the back side of Elm Lake. I wear a big brimmed hat and that helped. The rain lasted about 10 minutes at most and then it was over. I was wet, but the cameras were dry and that was the important part. It actually felt pretty good since the day was in the high 90s F.

This cloudy weather was going to be a test of higher ISOs with the new Sony A77 II. The original A77 had problems with shots over ISO 800 (noisy, blotchy images) and the newer version of the camera is supposed to be improved. We went on searching for our target of the day, a Green Heron. Not just any Green Heron, but one engaged in tool-using behavior.

Did you know they sometimes fish with bait? There is a famous video of the Green Heron fishing with chunks of bread. This behavior has been filmed several times around zoos and places where bread is available.

But in the wild, they use insects as bait. Take a look at this video I did NOT make! Repeat, this is from YouTube and made by Kansas Fish Management.

You know my new camera has video capabilities .... I haven't used it yet, but I plan to!

So, we were looking for Green Herons that might exhibit this fishing skill. Green Herons are about 17" long, but often are hunched up and appear much smaller. Their legs are short for wading birds, and the bill is smooth, dark and pointed. Males and females look almost the same, with the females being slightly smaller with duller colors. Not so you would notice a difference. They are solitary hunters and quite territorial; you won't find a group or flock of these.

Young Green Heron on bridge railing at 40-acre Lake, near the Observation Tower Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1250

Young Green Heron on bridge railing at 40-acre Lake, near the Observation Tower

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1250

Adult Green Herons have a greenish back and dark cap with a chestnut chest. The younger birds, like the one above, have a brown-streaked neck and chest, plus their back is more brownish than green. Young birds are unpredictable. Some are extremely skittish and bolt at the sight of a human, others have not learned to be wary. You just never know. This one flew off rather quickly and when we caught up with him, he was either hunting in dense vegetation, or turned away from the camera.

And then it rained again. Really hard. We were able to shelter under a covered pier at Elm Lake during that rainstorm.

Dead lotus leaf with duckweed. Post-processed with Fractalius and Photoshop Oil Paint Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Dead lotus leaf with duckweed. Post-processed with Fractalius and Photoshop Oil Paint

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

I took photos of the vegetation around the pier, with the lens braced on the railing. Also, I was startled by an alligator that was right there in the water 2 feet from my feet. Ate some nut bars and looked at my photos. Waited for the rain to stop. Took photos of a Red-winged Blackbird, but couldn't get enough shutter speed for a good shot since it was still dripping rain and dark.

Finally it stopped raining. And then I found this guy.

Adult Green Heron in the duckweed. Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Adult Green Heron in the duckweed.

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Perfect set up. No obstructing branches, close enough for my telephoto. I eased around a tree and took a few preliminary shots. He was cooperative for a bit and then flew... a short distance to an even better perch.

Green Heron stares intently ... Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Green Heron stares intently ...

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Bill was a way down the trail taking photos of another Yellow-crowned Night Heron but I got his attention and he hurried to see my find. Green Herons can stay in the exact same position FOREVAH so I got a crate and sat down to wait.

Tiny fish lunch Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Tiny fish lunch

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

I did not see him grab this little fish, but you can see he plunged into the duckweed several inches. The stuff is everywhere; I have no idea how they can see into that murk.

After a while,  he turned and stretched way out...

Finding a lure Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Finding a lure

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

...and picked up a small insect from the duckweed soup. And he didn't eat it.

Want to see that again?

Placing the lure... Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Placing the lure...

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Here he is placing the insect lure ever so carefully on the surface of the duckweed. At exactly the distance he wants for catching a fish. This was at 1:15:49 pm. And he stared at it. He did not pick it up and move it around. I just stared at him staring at the spot.

At 1:35:39pm I took my last shot and then ambled off down the trail so I don't know if he was successful in his efforts.

Obviously, Green Herons have more patience than I do.

Probably a Gulf Fritillary on a Lotus Pod  Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Probably a Gulf Fritillary on a Lotus Pod 

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

There are lots of butterflies about. Some of the yellow ones are so large I mistake them for warblers.

The weather did not improve; we took shelter under another covered pier that afternoon, but then got totally and completely drenched on the hike back from Elm Lake to the Observation Tower. My hat was soaked, I could wring out my shirt and finally the water seeped into my boots. It wasn't cold or windy, but I got really tired of being wet.

One of the last photos I took that day was of a young Green Heron I saw on the way out. It seemed much darker, and I was afraid to go over ISO 1600. The unprocessed photos on my computer looked totally dark and hopeless, but digital photography is a rather amazing process. With a bit of Camera Raw adjustments and Photoshop Mad Skillz...

The birds got wet, too Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

The birds got wet, too

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

So, I confirmed for myself that Green Herons will place insects as possible lures and they have more patience than even a determined photographer. And that the new camera does a pretty good job with less than optimum light and ISO 1600. I would prefer a brighter overcast day, but you take what you can get.

When was the last time you got soaking wet? Would you risk getting wet for your hobby? Do you think I should learn to make nature videos?

Black Skimmers and the UTC

Black Skimmers and the UTC

Chicks and Babes

Chicks and Babes