Great Blue Heron and One Magical Feather – (Not So Wordless Wednesday)
… I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief. I come into the presence of still water.
The Peace of Wild Things (excerpt)
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
Doesn’t this Great Blue Heron holding a seagull feather bring to mind a friendly dog playfully carrying his favorite toy back to you, wagging his tail?.
At the time, I wanted to say to her, “Who’s a good girl? You are! You are a good girl!” because the way she pranced the length of the submerged log seemed so playful – at first.
At first, it looked playful, but then I realized the seagull feather was not a mere toy to this Great Blue Heron – it was a tool, a fishing lure she repeatedly dipped into the water to entice fishes up to the surface, making it easier for her to spear them with her stiletto bill..
For some birds, it is dinnertime more often than not. Searching for their next meal, or that of their offspring, is a full-time job. A few Great Blue Herons at the lake have adapted tools to make fishing much easier, and dinner more of a sure thing.
She would pluck the feather from the water’s surface, and shake loose the droplets…
…And then carefully drop the feather back down into the water…
After a few moments, she retrieved it with that stiletto bill again, shook it dry, and then dropped it into the water once more.
Transfixed, I watched her repeat this for more than ten minutes.
It looked almost ritualistic – totemic or shamanic even – to see a feathered creature brandishing a feather from a different bird in such repetitive behavior.
And then it dawned on me.
Before she first picked up the feather, she had been fishing, staring intently into the water as though tracking a fish, from the half-submerged pine trunk.
And once she picked up the feather, she continued her fishing – using the feather as bait to attract her prey up to the surface. Her prey: the fish.
How smart a bird and how alluring a lure she chose.
The internet is rife with accounts of animals using tools, such as a news piece that featured dolphins using tools to catch fish. Crows are the master tool users of the bird world, but as this experience shows, Herons are very smart birds, too.
I’ve observed herons using tools for fishing on other occasions, but there’s something magical and special about her choice of a feather lure.
After all, don’t human fishermen – especially fly casters – often fashion their lures with feathers?
Why should a Great Blue Heron choose any differently?
That day, I took more than 925 photographs at the lake.
The Great Blue Heron you see here is one of only three I’ve named: Juliette.
While Juliette and I were in the middle cove, her suitor Romeo was just over the ridge in the long slender cove, oblivious to the mysterious joys of fly casting with a feather.
Romeo missed all the fun that day.
About today’s post: Today’s post is prompted by I.J.’s Bird of the Week, Jez’s Water Water Everywhere, the Lens Artists Art in the Park challenge, and last but not least Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sundays Stills: Appreciating our #Pets and #Playgrounds (this Heron acted like a friendly dog playfully carrying his favorite toy back to you, wagging his tail).
Because of my near-blindness, I’m not able to link in my posts to the various host sites for WP challenges/tags in the way I have always done in the past, but please know that I value the sense of community here, especially among the Lens Artists, Cee Neuner, Debbie Smyth, Leanne Cole, BeckyB, Denzil, I.J., Restless Jo, Tofino Photography, Dan Antion, Terri Webster Schrandt, Bush Boy, Jez, Fandango, and so many more, who all encourage the entire international network of photographers and writers. Sorry that I cannot link directly at this time – this is the best I can do for now.
My Great Blue Heron photographs were 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. 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. If you’re in the Boston area, please stop by TCAN to see the wonderful gallery displays of artworks by many talented visual artists, as well as excellent live music performances and stage plays. The gallery is open whenever the box office is open, so please check hours here.
Art in the Park 2023 is coming: June 11 at Shaw Park!
Watch this space.
As always, many of my own photos were taken on the waterways of the Charles River watershed.
Folks, now that some areas have opened back up in a new normal, please consider supporting your local Arts communities – whether music, theater, crafts, visual arts venues, and others. All have been impacted over the past THREE years and they still 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:
- January thru February 2022 – One-woman photography show
- December 2019 thru January 2020 – One-woman photography show
- May, June, July 2018 – One-woman photography show
- July 2016 – One-woman photography show
- March 2016 – One-woman photography show
- May 2015 – One-woman photography show
Natick Town Hall:
- July 2022 to January 2023 – Group exhibit
- January thru June 2022 – Group exhibit
- September thru october 2018 – One-woman photography show
Five Crows Gallery in Natick – Represented since 2013
- July 2018 – One-woman photography show
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™
A Patience of Herons™
© 2003-2023 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)
Share the love, but please respect the copyright. No reposting of any photos without permission.
Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, TCAN, Five Crows, Natick Center Cultural District, Fishing
Posted on May 24, 2023, in # Lens-Artists, ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Fishing, Mindfulness, Nature, Photography, Wildlife Photography and tagged # Lens-Artists, #LAPC, #SundayStills, bird of the week, naturephotochallenge, WWE. Bookmark the permalink. 71 Comments.
So interesting. I’ve watched Green Herons use this technique, but I wasn’t aware other herons engage in it. Now, I’ll watch for signs of it among the Great Blue Herons.
Glad you enjoyed this one. Green Herons are fascinating little birds. The internet has some interesting videos of Green Herons using pieces of bread to lure fish. The way it works is that a human tosses bread at the Green Heron, who then selects a piece to use as bait. Ingenious!
Captivating, Babsje. Any progress with the eye condition? 🤗
Hi Jo – thanks so much for your lovely compliment about the Heron, and for asking about my eyes. The vitrectomy surgery that was supposed to take place yesterday was cancelled. So one down, two to go at some tbd date. 😊 I’ve been enjoying your recent walks, btw. So much history there!
It must be hard to stay so positive, darlin, but you do an amazing job.
Aw, you say the sweetest things, thanks Jo. Yes, it has been a challenge going on more than 9 months now.
Love your stories and photos. So smart, these herons! They’ve been around for millions of years longer than our species. Would it be better for the earth if we worshipped animals like these? They deserve our respect.
Hi Rebecca – I so much agree with you! It would be better for the earth, indeed, if humans worshipped and respected them! Many thanks for your thoughtful comment.
Amazing Babsje. And we use the term “bird brain” derogatorily! So did she get her fish?
Hi Anne – so glad you “get it.” In fact back in 2013 I posted “Who You Calling a Bird Brain” about a Heron fishing with a twig. She didn’t catch a fish with that feather lure while I was watching that day, but I’m sure she didn’t go hungry. Many thanks for your lovely comment!
Natures constant adaption is amazing! I wonder if they keep the feather for future fishings?
Hi Wayne – yes, I agree that Nature is amazing. On this particular day, when the Great Blue left the cove, she left that Seagull feather afloat on the water. There are lots of feathers available depending on the weather and winds, but I’m not sure if the Heron would save any specific feather to use again. Like it would be her “lucky feather!”
Sea Otters use stones to crack open shells and when they find a stone they like they keep it! They have a flap of skin under their arm that acts as a pocket!
That is so cool, Wayne, thanks for mentioning it. One day I came across a small shell midden on the shore of one of my favorite coves. That cove was home to Beavers, Muskrats, and Others. I never saw which critter had cracked open the shells, though. Still a fun mystery to discover the midden.
Absolutely beautiful heron! And amazing behavior.
Hi Angelina – Many thanks for your lovely compliments about the Heron fishing! I’m so glad you found the Heron and her behavior amazing. It amazed me at the time, too.
My first thought was ZZ Top’s song “Legs.” But what a fascinating scene!
(Have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE the feather in your header!?)
Hi Susan – “Legs” would be a fantastic song for this Heron and your comment brought a big smile. Thanks for your compliment about the header aigrette feather. I photographed it before learning that it is illegal to have Heron feathers!
Fascinating story, babsje, of the GBH using the feather as a tool. Even though I have observed dozens and dozens of herons, I have never seen a GBH use a feather for fishing. Although I am familiar with birds using tools, this is a new one to me. Really appreciated your thorough explanation and excellent photos.
Hi Jet – I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this post and photos. I have seen Great Blues using twigs and sticks before, but that was the first time I had seen a feather used that way. One interesting observation I made about the Herons’ use of twigs as tools? Notice I said Herons’ plural? I have seen two different generations of Great Blues fishing using sticks or twigs in that same area of the cove. My assumption is that the youngster learned by watching the parent! I’m not sure if the parent “intentionally” taught the youngster, but we do know that adult birds do indeed teach some skills to their babes. So in my fantasy the parent specifically showed her offspring what to do.
Seems highly likely, babsje…what a thrill to observe!
Yes, it was a thrill, especially when I determined that more than one individual Heron was doing it!
Babsje, thank you for this reminder about the intelligence of our non-human friends and neighbors. G
Hi Gary – you’re welcome and thank you for your keen observation – our non-human friends and neighbors deserve so much credit for their intelligence, and more respect than they are often granted.
I love that heron. We are cut from the same feather-collecting cloth. Thank you also for the Wendell Berry quote. 💚
Hi Martha – I though you would appreciate the Wendell Berry! And your own expression “cut from the same feather-collecting cloth” is itself poetic and brought goosebumps.
I have picked up a lot of feathers, but never tried fishing with one. I never underestimate bird’s intelligence after all they’ve taught me. I’m the slow one. 😀
Lovely post at your link, Martha. I’m known for an affinity for both Herons and Hawks, too, and am also definitely not a birder, myself. Thanks for sharing your post!
My pleasure. My vultures are back and I’m very happy to see them.
Vultures are fascinating. We have a Turkey Vulture migration and one fall I was exiting the very narrow cove in my kayak and looked up and the sky was black with dozens and dozens of them passing right overhead. Awesome and overwhelming at the same time.
That’s what they are doing here right now! Very cool birds. There are a lot of very tall spruce trees around my neighborhood and the vultures love them. They’ll be here until fall.
Their wings are so beautiful and they are BIG birds. There are a couple of photos here, being shown by a raptor rehabilitator. It was a hot day and he was visibly shaking from the weight of the Turkey Vulture on his arm. Some wild Red Tail Hawks circled overhead and called to the birds on display. Goosebumps. https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/bald-eagle-friends-in-the-community/
I love it. So beautiful to see those birds like that. I brought out my turkey vulture feather — well it’s always here on my table — to share the post.
Did I share this with you before? It was published in a little magazine I have some poems in but I also found it online. The author — Reyes Garcia — was a professor of philosophy at a nearby university. He was born and now lives in the southern part of the San Luis Valley on a ranch his family settled years and years ago.
Yes, I remember reading that and even had it bookmarked, what a luminous piece. Thank you for sharing it again.
I thought I’d shared it with you but I didn’t want to take the chance. I thought it would speak to you.
Yes, it does! And it bears re-reading more than once! So lyrically beautiful.
So delicate and amazing. 😍
Hi Drexel – thanks so much, I’m glad you appreciate this Heron. Is it Milky Way time yet in your astro world?
It’s Milky Way time yes, but the clouds are not letting up 🙈. So I went to look for the flamingoes today. I emailed you a couple of photos just now.
Not fun when the clouds do that, I feel your pain. Thanks for the photos – I’ll check for them in the morning – my email is already shut down for the night. Past my bedtime. I’ve never seen a Flamingo in person and am looking forward, thanks!
Not fun at all. Have a peaceful night.
Thanks so much. May you have some less cloudy nights soon!
Thanks again, Drexel. Your Flamingo photos are lovely. Have you seen this, speaking of things astro? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_2023ixf
Thank you 🙏🏾. Yes I have seen it all over my social media pages. Lol a bit overwhelming too. It really hasn’t excited me that much seeing that it happened over 20 million years ago 🙈
You’re welcome and I have to say your remark about “seeing that it happened over 20 million years ago” had me laughing out loud!
I loved this post. What great phtos as well.
Hi Judy – thanks for letting me know. That Great Blue Heron has been one of my favorite models for many years. What artist doesn’t fall at least a little in love with their model?
I love this poem “The Great Blue Heron” by Carolyn Kaiser. I couldn’t find it online in print but did find this video of her reading the poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrxsQdK-B2g
What a moving poem, thanks for the link. I remember from an earlier exchange about how that piece moved you, and – if memory serves me well – how pivotal that writers’ conference was to you.
Sorry, I’m losing it… Didn’t know it was you I had that conversation with earlier. If I send it to you a third time, I will just consider commintment!!! ;o)
No apology needed. The poem is luminous and bears listening to again – too bad there isn’t a print version, too. And your own personal story connected with the poem is meaningful. If you send that poem to me a third time, I will just say “Third time’s a charm!” 😊
Fabulous image and a wonderful testament to the intelligence of our feathered friends, Babsje!
Hi Terri. Thanks so much for your appreciation of our very smart Heron friends! Glad you liked this one.
Interesting story on Heron fishing. And as always, beautiful photo.
Hi Phyllis. I’m glad you found the story interesting. It was fascinating to watch it unfold in real time that day.
It would have been fun to watch them with you. And I could have taken a few photos of my own. ;0)
Thanks Phyllis, that’s a lovely thought.
What a wonderful observation! Maybe fishing stores should sell lures that look like that.
That’s a good idea! Wouldn’t it be fun? I’ve taken a few photos of Herons catching fish that would make trophy fishermen weep, like a trophy-size largemouth bass. Glad you enjoyed this one!
Very special photo’s
So pleased you appreciated the Heron fishing, MaryLou. Thank you. Also, I enjoyed your own recent post about your vacation – those horses were beautiful!
I knew that herons have impressive fishing skills, but it came as a surprise to me that they also use tools. Using feathers to lure fish closer to them demonstrates they have an impressive intellect. They understand cause and effect, they have patience to persevere. Thank you for an excellent post. I am sorry to hear that your surgery was cancelled/postponed. Sending hugs and positive thoughts your way.
Hi Rebecca – so pleased that you enjoyed the fishing Heron. I am not unhappy that the eye surgery was cancelled – it is a good thing. However I don’t want to engage in any more discussions about my my eyes in the blog comments. It gets overwhelming. Thanks for your understanding.
Best of luck with your vision. True vision is internal (and with the heart). 😊
Thanks Tom, I’m so glad you “get it” that “vision” and “eyesight” are two different things. My own eyesight is challenged but my vision is intact. 😊
Yes indeed… you got it right! 😊