Here’s Looking at You, Kid – Cee’s Which Way Challenge and Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot Two Ways

The shadow passed by just as I reached for the styrofoam peanut bobbing to the right of the kayak’s bow. As I secured the bit of styrofoam under the bungee, I glanced up, and there she stood, not three feet away.  I froze in place and held my breath, certain that she would flush immediately.

Here's looking at you, kid. Great blue heron head-shot.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Only the day before, I had posted a rant about photographers and birders endangering herons by getting too close – If the Heron Can Read This, You’re Too Close – and here I was, myself, far too close, three feet from this wild creature.

How could this have happened?

When exiting the first of the two northbound tunnels, a decision needs to be made: which way to go? East or North? At that juncture, I always use binoculars to check conditions in both directions. I look for herons – of course I look for herons – but I’m also on the lookout for other boats. Fishermen in bass boats, canoes, kayaks, and even standupon paddle boards frequent both waterways.

Satisfied that there were no boats in either direction, and no herons that my passing through might flush, I set a course for the morning.

Vista seen immediately when exiting tunnel. Which way should we go - into the deep, darkness to the East, or into the bright sunshine to the North?

Vista seen immediately when exiting tunnel. Which way should we go – should we turn right into the deep, dark stillness to the East, or paddle left into the bright open sunshine to the North?

Part of my daily routine when out on the water is retrieving floating litter that might harm the birds and other creatures of the lake. Plastics, and styrofoam in particular, can have an insidious effect and ultimately prove fatal when eaten or when an animal becomes ensnared. NOAA’s Marine Debris Program (click here) is a good starter resource.

So, that morning I eased into the channel with an eye on the water surface, looking for styrofoam bits to remove. I wasn’t watching the sky or the trees, and so didn’t see her on approach, nor her landing three feet away while I was bending out over the water. I saw a shadow and felt a presence, but she was soundless.

Why would this wild bird land so close to a human? Some wild birds and animals become desensitized to humans through frequent exposure. A sea-kayaker friend reports that some seals show no fear of humans, which he attributes to increasing numbers of paddlers near their colony.

Some wild creatures are opportunistic, and have learned that humans are an easy source of food: herons and other wild birds follow fishermen for handouts. The large pike shown in It Followed Me Home, Can I Keep It? was first caught by a man fishing from the tunnel entrance, and when he tossed it back into the lake, the heron swooped right in for the kill. Vladimir Brezina of the Wind Against Current blog has some interesting photos of herons and other birds trying to cadge lunch from humans.

This particular great blue heron has landed very near me three times over the past eight years. The first time, she swooped in and landed under the tree canopy where my hide was in the cove. She couldn’t see me there, and that encounter was an accident. At that time, she was followed onto the shore by another heron, and threatened with an imminent attack, which I wrote about in The Lesser of Evils. Back then, I rescued her from the attacking heron, and maybe she recognized me in the same way that the heron recognized the fisherman who rescued it in The Taxi Driver’s Tale. So, in addition to being habituated to human presence and opportunistic foragers, some birds that have been “helped” by humans can become less fearful of us.

Whichever the reason, I feel that contributing to the “taming” of these wild creatures is a dangerous path we should not tread. Their long-term survival depends on their retaining their wild nature. Great blue herons have few natural predators, eagles, large owls, and alligators among them. Humans rank high in that list: we kill off herons with fishing line, plastics and styrofoam, lead from guns, destruction of their habitat, death at the hand of koi pond owners, encroachment at nesting time by birders and photographers that causes nest abandonment, the list goes on.

Meanwhile, back at the lake, the shadow passed by just as I reached for the styrofoam peanut bobbing to the right of the kayak’s bow. As I secured the bit of styrofoam under the bungee, I glanced up, and there she stood, not three feet away.  I froze in place and held my breath, certain that she would flush immediately.

I sat there stock still for many minutes, watching as she began fishing along the shoreline in front of me, craning her neck out farther and farther over the water, stalking a fish. Eventually, I relaxed and pulled out the camera, but she was too close! My lens was too long to get her entire body properly in the frame.

She fished for a while, and seemed unworried by my presence so close. After a bit, she turned slightly, looking left and then right as a human would when about to cross the street, and I guessed that she was preparing to take off across the lake.

Great blue heron looking with right eye.

Great blue heron looking with right eye.

I guessed wrong.

She turned herself around in a full circle, looking around all 360 degrees, and I was sure she would step towards the channel and lift off, but I was wrong.

She took a step…

…Right towards me.

I held my breath once again.

She leveled her gaze at me. We locked eyes and time stood still.

Eventually, I dared to raise the camera and took the photo at the top of this post.

She took another step in my direction, and angled her head slightly, so she could take me in with her right eye.

Great blue heron looking with left eye.

Great blue heron looking with left eye.

Did she lift off then? No. She swiveled her head and stared at me for a few more moments with her left eye.

Again, I lowered the camera to better savor the experience, and simply sat there in stillness with her, not wanting to break whatever spell held me entranced in the moment.

Once again, I expected her to gather into a crouch and spring up and across the channel, further into the lake.

I was only partly wrong this time. She lowered down fully, her belly almost touching the water, and then sprung up, energy uncoiled propelling her, but not across the channel.

She arced low, and curved around, directly over the stern of my kayak, landing only four feet beyond on the same shore.

In the first post for this blog, I recalled an encounter with a great blue heron from almost ten years ago. At that time, I described the feeling like this:

It felt as though I was looking at a being of kindness and intelligence, and an equal.

The silence between us was absolute.

We stood there, eyes-locked, watching each other, absorbing in full stillness, and then he leaned forward and lifted skyward in absolute silence, not an audible rustle of feather in the unfurling of exquisite wings – just soundless, effortless flight.

Back then, I wrote that post about mindfulness and stillness and the ways a camera would have gotten in the way of truly being in the moment.

The recent experience described in this post proved my earlier words right, the diffence being that this time I did have a camera with me. What I found was that only by lowering the camera was I allowed to be fully present with the great blue heron in a way not possible with the lens in between us.

I’m grateful for having had the camera with me, and for the small number of photos from that day, but more grateful for the silent moments spent with that majestic creature, our eyes locked from three feet away, searching for what lies within each of our beings


P.S. The sidebar of this blog includes a list of important resources for protecting birds; if your’re a photographer or birder or just someone who likes going on walks in the woods, please take a moment and visit some of those links.

P.P.S. In case anyone wonders how this post relates to “One Shot, Two Ways,” I took poetic license: the “shot” is the heron’s-eye-view of looking at me, the “two ways” are first one eye, and then the other eye.


Thanks to Cee Neuner for the Which Way Challenge nudge and also thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands for the Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot Two Ways nudge and WordPress.


(This took place August 7, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Posted on August 16, 2013, in ardea herodias, Birds, Cee's Which Way Challenge, daily prompt, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography, WPLongform and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. What an awesome experience! It is quite a dilemma for us as photographers; we are so keen to capture the moment through the lens that we often miss experiencing the moment.

    • Thanks, Joyce! I felt privileged to have been in the right place at the right time, and at the same time concerned that the heron was so fearless as to get that close to me. I’m sure she knew I’m a benign being, but not all of us humans are. And yes, we do often miss being in the momen while we’re busy fiddling with our gear. Sometimes, I don’t even take out the camera, I’ll watch from a distance with binoculars or just my naked eye. Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Wonderful done lucky guy * clap * always Heron’s great adventure!!!!

  3. Beautifully said Babsje, couldn’t agree more! So glad you took the time to enjoy the communion. I’ve no doubt he remembered you and has observed you on “patroll”!

  4. Your narrative is perfect for the ‘out-of-this-world’ photography.

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