Great Blue Herons Dam Love Letter

Great Blue Heron at the Dam - babsjeheron © Babsje (

Great Blue Heron at the Dam – babsjeheron

It is very easy to become absorbed – too absorbed – by the scene unfolding through the lens. One day, I came face to face with a different danger facing photographers who become too absorbed by the scene within their viewfinder: I was so engrossed with following the Great Blue Heron through my lens that I nearly stepped over the edge into clear air. Every couple of years, we read news stories of people falling off cliffs or going into waterfalls while taking photos. The day I took the above photo, I learned how easily that can happen. One more step, and I would have been in the water below the falls.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

― Lao Tzu

Great Blue Heron Balanced on Fish Ladder - babsjeheron  © Babsje (

Great Blue Heron Balanced on Fish Ladder – babsjeheron

Water – fluid and soft – does indeed wear away rigid, unyielding substances. Look closely at the right-hand side of the above photo of the beautiful Great Blue Heron balancing on the fish ladder. Do you see the small torrent cascading through the sidewall of the ladder? We don’t often think of concrete as being fragile, but it is susceptible to the forces of water.

Plans are in the works to replace – or even remove – the dam over the Charles River and perhaps also the associated lovely park that is a gem of the community, frequented by families and artists and photographers for generations.

The experiences shown here today are a love letter to that special place, told in photos.

Great Blue Heron Fishing at Fish Ladder - babsjeheron © 2018 Babsje (

Great Blue Heron Fishing at Fish Ladder – babsjeheron

For more than an hour, the Great Blue Heron stalked a Salmon, climbing the fish ladder slowly, intently scanning the pooled water at the base of the dam, then pausing to rest, perched there on one leg. All the while, she faced away from the torrent gushing down the ladder behind her. I could see fish in the rushing waters and wondered if the Heron would shift her focus. Finally, she looked at the fish ladder right, and left no doubt at all about the fate of that Salmon. Fortunately for the Great Blue Heron, the ‘no fishing in fish ladder’ sign and policy don’t apply to Herons.

Great Blue Heron Catching Large Fish - babsjeheron  © Babsje (

Great Blue Heron Catching Large Fish – babsjeheron

The purpose of the fish ladder is to give fish the means to travel upstream to their spawning ground, since they cannot jump over the dam along side the ladder. I have never observed any fish swimming up the ladder, but I have seen fish tumbling down. Which brings me back to Great Blue Herons. They love to wait at the base of the dam for unlucky fish swept over the edge. It’s not just water that cascades over the lip of this dam on the Charles River – the tug of gravity pulls with it hapless fish destined to become dinner for an eagle-eyed Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron and Waterfall - babsjeheron © Babsje (

Great Blue Heron and Waterfall – babsjeheron

The Charles River was in drought conditions in the above photo, with the usually-robust waterfall at the dam subdued to a trickle. Compare to the seething, frothing foam at the base of the dam shown next.

Great Blue Heron at the base of the dam  fishing - babsjeheron © 2016 Babsje (

Great Blue Heron at the base of the dam fishing – babsjeheron

Photography is a solitary endeavor for me, so imagine my dismay upon arriving at the Charles River dam one morning to see a big splash of color looming over the ancient grinding wheel across from the fish ladder. There would be no Great Blue Herons that day. Taking in the entire scene, though, dismay quickly turned to joy.

En Plein Air Painting at the Dam Nbr 2 - babsjeheron © 2020 Babsje (

En Plein Air Painting at the Dam Nbr 2 – babsjeheron

What came into view was first one, then two, then three, then four artists set up in 19th century vignettes with easels under brightly-colored umbrellas. They were spaced a good distance from each other, all with a differing vantage point of the river and dam and old stone bridge where the Herons fish. One of the painters in particular called to mind a scene from the mid-1800s as she gazed out over the lush water lilies floating above the dam, paints at the ready, paintbrush in hand.

En Plein Air Painting at the Dam Nbr 1 - babsjeheron © 2020 Babsje (

En Plein Air Painting at the Dam Nbr 1 – babsjeheron

Rosemary Morelli teaches painting including en plain air style at her studio in eastern Massachusetts. The artists painting at the dam that day were a few of her students.

The bridge in this photo below was constructed in the mid-19th century, around the same time that the cyanotype process came into vogue. There is a palpable timelessness to this location and the artists and easels enhanced that feeling. I can easily imagine a 19th century painter or photographer capturing an ancestor of one of the Great Blue Herons that frequent the area today.

© 2016 Babsje (

Great Blue Heron – Charles River Blues Nbr 2 – In the Cyanotype Style – babsjeheron

I chose the above 19th century style cyanoprint series “Charles River Blues” for part of my current exhibit at TCAN because the Summer Street Gallery, itself, is from that same 19th century period.

© Babsje (

Fledgling Great Blue Heron on Log at Dam – babsjeheron

The log teetered at the brink of the falling water (in the photo above), and I quickly positioned the camera to capture the moment it began the inevitable cascade over the brink. A shadow suddenly passed overhead in the morning drizzle, outside the range of my lens, and I looked up too late to see what it was. Only when peering through the eyepiece once again was the mystery solved: a fledgling Great Blue Heron was now perched atop the precarious log. It was the same Great Blue fledgling seen in that area weeks earlier. My heart sang to see him so healthy and strong.

Fish Ladder Freezing in January- babsjeheron © 2022 Babsje (

Fish Ladder at the dam freezing in January- babsjeheron

Our winters can be harsh, as this weekend’s blizzard righteously reminded us, and my thoughts are drawn to reassuring scenes of the Great Blue Herons of warmer seasons. But what becomes of the fish ladder in winter? Above and below, a view in January. It was so cold, the splashing water froze when it bounced upwards and tried to stream over the edge.

Fish Ladder Freezing in January Detail - babsjeheron © 2022 Babsje (

Fish Ladder at the dam freezing in January, Detail – babsjeheron


I do not know the ultimate fate of the dam and fish ladder and beautiful park, along with the beloved Herons who call that area home, but I hope Douglas Adams was onto something when he wrote:

There is no problem so complicated that you can’t find a very simple answer to it if you look at it right.
Douglas Adams
The Salmon of Doubt

Here’s hoping the powers that be are looking at things right.

It is difficult to envision what change will bring to the lovely park and dam when all is said and done. I like to keep the poem below in mind:

Life spreads itself across
the ceiling to make you think
you are penned in, but that
is just another gift. Life takes
what you thought you couldn’t live
without and gives you a heron instead.

On the Meaning of (excerpt)
Linda Back McKay

Once again, the Great Blue Heron diving beneath the water’s surface is gracing gallery walls.

TCAN One-Woman Show January February 2022 Lobby Wall With TCAN Reflection © 2022 Babsje (

TCAN One-Woman Show January February 2022 Lobby Wall With TCAN Sign Reflected; TCAN Stained glass art by Carol Krentzman, framed by Jay Ball

TCAN One-Woman Show January February 2022 Front Lobby Trio © 2022 Babsje (

TCAN One-Woman Show January February 2022 Front Lobby Trio

My Great Blue Heron photographs are once again on display on the walls of the lobby and theater in a free one-woman show at the Summer Street Gallery, of The Center for Arts in Natick.

Since 2001, the Center for Arts Natick has been housed in the circa 1875 historic Central Fire House, where the Summer Street Gallery provides an opportunity for accomplished visual artists in the region to have their work prominently displayed for TCAN’s diverse and loyal audience.

The Center for Arts Natick believes the arts are essential to a complete human experience and to the creation of a vibrant, healthy community. TCAN serves the Boston MetroWest region by increasing opportunities to experience, participate in, and learn about the arts. To this end, TCAN strives to present arts programs of the highest standard that are available to everyone. TCAN dedicates its resources to providing community access to diverse arts programs, reducing barriers to attendance, and building appreciation through arts education.

If you’re in the Boston or Metro West area, please stop by to see the Great Blue Herons. As always, many of the photos were taken on the waterways of the Charles River watershed.

The gallery is open whenever the box office is open, so please check hours here.

And who knows, maybe I’ll see you there one day.

I’d like that.


Cee Neuner, Debhie Smyth, and the community of Lens Artists encourage the entire international network of photographers and writers. Please click the links below to see the beautiful offerings from these wonderful photographers.

The focus for this week’s Lens Artist challenge hosted by Amy is “Travel.” All of the photos on my blog were taken within 5 miles from home. I love that the beautiful Great Blue Herons spend part of their lives each year within the Charles River and Sudbury River watersheds. I’m very fortunate that my studies of them don’t require expensive travel to distant locations. And after this weekend’s blizzard, traveling to see the Herons at the dam “virtually” in photos was a delight.

Thanks to Cee for her CBWC: Cold or Chilly. The water freezing as it cascaded in the fish ladder in January was definitely cold

Thanks to Debbie for her Six Word Saturday. Don’t ask me, I’ve no idea.
From Patti Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 184: Travel .
From Tina Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 184: Travel .
From Amy Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 184: Travel .

From Leya Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 184: Travel .



Natick Center Cultural District logo

Natick Center Cultural District logo

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 a half and they need your love more than ever.


The Natick Center Cultural District is situated in a friendly, classic New England town hosting a vibrant, contemporary fusion of art, culture and business. Click here and here to learn more!


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

TCAN – The Center for Arts Natick – Currently appearing one-woman photography show January February 2022
Natick Town Hall – Current group exhibit thru January 3 2023
Five Crows Gallery in Natick – Represented since 2013
Audubon Sanctuary

Be a fly on the wall! Please CLICK HERE to see the Great Blue Herons gracing the gallery walls.


Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

May the Muse be with you.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2003-2023 Babsje. (

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


Posted on February 1, 2022, in # Lens-Artists, ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Inspiration, Mindfulness, Nature, Photography, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 89 Comments.

  1. Thank you very much, dear Babsje 🙏 🙏
    What a versatile post we really like 👍
    Keep healthy and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • I’m so pleased that you appreciate my little love letter to a special corner of my community here. Many thanks for your kind words. Soon you will be out and about in your new boat for spring time adventures on your beloved waters! Looking forward to Dina’s photos from the sea near you. Wishing all my best to the Fab Four of Cley 😊 😊 😊 😊 Kindest regards. Babsje

  2. Well Babsje, you’ve shown one doesn’t need to go far to find beautiful and interesting places. And of course your lovely herons add to the excitement of the rushing waters. Well done!

    • Hi Tina. Thank you very much for letting me join this week even though my travels embraced less than 5 miles for each photo! I can’t fly, myself, but the Herons more than make up for that. Many thanks for your lovely comment. Best, Babsje

  3. Such insanely elegant creatures! You be careful out there when stalking them.

    • Thanks so much for calling them “insanely elegant creatures!” They definitely are exactly that. And thanks for the reminder to be careful out there. That was my first and hopefully last close call. Best, Babsje

  4. I thought your lead photo was a heron in the snow, but then I wondered why you would be outside. It’s infinitely more icy and slippery at water’s edge, along with thin ice. What I do find amazing is the salmon knows what the ladder is for. In terms of travel, one does not need to go far to find the inspiring, the magical. There are plenty of scenes where we live.

    Sent an email with a couple photos attached.

    • Hi David. Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comment. You’re right slippery and icy conditions and also about the ability to find beauty without traveling far. There was a blog years back titled something like Photos Close to Home, the premise of which was that the blogger decided he could learn just about anything to do with his camera gear and photographic techniques without traveling far, and IMO he proved that with the photos he shared. I embrace that philosophy. And thanks for the heads-up about email. I’ll follow-up when back at an actual computer. Best, Babsje

  5. What an adventure you had capturing your wonderful images Babsje. Please be careful!!

  6. Congratulations to your exhibits, Babsje! I’m so glad you were safe while taking the photo. All are beautiful captures of GBH. I love the Log at Dam especial.

  7. Babsje, what a beautiful tribute, a paean to a place you know well and love. I hope those pressing for dam removal will be mindful of the consequences for all the living who depend on the water impounded above the dam. Monet would be amazed by your photos of the plein air painters.

    • Hi Gary. Thank you very much for seeing the beauty in the plain air painters at the dam. I would love to see their finished works and would be sad to see that lovely landscape disappear for good. I hope and think the powers that be will be sensitive to all of the wonders in that magical little park, not to mention the beloved Great Blue Herons. Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. Best. Babsje

  8. Adventurous you! Glad you made it, and hopefully you will avoid such danger again! Love the lodge image – so much life and movement!

  9. I hope they leave the dam alone Babsje! The entire ecosystem would be altered completely If removed!
    Congratulations on your art show!

    • Hi Wayne. You’re right about the ecosystem there – it would be unmistakably altered. The dam itself is not tall – only about 12 feet (~3 meters) – but it is approaching 100 years old and is at risk of failing. My hope is that the dam could be replaced and the park environment maintained with minimal disruption. It is a true gem, unlike any other area of town or of the Charles River. A girl can dream of generations to come of Great Blue Herons flourishing there and families continuing to have small picnics on the grassy banks for years and years. Thanks for your insightful comment. Best, Babsje

      • It may come down to sheer economics? If It costs way too much to repace,they may just get rid of it and that’s when when advocates like yourself need to stand up! Forming something like a “Friends Of The Dam” to raise funds may be necessary?

        • Hi Wayne. Yes, there you go being right about the economic realities of the situation. There are competing needs and wants, and I’m sure an engineering cost-benefit analysis is part of the equation. Your idea of Friends of the Dam is intriguing. Thanks for thinking outside the box.

  10. It’s fascinating to watch an artist at work. 4 must be a bonus! And heron stalking…well, I’ll leave that to you experts, Babsje. Hope it all works out for the best.

    • Hi Jo! You’re right, seeing 4 painters at work on the grounds of the lovely little park was a delightful trip. It truly felt like a bit of time travel back a century. I should ask to see their finished paintings! Many thanks for your kind comments. Best, Babsje

  11. Some of that flowing water looks ever so cold 😀 😀

    • Hi Cee, you are so right about that!! The foam at the base of the falls also froze the moment it erupted upwards after hitting bottom. Too cold to manipulate the buttons on the Canon that day! Thanks for your kind words and for hosting. I adore your challenges
      Best, Babsje

  12. Oh, Babsje, your post is full of beauty and I’m enjoying my stay here! May the powers that be see things right indeed. 😉

    • Hi Marina. Many thanks for your generous compliment and encouraging words about the powers that be. I’m pleased that you enjoy your time virtually seeing the Herons at the dam through these photos. Best, Babsje

  13. enjoyed your photos and words – and clever herons to “wait at the base of the dam for unlucky fish swept over the edge>”

  14. 😱😱😱 Be careful out there! The herons would lose their most devoted P.R. person!!! GREAT photos, as always, AND commentary. I like the Charles River Blues too.

    • Hi John. Thanks so much for your kind words of caution. I’m happy that you like this one, and especially the Charles River Blues. It is a very timeless place and I hope it keeps on keeping on for a long time. Best, Babsje

  15. Your action images are wonderful! You can see the graceful movements of the herons and their beauty. I’m so glad you didn’t fall over the edge! Yikes.

    • Hi Patti. Thanks so much. I’m glad you like the action shots. And I’m glad I didn’t go into the drink, too! Love the Make Way for Ducklings photo on your own blog – how very fanciful. Take care, stay warm. Best, Babsje

  16. Weer erg mooi gefotografeerd in hun eigen habitat

  17. I’m really enjoying your blog. What a beautiful post.

  18. What a beautiful environment that is, Babsje! A gem, indeed. The black and white photos particularly caught my attention. One can look at them for a long time and see more and more… I love to see painters out and about. I so admire that they are there, that they put up with the weather, and that they manage to concentrate with people around. 😉
    Hope you are well!

    • Hi Julie. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad you think that spot is a gem as do I. It was fun watching those plein aire artists work that day – they each chose different locations in the park and so experienced different views, all of which were beautiful. Best, Babsje

  19. I enjoyed the GBH photos, babsje, so much. A great series of photos highlighting the elegance and ingenuity of the heron. Really liked seeing all the water photos, the ladder, and the Lao Tzu quote as well. Beautiful post.

  20. I believe I shared an affection for my bird that was equal to yours, illustrated so beautifully here in both words and images…

  21. Wat een sprookjesachtige omgeving daar zal de reiger zich in zijn nopjes voelen

    • Hi MaryLou. I adore the way your comment refers to a fairy tale environment that delights the Herons. Yes, it is a very special place. Many thanks! Best, Babsje

  22. Beautiful captures, getting the feel of the streaming water …and you even caught a painter:) Thanks for linking my post:)

    • Hi Emille – many thanks for your kind comment. I’m glad you like the Herons and the women en plein air painters I saw there that Sunday morning. I like the idea of painters working out in nature and not just making a copy of a scene they have photographed first. Best, Babsje

  23. This post is chock full of wonderful pictures and information, Babsje. I can’t help but think that it also works for the Lens Artist theme this week: Change. You scared me when you said “One more step…” I’m so glad you looked, but please be careful. You get some amazing shots but you live so close to danger. Fascinating post.

  24. Brilliant! but do be careful out there. Falls happen quite frequently in our neck of the woods. I love your calming images of your heron, as always, but I admit like you the bright colors of the arts brought a unique perspective to the dam. The one behind the shrubs was something of a Monet look, wasn’t it? So pretty, all the photos. Donna

    • Hi Donna. Many thanks for your generous compliment. I’m pleased that you liken the en plein air artist to something Monet might have observed back in his day. That area of the Dam and park is very lush and has a timeless feel, especially when the Mute Swans meander through the lily pads. I felt fortunate to be there the day those art students were working! Best, Babsje

      • I can imagine. I might be more nosy than you. I would want to go up close and find out how they were doing and what inspired them on the canvas.

        • Big smiles. I approached the painting teacher instead of her students and asked her about the program since she was the only one not at an easel, moving among the four students. Thanks for your great observation.

  25. What a wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing 🤗

  26. I am glad you talked of the art instructor. I just read back. Very nice. donna

  27. So glad you are okay. Thanks for a much needed reminder to be careful. Your patience in photographing the heron paid off with the wonderful photos. 😊

  1. Pingback: Patience Grasshopper, erm Heron | Babsje Heron

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