Here’s Looking at You Blue Heron
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Thanks to Cee for her CMMC: Dark Greens. Green foliage abounds at the lake.
Thanks to Debbie for her Six Word Saturday . This post title has the requisite six words!
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
Natick Town Hall
Five Crows Gallery in Natick
Be a fly on the wall! You can CLICK HERE to see the gallery walls with Herons .
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 #6WS, #fivecrows, #LAPC, CMMC, Lens-Artists Photo Challenge, TCAN. Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.