Category Archives: Weekly Challenge

Beautiful Great Blue Herons – A Retrospective, Nbr 1

The artist’s job is to get the audience to care about your obsessions.

Martin Scorsese

Frequent visitors to this blog know that most of my photos are taken from the waters of the Charles River Watershed area. There are moments of absolute stillness and peace there on the water, and mindful moments imbued with wonder. There’s love and concern for the herons I’ve come to know over the years. Sometimes there’s a touch of humor, and other times a sense of curiosity and a wanting to learn more. Sometimes the photos I take are capital A art, other times merely nature photos from the field. Some of the stories below are personal anecdotes about encounters with Great Blue Herons, some have more scientific value than others, such as the Great Blue Heron using a twig as a tool. Some have more artistic merit than others and some are quirky and just for fun.

Crows are the master tool users of the bird world, but as this first-hand experience shows, herons are smart birds, too. In this sequence showing tool use by herons, the yearling Great Blue Heron wiggles a twig in the water to attract the fish. Click here for Who You Calling a Birdbrain?.

The small heron turned back and forth, from alpha heron to human, weighing, weighing the greater of the dangers, the lesser of the evils: alpha heron vs woman. And then he made his move. Click here for The Lesser of Evils.

It is not so rare to see a human in the cove, and there’s one who sometimes watches me when I’m down at the end, where its more brook than cove. You know the place. She thinks I’m not aware of her presence, but I am. I just let her think that. Click here for Brown Bag Lunch in the Cove.

It took them quite a while to position the branch, and there  were a few cliffhanger moments as the branch nearly escaped their beaks’ grasp and almost plummets to the island floor 70 feet below. Click here for Our Love must be Some Kind of Blind Love.

Fearlessly, fleet of wing and nimble of foot, he practiced take offs and landings from the tip of that branch. My heart was in my throat as I watched, because it was such a long way down and he was still a beginner. And his nest mate? I imagined him thinking, “My turn, I want my turn now!” Click here for Fleet of Wing, Nimble of Foot.

Thanks to Jen H and WordPress for this week’s WPC Challenge: Twisted. The Herons building their nest twisted and turned almost acrobatically as they attempted to position that exceptionally long branch into their nest.

Thanks to Cee N and WordPress for her SYW Challenge: Share Your World May 28 2018. The Herons, themselves, obliquely answer some of Cee’s thoughtful questions for this week. And my answer to her question about my choice of vacation spot? My beloved lake. (And apologies to Cee for once again bending the rules.)

Thanks again to Erica V and WordPress for thei recent WPC: Place in the World. My favorite place in the world is on the water with the beloved Great Blue Herons.
From May 1 through July 11, 2018, my Great Blue Heron photographs once again grace 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. 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.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2018 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, TCAN, Five Crows


Where’s My Captain? – Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside and Sunday Stills: Boats

Everybody, listen to me, and return me, my ship
I’m your captain, I’m your captain…

Mark Farner, Grand Funk Railroad

There were no great blue heron sightings that day at the lake, and apparently not enough humans, as well.

There were no great blue heron sightings that day at the lake, and apparently not enough humans, as well – at least not inside this captainless inflatable boat.

I have taken some liberties with the topic of this week’s Photo Challenge “Inside.” As you can see, this photo shows “NOT Inside,” instead.

While I’m being a bit playful with words here, what happened that day on the lake could have been tragic. The captain bounced out of his boat without having his kill-switch tether attached, and so his boat circled endlessly until the fire department ran the boat aground.

Fortunately, no one was injured in this incident, but not all similar incidents have had happy endings.

Click here to learn more from the US Coast Guard Boating Safety Resource Center.


Thanks to Michelle and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside nudge, and to Ed for the Sunday Stills: Boats challenge.


(This took place May 19, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Only in Still Water – Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual POV

Great blue heron reflection.

Great blue heron reflection.

We cannot see our reflection in running water.
It is only in still water that we can see.

Lao Tzu,
Tao Te Ching


Great blue heron with reflection.

Great blue heron with reflection.

For this week’s Photo Challenge, we were encouraged to post a photo showing an unusual point-of-view. The photo above is actually the flipped upside down bottom from this one, where I feel that the reflection is the stronger element of the whole shot.


Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual POV nudge.


(This took place October 6, 2006)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Hide and Seek – Daily Prompt: What a Twist and Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual POV

The subtle shift in the tilt of her head alerted me to an unseen presence.

Great blue heron watching deer across the cove.

Great blue heron peering across the cove.

The great blue heron perched in a resting posture, stationary and gazing off to the east under half-closed eyes, and I sensed that she was going to go to sleep standing there.

Secure along the shore of the cove, hidden in a blind of natural cover where she couldn’t see me nestled there amid thick layers of leaves and branches, I had settled in for the morning’s photo session.  

It was mid-morning, her early fishing and feeding were done, and the log next to the blooming pickerel weed made a secluded and quiet resting place.

She was unmoving and serene, a study in tranquility, and those qualities were once again contagious that morning – I felt the peacefulness of the space we share, as I always do in the presence of herons.

At left, the great blue heron perches on a log. The heron had been resting in this position for a long time, but then the subtle shift of her head, at right, signaled that she was suddenly watching something new across the cove.

At left, the great blue heron perches on a log deep in the secluded cove. She had been resting in this position for a long time, until a subtle shift of her head, at right, signaled a sudden watchfulness.

Half an hour had elapsed while we both rested there in the cove, when a subtle but unmistakable shift in the tilt of her head signaled that she was alert and watching something on the opposite shore. Lulled into a sense of complacency, I thought to myself that it was probably just the Irish Setter I had noticed ambling along the trail when I paddled into the cove that morning.

Deer viewed through leaves of blind.

Looking through leaves of my natural cover hide/blind.

The heron stiffened upright suddenly, as though coiled for action. Something, intuition perhaps, told me it wasn’t an Irish Setter at all. Maybe the fox I’d photographed there a few years earlier was back! Their coats were a similar color.

Hastily, I turned around in the leafy hide, pushed aside branches, thrust the camera into the leaves and fired off a few shots. I’m a staunch proponent of photographing from the seclusion of a blind or hide for the good of the wildlife, and you can see in this photo the unusual point-of-view that happens when elements of a “natural cover” hide get into the shot.

Deer along the banks of the cove, directly across from the great blue heron.

Deer along the banks of the cove, directly across from the great blue heron.

Gingerly, I readjusted the leaves and branches of my make-shift hide to free the camera lens, moving excruciatingly slowly to not alert the animal to my presence there in the cove. Holding my breath, I leaned outward just a bit more and stared through the lens directly into the eyes of – not an Irish Setter nor a fox – a large, mature deer, a first-ever deer sighting in the cove.

For forty-five minutes that morning, the three of us – great blue heron, white-tailed deer, and human – shared the lower cove. The deer watched the heron durng brief breaks in munching tender leafy bushes along the shore, but didn’t seem at all aware of me. The heron also didn’t pay any attention to me, but watched the deer intently, at one point flying about ten feet for a closer view of Bambi.

And me? I watched both deer and heron with my heart on my sleeve. This was the closest ever I’d been to a wild deer. Time stood still as I put the camera down and peered through my higher-magnification binoculars. I soaked in those enormous soulful eyes, the tickly-looking whiskers, and the adorable ears that seemed to swivel with their own sense of direction, the better to hear us with as the children’s fable says.

The encounter ended as all such wildlife-human encounters should end, utterly without drama: nobody spooked or flushed anybody.

The deer finished munching his greens, turned and sauntered softly back into the woods.

The great blue heron stared after the deer for a long while, and then once again took up her perch on the log.

And I, still wordless from the wonder of what had just unfolded, paddled on to the next lake, smiling all the way.


Thanks to Michelle W. and WordPress for the Daily Prompt nudge, and also thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual POV prompt.


(This took place August 14, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Going the Distance? – Ailsa’s Distance Travel Theme and Wordless Wednesday

 © Babsje (   Going the distance? Egret ponders a winged migration alternative.

Egret ponders a winged migration alternative.

Thanks for the Wordless Wednesday nudge and also thanks to Ailsa and WordPress for the Distance Travel Theme prompt.

File under: Absolute Silliness!

(This took place August 24, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

When you Hear Hoofbeats, Think Horses not Zebras – Daily Prompt: Name that…

WordPress has asked us today if we know the meaning of our name, and why our parents chose that name for us. I’m an adopted person and have no clue.

So, enough about me! Let’s talk members of the heron families – they’re much more interesting.

Egret head-shot for comparison: great egret vs intermediate egret.

Egret head-shot for comparison: great egret vs intermediate egret.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have noticed that just under two weeks ago, an egret was noticed on the lake here for the first time. My focus for the past decade has been on great blue herons, and so I wasn’t entirely sure which variety of egret is visiting us. Snowy Egrets were ruled out immediately – they have yellow feet, but this egret does not. The Great White Heron was also quickly ruled out since it isn’t found this far north. Cattle Egrets were never in the equation due to size and coloring. It also isn’t a Little Blue in breeding plumage.

It meets many criteria for the Intermediate Egret: the tip of the beak is brown, the top of the head is rounded, the gape ends fairly near the back of the eye, the neck is not longer than the length of the body, etc. That said, when comparing this egret to the many photos online, it could also be deemed a Great Egret if Great Egrets also have brown beak-tips.

I have read exhaustive descriptions of both birds online, and there seems to be some confusion, and many mislabeled internet photos, too. (Say it isn’t so, misinformation on the internet!)

So, a question for the bird experts of WordPress from Africa, Asia, and Australia where the Intermediate Egret is found in great numbers. Does this bird resemble one of your egrets?

One phrase that’s sometimes used when training physicians in the art of diagnosis is “When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” It’s a reminder to rule out the most common causes for symptoms first, before testing for the exotic or obscure.

Because my Egret is in New England, the most common label would be Great Egret, but I’m just not 100% positive.

Thanks in advance for any expertise people can share!


Thanks to Michelle W. and WordPress for the Daily Prompt nudge.


(This took place August 20, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Birds Just Wanna Have Fu-un, Oh Birds Just Wanna Have Fun – Travel Theme: Play

  © Babsje ( Egret pondering paddle boat. How many egrets will this boat hold?

Egret pondering paddle boat. How many birds will this boat hold, anyway?

Ailsa’s requested topic for this week is ‘play.’

Whatever Ailsa wants, Ailsa gets. But be sure to file this post under pure, unadulterated silliness.

How many birds will this boat hold, anyway? I promised the whole gang a paddle boat excursion today.

Let’s see, there’s one of me, plus eight herons… Maybe we need two paddleboats!

Well, if that won’t work, we can always soak up some rays on the beach, and hey, look, the lifeguards are still on duty!

  © Babsje (  Egret just wants to have fun.

Egret just wants to have fun.

Guys, believe me, this is going to be a great afternoon.

Why look, there are picnic tables over there! Wanna see if they have any goodies for us?

What do you mean birds shouldn’t mooch people food?

The pigeons and seagulls do it all the time. Why not egrets and herons?

Guys? Guys?

Well, that’s the last time I agree to coordinate a meetup for you guys.

Thanks for the Play theme nudge Ailsa and WordPress.

© 2013 Babsje. (

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Lens – Daily Prompt: Secret of Success

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 
The Little Prince

Great blue heron fledglings in nest in mirror image.

Great blue heron fledglings in nest in mirror image, July 2013.

This is the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the season’s great blue herons chicks have finished fledging, and they can be found plying the shores in some areas more abundantly now than at any other time of year.

It’s an exciting time of year for birdwatchers and nature photographers, alike, as the young herons are less wary than adults, and so more accessible.

In the past week, dozens of new photos of great blue herons and fledglings have been uploaded to the Internet. Some are spectacular photos, yet some of those spectacular shots are scenes where the birds were being endangered unwittingly by the photographers.

This is a critical time of year for the fledglings: between now and autumn migration, they must master all of their survival skills.

The statistics are sobering. As mentioned on the Heron Conservation org’s website:

  • Mortality rates are high in juveniles. In the first year they are 69-71%, decreasing thereafter and with regional differences.
  • Highest postfledging death rates are from August to December, probably related to the difficulty of learning to feed.

I have posted in the past about human encroachment into herons’ space (If The Heron Can Read This, You’re Too Close) and about herons that have become comfortable with (some) humans’ present (Here’s Looking at You, Kid). My blog contains a widget with useful guidance for nature photographers and birders including these and more:

Michelle W requested that we post to answer this specific question, “What would it take for you to consider yourself a “successful blogger”?”

I would consider my blogging successful if I’m able to raise photogrqphers’ consciousness about safe ways to capture those magnificent herons without endangering them.

I’d like to see more people clicking the links to resources for protcting birds in the right-hand column on my blog.

I’d like to see more photographers using appropriately long lenses.

I’d like to see more people shooting from hides or blinds.

I could go on and on, don’t get me started. Oops, too late!


Thanks to Michelle W. and WordPress for the Daily Prompt nudge.


(This took place July, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Great Blue Heron Programming – Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree

The bass boat revved its engine as the three fishermen cut across in front of my kayak. They had noticed the same thing I did, the solitary heron plying the waters from a submergd tangle of branches. A fishing heron means only one thing – fish – and to the men in the bass tournament that morning, fish meant only one thing – prize money, big money. As they swerved towards the eastern shore, I wondered: would they flush the heron before I got to shore?

Intermediate egret fishing intently.

Egret fishing intently.

It had been three days since I had sighted a great blue heron on the lake; not unprecedented, they sometimes hide for a bit, and it is August after all – i suppose even the birds are entitled to some carefree days away from the routine.

Still, I wanted to see which heron was the one on the shore before the fishermen chased it off. There are three adult great blues from prior years yet unaccounted for so far this year, and I was feeling anxious to identify this one. There had been four, but I found one in a small pond a few weeks earlier. (See Artists and Models.)

As both the bass boat and I made trees on our way closer to the shore, my thoughts turned to the technical – how to compensate for the sun’s glare on the heron? I’m not sure what kind of gear Vladimir Brezina of Wind Against Current uses for the boat-based photographs he takes of his outings with Johna Till Johnson, but mine is not high-end, expensive gear because the risk of immersion is too great. (I’ve only soaked one camera, when swamped by a five-foot wake, and once was enough for me, thank you very much.)

Consequently, my lens is slow, but it serves me well except in extreme sun and glare, and as I checked out the heron on the shore with my naked eye as I drew closer, it looked like the glare was definitely going to be a problem. The photos wouldn’t have any artistic merit, but maybe they could at least be useful for identifying the specific bird. Discerning which heron it was actually was the more important consideration.

Then it struck me: wait a minute, there can’t be any glare, the sky was completely overcast.

That was no glare.

And that was no great blue heron.

The bird was entirely white.

And not a swan.

It was an egret, the first-ever I’ve seen on this lake.

I love “first-evers” like that.

Time will tell if my gear is up to the challenge of photographing egrets on a sunny day. Time will tell if the egret even sticks around at this lake, or if it moves on or back to its usual home.

I’ve been photographing herons for so long that I know their anatomy well, where to focus and under what kind of conditions, but egrets are uncharted waters. Because they’re monochromatic, the little anatomical markers I know so well on great blues are much more subtle on egrets.

Judy at Janthina Images is a magician when it comes to egret photography. Phil of Phil Lanoue Photography is a maestro of creatures in the wonderland of his marsh. Bob of Texas Tweeties by Bob Zeller shoots egrets and herons and more with exceptional clarity, as does Victor at Rakmil Photography. Plus, Mike of Mike Powell Photography recently posted a very lovely flying egret. David of David Alaniz Photography also has some stunning egret photos on his blog. Tina Schell of Travels and Trifles does outstanding work with egrets, too, especially her Wings of White egret in breeding plumage, plus her lovely egret eggs.

(I’m sure I’ve overlooked many fine egret photographers. If you’re one of them, please reply via comments here with a link to one of your egret photos.)

Now that I’ve had my first-ever sessions with an egret, I bow even more deeply to them both.

Or rather to all of them – Judy, Phil, Bob, Victor, Mike AND the egret.


Thanks to Sheri Bigelow and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree nudge.


(This took place August 18-19, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Here’s Looking at You, Kid – Cee’s Which Way Challenge and Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot Two Ways

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.

Only the day before, I had posted a rant about photographers and birders endangering herons by getting too close – If the Heron Can Read This, You’re 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. 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 standupon 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 when out on the water is retrieving floating litter that might harm the birds and other creatures of the lake. 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 her 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. A sea-kayaker friend reports that some seals show no fear of humans, which he attributes to increasing numbers of paddlers near their colony.

Some wild creatures are opportunistic, and have learned that humans are an easy source of food: herons and other wild birds follow fishermen for handouts. The large pike shown in It Followed Me Home, Can I Keep It? was first caught by a man fishing from the tunnel entrance, and when he tossed it back into the lake, the heron swooped right in for the kill. Vladimir Brezina of the Wind Against Current blog has some interesting photos of herons and other birds trying to cadge lunch from humans.

This particular great blue heron has landed very near me three times over the past eight years. 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 who rescued it in The Taxi Driver’s Tale. So, in addition to being habituated to human presence and opportunistic foragers, some birds that have been “helped” by humans can become less fearful of us.

Whichever the reason, I feel that contributing to the “taming” of these wild creatures is a dangerous path we should not tread. Their long-term survival depends on their retaining their wild nature. Great blue herons have few natural predators, eagles, large owls, and alligators among them. Humans rank high in that list: we kill off herons with fishing line, plastics and styrofoam, lead from guns, destruction of their habitat, death at the hand of koi pond owners, encroachment at nesting time by birders and photographers that causes nest abandonment, the list goes on.

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 she 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.

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.

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 the first post for this blog, I recalled an encounter with a great blue heron from almost ten years ago. At that time, I described the feeling like this:

It felt as though I was looking at a being of kindness and intelligence, and an equal.

The silence between us was absolute.

We stood there, eyes-locked, watching each other, absorbing in full stillness, and then he leaned forward and lifted skyward in absolute silence, not an audible rustle of feather in the unfurling of exquisite wings – just soundless, effortless flight.

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.

The recent experience described in this post proved my earlier words right, the diffence being that this time I did have a camera with me. What I found was that only by lowering the camera was I allowed to be fully present with the great blue heron in a way not possible with the lens in between us.

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 majestic creature, our eyes locked from three feet away, searching for what lies within each of our beings


P.S. The sidebar of this blog includes a list of important resources for protecting birds; if your’re a photographer or birder or just someone who likes going on walks in the woods, please take a moment and visit some of those links.

P.P.S. In case anyone wonders how this post relates to “One Shot, Two Ways,” I took poetic license: the “shot” is the heron’s-eye-view of looking at me, the “two ways” are first one eye, and then the other eye.


Thanks to Cee Neuner for the Which Way Challenge nudge and also thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands for the Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot Two Ways nudge and WordPress.


(This took place August 7, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (

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