Here’s Looking at You Blue Heron

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

If birds can feel joy, this Great Blue Heron certainly must be joyful in this moment – babsjeheron.

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 – babsjeheron

Only the day before, I had posted a rant about photographers and birders endangering Herons by getting 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 and I also look also up for Herons in trees and down, for ones on the shore. 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 stand-upon 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 is retrieving floating litter that might harm the birds and other creatures. 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 the Great Blue 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. Some wild creatures are opportunistic, and have learned that humans are an easy source of food.

This particular Great Blue Heron had landed very near me three times before. 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 taxi driver who had rescued it. So, in addition to being habituated to human presence and opportunistic foragers, some birds that have been helped by humans become less fearful of us or see us as friends.

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 the Heron 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 – babsjeheron.

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 – babsjeheron

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 my very first post, I recalled an encounter with a Great Blue Heron from almost twenty years ago. At that time, I described the feeling as though I was looking at a being of kindness and intelligence, and an equal. 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.

This time, I did have a camera with me. And by lowering the camera I was fully present with the Great Blue Heron in a way not possible with the lens in between us. Other photographers I know have also lowered their cameras to simply sit with the wildlife.

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 beautiful creature, our eyes locked from three feet away, searching for what lies within each of our beings.
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Babsje With Clear Eye Patch © 2021 Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Babsje With Clear Eye Patch – babsjeheron

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Did you notice that this Great Blue Heron looked at me first with one eye, and then the other eye? I’m sure you know by now whether you are left-handed, right-handed, or ambidextrous, but do you know that you also have a dominant eye? I wonder if birds have dominant eyes like humans do? You may be left-eyed, or right-eyed, or it may vary depending on what activity you’re doing. Your dominant eye may or may not be on the same side lf your body as your dominant hand.

If you’re a photographer, you probably instinctively know which eye is dominant – the one you use through the view finder. Some people keep the non-dominant eye closed while shooting, but others keep both eyes open – the better to see what else is taking place at the periphery.

An internet search will return a lot of fascinating information and tests to determine which eye is dominant for you – some sophisticated and some quite simple. The simplest one is the thumb test. Locate an object you can see clearly. Then with both eyes wide open, extend your arm in front of you towards that object. Aim your thumb on the extended arm so it is positioned directly over the chosen object. Close each eye one at a time. You should notice that one eye keeps your thumb centered over your target when you have closed the other eye. The eye that stays centered on your target object is your dominant eye.

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I’m right-handed for most things, but left-handed for softball and baseball. My dominant eye is my left eye. But that is subject to change. In the above photo, you may notice that my left eye is covered by a protective patch.

Long time readers may remember that I lost all sight in my left eye in the summer of 2020, and I had successful retina surgery exactly one year ago this week. It was nearly miraculous – within one day of the retina repair last year, my eyesight was restored.

A known and expected complication of eye surgery is the formation of a cataract. I unfortunately developed a severe one that profoundly limited my left eye and I have been blind again in that eye for months. Before the surgery I could not even see the eye chart on the wall much less read it.

Three days ago I had a second surgery, and the results so far have been a marvel! Please reach out if you (or a loved one) need an excellent eye surgeon in eastern Massachusetts.

Or if you know where I can find a more fetching eye patch!

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This post is prompted by Cee Neuner and Debbie Smyth and the creative and inspiring Lens Artists Tina, Amy, Patti, and Leya, all of whom encourage the community of photographers and writers. This week, the Lens Artists have invited Sofia Alves of Photographias as guest host. The focus this week is Looking Up, Looking Down. Please check out their gorgeous photos at the links listed below. My offering includes mentions of looking up and down while on the lake, not to mention that post-surgery the outlook for my eyesight is looking way up!

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Thanks to Cee for her CMMC: Dark Greens. Green foliage abounds at the lake.
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Thanks to Debbie for her Six Word Saturday . This post title has the requisite six words!

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From Sofia Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 164: Looking Up, Looking Down .

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From Patti Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 164: Looking Up, Looking Down .
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From Tina Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 164: Looking Up, Looking Down .
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From Amy Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 164: Look Up, Look Down .

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From Leya Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 164: Looking Up, Looking Down .
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Folks, now that some areas are opening back up, please consider supporting your local Arts communities – whether music, theater, crafts, visual arts venues, and others. All have been impacted over the past year and they need your love.

My brick & mortar presence in Massachusetts dates back to 2009 in several local venues/galleries.

TCAN – The Center for Arts Natick
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Natick Town Hall
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Five Crows Gallery in Natick
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Audubon Sanctuary
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Be a fly on the wall! You can CLICK HERE to see the gallery walls with Herons .
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Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

May the Muse be with you.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2003-2021 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, TCAN, Five Crows, Natick

Posted on September 11, 2021, in # Lens-Artists, ardea herodias, Birds, Heron, Mindfulness, Nature, Photo Essay, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. I love the action in your first image.

    The thumb test didn’t work for me. I think I’m left eye dominant since that’s the eye I put to the camera viewfinder, and I keep both eyes open while using the camera.

    I think I understand your eye surgery experience.

    I’ve also had more eye surgeries than I ever thought I would. In 2008 (I was 42), I had cataract surgery (right eye). I was still nearsighted in the left eye (I have worn eyeglasses since I was 8), so several months later, I had photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) operation to correct the nearsightedness.

    In the Spring of 2019, my Graves Eye Disease worsened, and I was at risk of losing vision in both eyes. I had radiation treatment (summer) than eye surgery (fall) to fix the issue. A complication of that surgery was that I had strabismus (misaligned eyes). I had another surgery (winter) to correct that issue. Two surgeries and two different surgeons. I’m happy I can see, but 2019 was a rough year.

    • Hi Khurt. Many thanks for your thoughtful comment and story of your own eye experiences. You’re right – sounds like 2019 was an exceedingly challenging year for you, wow. Happy to hear that things have improved for you. My first two eye surgeries took place at age 5 – misaligned eyes due to muscles. I wore glasses in kindergarten! Thanks also for your kind words about the Heron action photo. She’s one of my favorite birds. Best, Babsje

  2. Wonderful story of your heron encounter and I am so glad your on the mend from your eye surgery.

  3. The actions shot is stunning! So glad to hear your surgery went well. Congratulations!

    • Hi Amy. Thanks so much for the well wishes. Still a ways to go but I can see a bit difference already. And I’m pleased that you like the action photo. Best, Babsje

  4. Happy to see you smiling in the closing image Babsje! Hope your sight is better than ever. What a wonderful experience with the heron – clearly trusted you implicitly!

    • Hi Tina. Happy to be smiling in that photo. I can already see good improvements in my eye sight. Looking up as the LAPC challenge puts it. Many thanks for your kind comment. Best, Babsje

  5. I so adore your photos. 😀

  6. I have never heard of a Heron acting like that Babsje. It must of remembered you and not felt threatened. Such a honour bestowed upon you! You are a honorary Great Blue Heron!
    You must of taken this shot of you in the mirror, as it is your right eye there.

    • Hi Wayne. Yes, I think you’re right that the Heron definitely knew me – and trusted me. It was both surprising and touching that she didn’t flee or feel threatened. And you’re right about the photo – it’s backwards! What can I say? I can waltz a DSLR around the lake with the best of them, but that photo is my first ever cell-phone selfie. I took it in the dining room, no mirror there, and thought I needed to flip it. Rookie mistake. I blame post-anesthesia syndrome. Thanks for showing me the error of my ways! 😊 Best, Babsje

  7. PS
    Have you see the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?
    Well if not – you might like one of the climax scenes as it relates to what you mentioned about lowering the camera and being in the moment

  8. This was such an interesting post! And like that right eye look the most but all good
    And the photo of you is really warming to the post!

    • Many thanks for your compliments. I’m glad you found this one interesting. And to reply to your other comment about Walter Kitty – I saw that movie many years ago but recall very little. Thanks again for both comments. Best, Babsje

      • Hi – I didn’t “love” the movie but it was different and fun. And one of the key things they leads up to is how Sean Penn’s character puts the csmera down and misses the photo to be present – at the time I thought it was trite and even a little exaggerated – however – the more digital the world becomes the more I see so many folks (way beyond pohothraohers) but so many people might need to ponder presence vs days collecting and digital archiving

  9. Hi Babsje,
    we hope that your eyesight will be 100% again and stay that way. We keep our fingers crossed for you.
    Wishing you an easy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. What an amazing encounter you describe with this heron! I love the idea that it recognized you as a friend. And it was also interesting to learn about the idea of a dominant eye and how to discover which of yours is the dominant one. Best wishes for continued successful recovery from your eye surgery!

    • Hi Katherine. Thanks so much for the well wishes for my eyes. I’m glad you liked this Heron story – it was an unbelievable encounter. Also was it easy for you to ID which is your dominant eye? Take care. Best, Babsje

      • Yes, surprisingly easy. You explained the process so clearly and then it actually worked. I had two “thumb” images as I looked at my far-away object, but I slowly moved my thumb around until it blocked the object out. Then I closed one eye at a time and bingo. Clear as can be, my right eye is dominant.

        • Oh so glad it worked easily for you. The thumb test reminds me of images of painters at an easel holding out a thumb. If you’re so inclined, an internet search on leading eye or dominant eye has some interesting info. Although my idea of interesting doesn’t necessarily match anyone else’s. 😊

  11. So glad that both surgeries were successful so you can share more GBH photos with us, Babsje. I am also right handed and left eye dominant. I didn’t realize until I took an archery class and was consistently off target. 😀

    • Many thanks for your well wishes. I have read that archery is one of the most difficult when it comes to being right-handed and having the leading eye be the left. I remember being really bad at archery, myself, in high school and I’m sure it was the same problem you had. I didn’t find out about being left-eyed until years later. Thanks for your interesting comment. Best, Babsje

  12. What fantastic news about the eye surgery! Praying that all continues to go well. As for the photos, that’s a marvelous action shot!

    janet

    • Hi Janet. Yes, it’s very good news so far! Thanks so much for your kind comments and I’m pleased that you like the action photo. That was a very special day – right place at the right time WITH a camera. Best, Babsje

  13. H.J. for avian101

    I’m so glad to see that eye operation was done and you are nicely smiling. My best regards to you! 🙂

    • Hi HJ – Yes I’m smiling! I’m pleased at the improvement already. Many thanks for your kind words and I’m also very happy for you that your own eye surgery has been a success. Best. Babsje

  14. Great shot. Great tale, Trusting your recovery will be great too. Happy Sunday.

  15. I appreciate the wildlife moments without a camera. It’s mostly watching geese fly overhead. They (all critters) live life in the moment, in which we find wondrous. I’ve written before how I don’t carry my camera, or even my phone, everywhere. The daughters, they are more wired than I am. The iPod is with them, the phone is with them, the tablet is with them. They do lay it aside when working the horses. It’s the distraction thing.

    Glad the eye surgery went well. Elizabeth did receive your email. She’ll probably write back later this afternoon. The daughters have a presser in a couple of hours, then they’re done for the day at the horse park. If she doesn’t, I will. 🙂

    • Elizabeth sent an email late tonight. Got hung up on her homework. 🙂

    • Hi David. I agree that it is wondrous how the animals live in the moment, with no worries about tomorrow (at least I think that may be the case).  The youngsters sure are hyper-connected. I only carry my Canon out on the water – it’s too heavy and bulky for random walking about town outings. Thanks for the kind thoughts about the eye surgery! Best, BabsjeHi David. I agree that it is wondrous how the animals live in the moment, with no worries about tomorrow (at least I think that may be the case).  The youngsters sure are hyper-connected. I only carry my Canon out on the water – it’s too heavy and bulky for random walking about town outings. Thanks for the kind thoughts about the eye surgery! Best, Babsje

  16. Whoa! Such a wonderful post on all levels, Babsje. I have no doubt that the heron trusted you, and that’s why it stayed close. Creatures just know! Glad you got to experience with and without your camera, though. (Because, if you do experience it partly with a camera, I get to see it! 😉
    So sorry to hear about your eye struggles, but glad about the end of the story. It must have been difficult to be paddling, looking and photographing with one eye out of the mix.
    Wishing you clearer-eyed enjoyment of nature this fall.
    Regards,
    Julie

    • Hi Julie. Many thanks. I love your well wishes phrasing about having a clearer-eyed view going forward. Thanks so much. A bit of healing ahead but definitely looking forward to getting back out there. Best, Babsje

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