Full Circle: Freshly Fledged  – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

There was reason to be concerned for the newly-fledged herons. Would they survive the migration south, the winter, and the migration back? If so, would they remember this lake where they were born and make it their home once again?

The first year mortality rate for great blue herons is high. I’ve seen it cited as high as 75-90%, although there are geographic variances at play. Fledgling herons  must master their survival skills during a very short window. For birds in New England where I am, the earlier in the summer they fledge, the more time they have to learn and to bulk up before fall migration begins.

A few days ago, I wrote of the successful fledging of two great heron chicks during the summer of 2012. The adult herons – against high odds of human encroachment that had resulted in nest abandonment previously – succeeded in breeding and bringing two chicks to fledge successfully. They beat the given odds of 50/50 survival from fertilized egg to the day of fledging. Each parent sat on the nest in shifts, uninterrupted, day in and day out, for two full months, in brutal heat and fierce thunderstorms without benefit of any cover that high up. Each parent was eating for three for two months – sacrificing their own meals to feed the two chicks.

From a hidden vantage point across the channel and 70 feet below the treetops, I shepherded the nest along every possible day between May and late-August for as many daylight hours as I could, up to six or seven hours a day. It was sweet and rewarding and peaceful – and also physically arduous, sitting in a small boat for that many hours with no possibility of standing up. But, if the birds could do it 12 hours a day for two months straight, I figured I could handle six hours at a stretch. And so I did. I believe my presence there made at least some small difference in their survival – I chased humans off the nesting island when they landed, and intercepted and deterred small boats from attempting to land, and kept others still from venturing too close in the first place. I often shared my binoculars with the other boats, and think that helped raise consciousness about why the herons should be protected and treasured.

Coming back full circle to the start of this blog post, the earlier in the summer the herons fledge, the greater their chances of survival, since they have more opportunities to fine-tune their fishing and feeding skills. 

What of the herons of 2012? The adults started building their nest – entirely from scratch – late; it wasn’t completed until the last week of May, whereas some nests are usually done by late March or early April. The nestlings fledged on August 12, which is similarly late. Migration can start as early as late September to mid-October, and so the fledglings of 2012 had maybe two months to learn what it takes.

Great blue heron yearling “Number 2” – this yearling fledged August 12, 2012 and was photographed here July 23, 2013.

There was reason to be concerned for the newly-fledged herons.

Did they have enough time to get smart and strong? Would they survive migration south, the winter, and migration back? If so, would they remember this lake where they were born and make it their home once again?

And, even if all of those answers were “Yes,” would I find them, and then recognize them if I did? After all, they would have gone through their first molt, exchanging their russet feathers for grey-blue and white ones, bringing a striking change in their appearance.

Once again, I am elated: BOTH of the 2012 fledglings survived their migrations, and have returned to the lake this summer. I found yearling “Number 2” a few weeks ago, but hadn’t gotten around to posting any photos from that session. Only yesterday did I find yearling “Number 1,” within 100 yards from where I saw her last, last Autumn.

So, not too surprisingly, they have each taken up their old haunts from last summer, about three miles apart from each other. And so, not too surprisingly, once again I am elated. And smitten.

(For people who are curious about how their appearance can change, the yearling in the photo I took today and posted here is the same heron shown here.)

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Sara Rosso and WordPress.
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(This took place July 23, 2013)

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

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Posted on July 23, 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. 2 Comments.

  1. Congratulations, but how can you tell it’s the two yearlings?

    • Thanks! Their facial characteristics are unique. In the case of some of the older herons I’ve been observing, it’s even easier to tell at a distance by various injuries. One has a broken leg that healed at an odd angle, for example.

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