And Then There Was One

“If I try to give the battery a jump start out here, their boat might explode.

And us along with it,” drawled the captain.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron fledgling alone in the nest minutes after his nestmate fledged for good.

Once more, I sat holding my breath in the kayak, moored in a natural-cover blind across the channel from the great blue herons’ nesting island.

Only the day before, the fledglings had practiced death-defying take-offs and landings, more than seventy feet above the island floor. The nest was so very high, and they were so very young and inexperienced. My heart was in my throat as I watched. The mother heron perched on a pine bough across the way, and it seemed that she, too, could barely stand to watch them risk all. (If you missed the earlier post, please click here to catch up.)

But that was the day before, when the weather was somewhat murky and the lake quiet.

This day, the weather was sunny and hot, and the lake buzzed with the sounds of boat motors, small and large, the clanking of paddleboat chains, and the occasional thwok of paddles against canoe frames.

Concerned for the fledglings, unsure about how ready they were for their maiden flights away from the island, I trained the binoculars up on the nest, then down along the channels in both directions, scanning for approaching boats.

I heard it before I saw it, the small runabout powered by what always sounded like a lawn mower engine. A woman reclined in the bow, wind riffling her blond hair, while two boys kept to the stern. The boy manning the tiller couldn’t have been much older than twelve, barely old enough to legally pilot a boat here, and my pulse quickened. I had seen the boys several times before, zipping around the lake as fast as their small boat could go. One day, I encountered them recklessly speeding down the cove, aiming directly at a heron fishing from a log. I’m sure they thought it great fun to scare away the heron. That time, I headed them off with my kayak before they got too close, and explained that the herons are federally protected, and they slunk off out of the cove. This day, I was anxious for the fledglings, concerned that the boys would land on the island below the nest and alarm the birds, but my worries were for naught: maybe the presence of the woman in the bow made them keep their rambunctiousness in check. They motored up the channel and under the bridge without incident.

© Babsje (

Two great blue heron fledglings peering down at the disabled fishing boat beached on the island shore, at left. After the first heron has left the nest, the lone fledgling reacts.

With that danger gone, I was able to fire off more photos of the fledglings until I noticed a fishing boat creeping towards the island. Ominously, it floated closer and closer to the landing, rocking side-to-side on undulating waves lapping the shore.

“This cannot be good,” I said to myself as the boat beached beneath the nesting tree.

With my heart in my throat once again, I trained my binocs up at the two fledglings and then down at the two men in the boat, repeating “please leave please leave” wordlessly to myself over and over like a mantra.

But they didn’t.

The fledglings watched the men from their nest like hawks. Their alarm palpable, one heron raised his cap feathers and arched his wings in a threatening gesture.

My own alarm escalated when one of the men jumped out of the boat onto the island floor. I didn’t know if the herons were skillful enough to survive yet, and needed to get those men away from the island. I stashed the camera, and furiously paddled the kayak out across the channel, trying to get the men’s attention without my own presence further upsetting the fledglings.

Quietly, I slipped the kayak around from behind the island, hoping the herons hadn’t seen me, and pulled alongside their boat. I explained that they needed to leave the island right away because of the fledglings.

But the men didn’t reply. It took only a moment to realize the language barrier between us. I gestured up at the nest, mentioned the word “baby” and made flapping motions with arms. They gestured at their boat’s console and indicated that it wouldn’t start, a dead battery.

“This is not good at all,” I again thought to myself, alarmed for the herons, but then one of the men held up their jumper cables. Language barrier surmounted, we hatched a plan for me to paddle my kayak in search of another boat who could lend a hand.

It didn’t take long to find another fishing boat, and full of hope, I explained the situation.

“If I try to give the battery a jump start out here, their boat might explode. And us along with it,” drawled the captain.

Dejected, I started to turn the kayak away, when he said it.

“I can’t jump ’em, but I can sure tow ’em in.”

And so he did. He motored over to the disabled boat beached on the nesting island, and hooked up a tow line. When last I saw them, the two boats were moving slowly south, tethered by a stout rope. It was a remarkable gesture of kindness between total strangers.

And what of the herons?

I paddled the kayak back to the secluded hide across the channel and raised my binoculars once more.

The nest was empty.

Both fledglings were gone.

“But wait, over there, what is that atop the leaves?”

One of the fledglings had only flown fifteen feet from the nest, and while I watched, he flew back.

He stood on a small limb just above the nest and stared out over the water.

And stared.

And stared.

For a long time, he stared out, looking in different directions.

I’m sure he was looking for his nest mate.

Earlier, I wrote about this pair of fledglings:

I’m glad there are two, keeping each other company and entertained, while serving as practice partners. I imagine it would be very lonely to be only one, sitting alone in a high-up nest waiting to grow in feathers before fledging, expecting to fly.

And now there was only one.


Thanks to Paula for her Thursday’s Special Non-Challenge Challenge.

Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned. (Did the remaining heron feel abandoned? Alone? Confused? Anxious? What, and how much, emotion do birds feel, and how do we draw the line at anthropormorphizing?)

Thanks to Krista and WordPress for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes. (Three photos show the herons as the story unfolds.)

Thanks once again to Stewart Monckton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2014 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron

Posted on March 6, 2014, in ardea herodias, Art, DPchallenge, Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, Nature, Photo Essay, Photography, postaday, Thursday's Special, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wild Bird Wednesday, Wildlife Photography, WPLongform and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Nice pose he has … !!!! ~~~~ : – )
    Great shot …

  2. A wonderful post and great read.

  3. I was watching this species this week – in Arizona – but did not manage to get any pictures of them with fish.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • How exciting for you, Stewart! I’m so happy to hear that you saw some great blues, even without photos of them and fish. I do hope you got some photos even without fish!

  4. hi Babsje That was a wonderful post and story and I am so glad it all worked out well. Great shot.

    • Hi Margaret, many thanks for your kind comment, so glad to hear that you like this story. It was suspenseful that day and the happy ending was such a relief.

  5. I haven’t seen ANY GBHs so far this winter. Could it be the drought?

    • You may be right about the drought, they have likely sought out wetlands. The weather seems to have affected some migrations elsewhere from prople’s anecdotes, too. I haven’t seen any here yet this year, myself, but the blisteringly cold weather has kept me indoors. Two people have each reported seeing a GBH flying near the lake here, and I’m hoping the herons stay where it’s warmer a bit longer. The third week in March is usually the earliest I have seen any that do not winter over around here.

  6. You are really great at capturing them, Babsje. I like your writing style 🙂

    • Hi Paula – thank you so much for your generous compliment, and thanks again for hosting your wonderful Thursday’s Special and letting me participate!

  7. Well hidden in the tops of leafy sycamores, we rarely get to see fledglings leave the nest. Thanks for continuing to share this.

    We had a bumper crop of rodents here last spring. During these dry times since, the adaptable California GBH have been subsisting on gophers, usually a spring and fall occupation, but now posted like sentinels across our bare flats of short grass for nine months straight. A whole generation that have never been fishing.

    • Remarkable words: a whole generation that have never been fishing… And it is pleasing to hear how adaptable the GBH there have been, thank goodness for small critters as alternate food source. And thank goodness that you have seen at least some rains. Your photos of green sprouting plants offered encouraging signs.

  8. Very well written. I enjoyed reading this. Great photos too.

  9. Wow! What a great day you had!

  10. What a fascinating life you lead, Babs! 🙂

    • Hi Jo – many thanks for your very kind compliment! I feel fortunate that the great blue herons let me witness their lives at the various lakes around here. It has been a gift to be able to watch generations of them over the years!

  11. You had me on the edge of my seat with this wonderful post, Babsje. So happy that you were there to help out. I hope the fledgling has now met up with his sibling again. Your photos are really superb. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you like this one, many thanks for your kind thoughts! I, too, felt the suspense as I was writing this post, even though I had already knew the ending!

  12. laurie27wsmith

    You are of course, in the eyes of the herons their superhero.

    • Aha, will have to add “cape and tights” to my kayaking wardrobe then! Many thanks for your fun comment, glad you like this post!

      • laurie27wsmith

        You’re welcome Babsje, I can see you now perched high on a limb, checking the horizon for idiots who dare to upset the nesting. Seriously, you are doing a good job by educating those you come across.

  13. End good all good.You did a good job

  14. So high he can see everything

  15. Hi Paula – Many thanks! I hope you have been enjoying your holiday season this year. Best, Babsje

  1. Pingback: Thursday’s Special: The Wings of Love | Lost in Translation

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