Déjà Vu All Over Again  – Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

The parent heron swooped onto the tall branch to feed her nestlings. But where were the chih-chih-chih…chih-chih-chih…chih-chih-chih calls from the nest, the tell-tale cries of heron chicks clamoring for dinner?

Just as I had turned the kayak to head home for the day, I took one last glance over my shoulder and saw her there, silhouetted against a greying sky. I had given up on watching her feeding the nestlings that day, and was excited to see her landing. Quickly, I back paddled to a protected hiding spot along the shore across from the nesting island and readied the camera.

As I aimed the camera, i noticed something odd. The chicks were silent. There were no “feed me I’m hungry” cries.

Then the realization struck: that was no adult heron up on the branch, it was one of the nestlings making a first attempt at flying higher than the nest. 

It had been exactly eleven months to the day since the 2012 brood had fledged completely, and lots of memories from last summer’s two fledglings came rushing back in that nostalgic moment. I’ve blogged their white-knuckle test flight here, and their playful bill dueling, and even the symbiotic way the cormorants stood sentinel over the nest last summer.

It was once again a thrilling moment, probably for all of us: watcher and two nestlings, themselves.

My vantage point under the overhanging tree canopy is sufficiently remote that I don’t disturb the birds by my presence, and so it’s only when the photos are downloaded that the experience becomes clear.

Great blue heron nestlings - first attempt at flying.

Great blue heron nestlings – first attempt at flying.
One heron strengthens his wings while a nest-mate looks on intently.

In this case, it is apparently a first effort at flying to the tall branch about 20 feet from the nest. I’m not sure who was more surprised: the fledgling that actually made the flight or the nest-mate watching from below. The nest-mate showed definite signs of surprise or alarm [or insert other heron “emotion” here] at seeing the other so far out of the nest. He started in a standing posture, then shifted into an alert posture, and then into a fully upright posture, all the while staring at the fledgling on the branch. He moved his head and body angles to better watch the other. Doesn’t he look surprised in the first frame here?

Meanwhile, the fledgling on the branch seemed very tentative. First, he performed wing practice, gripping the branch tight with his feet and flapping his wings very hard to strengthen his wing muscles, in an avian form of resistance training. When he was done with that, he spent a lot of time looking down toward the island floor, about seventy feet below, angling his head about for various perspectives.  He appeared very hesitant, and reminded me of a cat trying to scope out the best way down from a high perch. He shifted his feet on the limb, and began to climb down the branch towards the nest, foot over foot, rather than attempting to fly back down.

Great blue heron nestlings showing neck fluff display.

Great blue heron nestlings showing neck fluff display.

However, the chick back in the nest had other ideas: he chose this particular moment to engage his sibling in some ritual “territorial” play, and tried to prevent the other fledgling from climbing back down the branch. He performed a neck fluff display, which is usually a greeting, but then followed up with a pronounced bill snap at the other heron.

I’ve mentioned the role of play in the lives of heron nestlings before – how they tussle and spar like other baby animals in ways that help them learn needed skills that help ensure survival. Asserting territorial dominance over a sibling precariously stuck out on a limb and who doesn’t yet fully know how to fly, however, is high-risk play.

Great blue heron nestlings - first attempt at flying.

Out on a limb – territorial stalemate.

The two fledglings engaged in a brief territorial stand-off, showing each other dominant postures, and by the third frame shown here, the heron in the nest has moved to the right, creating more room in the nest for his sibling, and he then bows his head down in a submissive posture.

Great blue heron fledgling - first attempt at flying.

Great blue heron fledgling – he flies.

At that moment, the fledgling on the limb makes his move.

No, he doesn’t climb down the branch to the nest.

He flies!

A few paragraphs above, I pointed out that engaging in territorial play when a fledgling was out on a limb seventy feet up for the first time ever was high-risk play, but in retrospect I think I was mistaken. Had the sibling in the nest NOT challenged the fledgling on the limb, the fledgling on the limb could have simply climbed back down the branch to the nest. Instead, by blocking his way, he forced the fledgling to fly back to the nest. Flying – not climbing – back is precisely what is needed for survival.

Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress.


(This took place July 12, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Posted on July 16, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, daily prompt, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Interesting post of the blue Herons.

  2. YAY—he/she made it! Lovely story and photos Babsje!

  3. There’s a huge nest that looks somewhat like the one in your picture built on top of a bridge strut near the marshland where I shot the fledgling GBH. I’ve never seen a bird there and figured it might be abandoned, but perhaps next spring I’ll need to keep a closer eye on it. There’s no place to park on or near the bridge, but I may try to angle down the river bank some. Wish me luck!

    • Good luck! Maybe during the winter, before the birds return (assuming they migrate) you could scope out the area and pick a location for a home-made blind, from which you could watch. You’d need to be at least 500 feet away from the nesting site. Good luck!

    • If it’s on top of a bridge strut, it’s probably a pair of Ospreys. They like what mankind build for them to nest in.

      • I think you’re right. Let’s see what she says, though. There are some awesome man-made/artificial nests for osprey.

        • In March 2012 I discovered a parking lot that covers 30 or 40 acres, filled with new imported cars. Every other light pole has an extension on it for ospreys to build their nests. I watched a couple of ospreys for several hours one day and got this picture: http://russelrayphotos2.com/2012/03/27/nest-building-osprey/

          • That’s a great way to encourage osprey breeding, via the light poles, wonderfully creative! Thanks for sharing your link to the post & photo. Its a great action shot!

            • We have a lot of abatement requirements here in California, so if a developer wants to build a 40-acre parking lot, he has to do something to abate the environmental destruction. I suspect the parking lot once was a beautiful marsh with lots of ospreys. Now it’s a parking lot with lots of ospreys. At least we still have lots of ospreys!

              • Yes, there’s that – at least the ospreys are still there, and thriving. I bet the public record there would show the prior land use and the approval process?

                • It would. How difficult it is to track down depends on when it was done. Digital records only go back a couple of decades right now. Anything older is a dig through archives, basements, decrepit buildings…………lol

  4. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

    • You’re welcome! Its been my pleasure to share the herons’ campground with you – and thanks for this delightful comment you’ve made.

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