The Greatest Heron

The Greatest Heron

The largest heron in North America is the Great Blue. Luckily, we have them year round here on the Texas Coast. They can be found in any kind of calm or slow moving water as well as shallow coastal bays. Great Blue Herons are very successful birds as they will eat fish, shrimp, crabs. aquatic insects, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other birds.

Just about anything. 

Great Blue with nice sized fish near Surfside

Great Blue with nice sized fish near Surfside

We spent a pleasant afternoon watching this guy fish across from an abandoned pier near Surfside, Texas last year. If I recall, he caught and ate several fish this size. He is standing in fairly deep water; it must be pretty clear as they spot their prey by sight. You can see how he stabbed the fish right at the most vulnerable part behind the gills. 

Great Blue with a mouthful Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6  1/500 sec ISO 1250; tripod

Great Blue with a mouthful

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6  1/500 sec ISO 1250; tripod

Last February we were at Brazos Bend State Park between the Spillway and Elm Lake. It was a bit cool and the birds were out but there were so many dead branches and brush it was hard to get a clear shot. I think I was taking photos of some fungus growing on the side of a tree when Bill shouted at me. He was sitting down at the edge of the trail and had a worse line of sight than I did standing above him for this event. The Great Blue is eating a Lesser Siren. It looks like an eel but it is really an aquatic salamander. It must have been 2 feet long.

He killed it first by stabbing and crushing before swallowing the whole thing.

Does not look tasty to me. 

Great Blue with a smaller fish

Great Blue with a smaller fish

Not all of their meals are big. This Great Blue was fishing in the shallow waters under the Intracoastal Canal Bridge this summer. 

Young Great Blue Heron at Quintana Jetty

Young Great Blue Heron at Quintana Jetty

Younger birds don't have the russet upper legs or shaggy chest feathers. This youngster was hanging around the jetty where sometimes you can get a free meal from the fishermen.

Great Blue Heron thief...  Photo by William Maroldo

Great Blue Heron thief...  Photo by William Maroldo

It takes a lot of practice to be as skilled as this Great Blue. The photo above is by Bill Maroldo (I was there but farther away and way too slow). Here is what he said about the shot: 


Great Blue Heron ~ A fisherman, having caught an eel, put his rod down ( I assume he went to get something to help get the undesired catch off the hook). Meanwhile the heron stole the eel that was by then caked in sand and flew off with it, leaving only the head. I know this because the fisherman was showing me the hook with only the small head on it, while saying; "hey, that bird just stole my fish!" The heron subsequently landed and swallowed the eel, sand and all.
Great Blue Heron on the trail to Observation Tower at BBSP Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1   1/200 sec ISO 3200; tripod

Great Blue Heron on the trail to Observation Tower at BBSP

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1   1/200 sec ISO 3200; tripod

Great Blues are so regal. This fine fellow posed for us at Brazos Bend recently. It was late in the day and the light was fading. Bill has a new camera (he went over to the dark side and got a Nikon! and a big lens!) and wanted to test the higher ISO settings. Our Sony A77II does not handle higher ISOs as well as one would like. So, as a test we both took shots at ISO 3200.

Mine came out much better than I expected due to two factors. One, I was using a tripod and could shoot very slow shutter speeds (and the heron cooperated by standing still) AND the photo was not underexposed. 

Great Blue Heron -  post-processing with Fractalius and Oil Paint

Great Blue Heron -  post-processing with Fractalius and Oil Paint

They lend themselves to wonderful art projects with the flowing feathers and subtle colors. This guy is standing against a bridge support, the pitted concrete and texture are a nice change from the usual backgrounds. And I like that his top-knot was blowing in the wind.

Have you seen a Great Blue Heron? Did you know there is a Great Blue Heron Casino in Canada? And a Great Blue Heron Music Festival in NY? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Big Boy Lens

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Short Stories and Random Observations