Great Blue Heron: 1, Osprey: 0 – Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreshadow

When the fledgling great blue heron settled in on the branch vacated by the osprey only minutes earlier, I should have known things at the lake would get exciting.

Great blue heron fledgling has returned to his nest one week after fledging.

Great blue heron fledgling has returned to his nest.

Even though they had fully fledged eight days earlier, the fledglings occasionally returned to the nest, and sometimes they were joined by one of the parents. On this day, only one fledgling was back, but he stayed for quite a while, sunning himself high above the boat traffic.

Earlier that day,  I had been thinking that I hadn’t seen any osprey at all at the lake the entire year. Then in mid-afternoon, as if the osprey had read my mind, one darted from down-channel and perched on a dead tree limb across from the herons’ nesting island. The osprey preened a bit, and then settled in for a while. 

The fledgling in the nest seemed very interested in the osprey, staring intently across the channel, watching closely.

After a while, the osprey stirred, and then suddenly dove towards the water for dinner, landed his prey in one swift move and absconded for the eastern cove, fish-in-talons.

Meanwhile, the great blue heron fledgling anxiously watched as two fishermen in a row boat stroked closer and closer to the island and nest. They landed on the shore, and flushed the fledgling in the process.

The fledgling took flight and quickly found refuge on the dead tree limb across the channel – the same branch vacated by the osprey only minutes earlier – and resumed his sunbath that had been interrupted by the boaters. He settled in and I watched from a distance through binoculars.

I should have known the osprey wasn’t gone for good, and that things would get exciting.

When the osprey returned from the eastern cove and rounded the corner to reclaim his branch, the fledgling heron was already there, but the osprey had no way of knowing that his perch had been taken; the branch was obscured from the osprey’s line of sight by pine boughs and deciduous branches, and as he curved back towards the branch from the cove, he was flying blind for a few meters.

Great blue heron fledgling emerges victorious when osprey tries to land on the same branch. Osprey is cartwheeling at bottom right corner.

A great blue heron fledgling emerges victorious when an osprey tries to land on the same branch occupied by the heron. The osprey is cartwheeling at bottom right corner.

The osprey swooped in to the final feet for his landing, just about to grasp the branch with his talons extended, only to find the interloper heron already there. I’m not sure who was more startled, the osprey or the heron. The heron bellowed out a piercing frawhnk, more bark than bird call, and lept up a foot in the air, his wings akimbo to threaten the osprey. The osprey let out a shrill scream and plummeted from the branch, whirling and cartwheeling before righting himself and flying off to the south.

I find it remarkable that a great blue heron fledgling that had fledged only eight days earlier would emerge the victor in a territorial skirmish against an adult osprey. The osprey was at a disadvantage, of course, because of its blind approach to the branch when returning from the cove.

But still… Go heron!

Heron: 1, Osprey: 0

Osprey juvenile preening chest feathers.

Osprey juvenile preening chest feathers.

The osprey is a magnificent and graceful raptor, and I feel a little guilty showing one losing the battle, in a clumsy way.

To make up for that, the bottom photo here is an osprey juvenile from today’s outing, not at all clumsy while preening. I have no idea where the osprey nest is located, but each year, I’ve observed one or two fledglings or juveniles at the lake. They’re not a “common” sight, and so it’s always a thrill to see them.

Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Krista Stevens and WordPress.

(This took place August 20, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Posted on August 9, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, daily prompt, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Osprey, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Dear Babsje I agree totally with you “osprey is a magnificent and graceful ” ….. and you, pure poetry :

    “But still… Go heron!”

  2. Felt like I was reading a war story.You must have been very patient to see the plot unfolding to the Heron’s victorious end. Nice work!

    • Thanks for that observation, yes there was an element of war about it. Both heron and osprey can be fierce predators when hungry. The heron looks so much larger than the osprey, but their wingspans look to be comparable. And about being patient: most of what I know of patience has been learned by sitting with the herons. They are masters of patience!

  3. A couple of weeks ago we saw a fierce dogfight high in the sky between a great blue heron and an osprey. The osprey was cheeping (or whatever you call it) in the usual way and the heron was croaking… they wheeled about the sky, making multiple passes at each other. Don’t know what it was all about—a fish that one of them may have had, perhaps, and also there were osprey nests nearby…

    • That must have been a thrilling sight to see. They’re both fierce predators when hungry. You’re lucky to have witnessed and heard them. Aren’t their battle cries something else?!

      • Unmistakable cries in both cases. The osprey’s is so incongruous, given the size and fierceness of the bird 🙂

        • Indeed! I lived on a small lake here in MA that had both heron and osprey. An osprey used to perch in a tree not far from the end of the dock. I was used to seeing the osprey there, and I was also used to hearing an odd call similar to a gull’s crossed with a submarine whistle, but it took me a long time to associate that call with the osprey. As you say, incongruous.

  1. Pingback: Beautiful Great Blue Herons After the Storm (Not Art Nbr 10) | Babsje Heron

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