Category Archives: WPLongform

“I’m just swimming au naturelle,” he lied smoothly.

In children’s fables, the crafty trolls lived in the shadowy worlds of tunnels beneath bridges.

My troll preferred the trail above the tunnel, where he walked back and forth above the parapet.

Buck nekkid.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron female taking off from nest, while her mate tends their eggs.

The great blue herons had laid their eggs about three weeks earlier, and I was eager to see if the adults were still on the nest, incubating them.

© Babsje (

To reach the island and the great blue herons’ nest, I would need to paddle inside this narrow tunnel, one of my favorite spots.

The nest was a couple of miles from the boathouse, usually a pleasant twenty-minute kayak trip due south. I would paddle the length of middle lake, under the stone bridge, past the softly flowing waterfall, and emerge at the top of south pond just as I had done hundreds of times before.

As I approached the tunnel, a flash of movement from the path above caught my eye. A shirtless man was moving first towards the bushes at the right, and then he reversed direction and walked eastwards weaving amongst the bushes.

His behavior up there seemed a bit odd, but I was anxious to get to the herons, and so slipped inside the tunnel and was on my way after one last glance up at him. Exiting the tunnel, I exchanged pleasantries with two other kayakers. It felt reassuring to know I wasn’t the only one around that day.

The next hour was enthralling – the adult herons did their “changing of the guard ritual,” with the male arriving to relieve the female, who had been sitting on the nest. Sometimes the hand-off is perfunctory: the incoming bird swoops in unceremoniously and simply takes over the nest, while its mate departs quickly. Other times, they engage in pair-bonding rituals, greeting each other with elaborate courtship and greeting displays. This day, they captivated me with their feathery displays, spending some time together at the nest before the female took off.

Satisfied with my visit with the herons, I headed back in for the day after an hour. Just past the waterfall, I encountered the same two women kayakers seen earlier in the day.

One paddled right up to me and asked, “Did you see the naked guy?”

Uh oh, not only was the “shirtless man” I had seen atop the tunnel parapet “shirtless,” he was also pantsless.

The two women headed on their way and I turned towards the tunnel, heading back to the boathouse.

There on the path above the bridge once again (or perhaps not once again, but rather “still”) was the man – buck naked – walking across the top of the tunnel.

And there I was with my camera stashed below decks. What a photo op that was and I missed it.

He followed the path as it curved along above the shore, and ducked behind some shrubs, but not before he saw me seeing him.

We stared at each other, me from my kayak yards away in the cove, he on the shore, wrapping a blue towel around his waist.

For many people, it might have been a funny situation, but I was frightened. On the one hand, rationally, I knew I was safe in my kayak (unless he was the sort inclined to have a weapon), but I felt frozen by fear. In the past, I had been on the receiving end of several incidents of “violence against women” at the hands of strangers (such as stalking, rape, arson), and so this stranger’s strange behavior brought back a deeply-ingrained panicky urge to get away from him.

There we were, looking at each other. I didn’t want to upset him, wanting to appear nonchalant lest I do something that would incite him to try to follow me home later.

I mean, what do you say to a naked man parading around, and so I blurted out an inanity about the lovely weather that day.

To which he lied, “I’m just swimming au naturelle.”

Deep breath.

I paddled on through the tunnel, and once in the cove, phoned the encounter in to the boathouse.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the boathouse half an hour later and was told they caught him. The state Environmental Police and town police converged on the trail and when they caught him, he was still walking around on the path naked.

I didn’t press charges and the police made sure he understood that the lake is not a “clothing optional” sort of place.

I love happy endings.

But ever since that day, I can’t slip inside that tunnel in my kayak without first scanning the nearby shore and bushes and the trail above the parapet, looking out for the naked guy.

One day this past summer, I saw him again, in the exact same spot, walking back and forth across the trail above the tunnel. I had to do a double-take because he looked naked once again, but when I got the binoculars focused, I could see what he was wearing: light tan/flesh-colored socks, light tan/flesh-colored shorts, and a light tan/flesh-colored shirt. Just an illusion of being nekkid. Lol.

I love funny endings.


This week, Erica challenged us with the topic of the way our perspective changes as we age. I mentioned in the post above having first-hand experience of violent acts at the hands of strangers. There are subtle scars that can result from those sorts of situations, reactions and memories that would be triggered in most any woman survivor, coping strategies we adapt for protection. Having been stalked more than once, I no longer drive a car. (In one state where I lived, anyone could go to the motor vehicle registry and pay less than $5.00 to get the home address of any license plate number.)

So, I don’t drive BUT I do kayak. I have discovered as I have grown older the liberation of being on the water with the great blue herons. It is a floating meditation. I’ll write more about that one day.

Actually, I’ve been writing that in one way or another all along.


Thanks to Paula for her Thursday’s Special Non-Challenge Challenge.

Thanks to Krista and WordPress for the Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise. (What a brilliant disguise, for the formerly-nekkid guy to wear flesh-colored clothing to give the appearance of being naked. How funny that was.)

Thanks to Josh R and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside.

Thanks to Erica and WordPress for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2014 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron

And Then There Was One

“If I try to give the battery a jump start out here, their boat might explode.

And us along with it,” drawled the captain.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron fledgling alone in the nest minutes after his nestmate fledged for good.

Once more, I sat holding my breath in the kayak, moored in a natural-cover blind across the channel from the great blue herons’ nesting island.

Only the day before, the fledglings had practiced death-defying take-offs and landings, more than seventy feet above the island floor. The nest was so very high, and they were so very young and inexperienced. My heart was in my throat as I watched. The mother heron perched on a pine bough across the way, and it seemed that she, too, could barely stand to watch them risk all. (If you missed the earlier post, please click here to catch up.)

But that was the day before, when the weather was somewhat murky and the lake quiet.

This day, the weather was sunny and hot, and the lake buzzed with the sounds of boat motors, small and large, the clanking of paddleboat chains, and the occasional thwok of paddles against canoe frames.

Concerned for the fledglings, unsure about how ready they were for their maiden flights away from the island, I trained the binoculars up on the nest, then down along the channels in both directions, scanning for approaching boats.

I heard it before I saw it, the small runabout powered by what always sounded like a lawn mower engine. A woman reclined in the bow, wind riffling her blond hair, while two boys kept to the stern. The boy manning the tiller couldn’t have been much older than twelve, barely old enough to legally pilot a boat here, and my pulse quickened. I had seen the boys several times before, zipping around the lake as fast as their small boat could go. One day, I encountered them recklessly speeding down the cove, aiming directly at a heron fishing from a log. I’m sure they thought it great fun to scare away the heron. That time, I headed them off with my kayak before they got too close, and explained that the herons are federally protected, and they slunk off out of the cove. This day, I was anxious for the fledglings, concerned that the boys would land on the island below the nest and alarm the birds, but my worries were for naught: maybe the presence of the woman in the bow made them keep their rambunctiousness in check. They motored up the channel and under the bridge without incident.

© Babsje (

Two great blue heron fledglings peering down at the disabled fishing boat beached on the island shore, at left. After the first heron has left the nest, the lone fledgling reacts.

With that danger gone, I was able to fire off more photos of the fledglings until I noticed a fishing boat creeping towards the island. Ominously, it floated closer and closer to the landing, rocking side-to-side on undulating waves lapping the shore.

“This cannot be good,” I said to myself as the boat beached beneath the nesting tree.

With my heart in my throat once again, I trained my binocs up at the two fledglings and then down at the two men in the boat, repeating “please leave please leave” wordlessly to myself over and over like a mantra.

But they didn’t.

The fledglings watched the men from their nest like hawks. Their alarm palpable, one heron raised his cap feathers and arched his wings in a threatening gesture.

My own alarm escalated when one of the men jumped out of the boat onto the island floor. I didn’t know if the herons were skillful enough to survive yet, and needed to get those men away from the island. I stashed the camera, and furiously paddled the kayak out across the channel, trying to get the men’s attention without my own presence further upsetting the fledglings.

Quietly, I slipped the kayak around from behind the island, hoping the herons hadn’t seen me, and pulled alongside their boat. I explained that they needed to leave the island right away because of the fledglings.

But the men didn’t reply. It took only a moment to realize the language barrier between us. I gestured up at the nest, mentioned the word “baby” and made flapping motions with arms. They gestured at their boat’s console and indicated that it wouldn’t start, a dead battery.

“This is not good at all,” I again thought to myself, alarmed for the herons, but then one of the men held up their jumper cables. Language barrier surmounted, we hatched a plan for me to paddle my kayak in search of another boat who could lend a hand.

It didn’t take long to find another fishing boat, and full of hope, I explained the situation.

“If I try to give the battery a jump start out here, their boat might explode. And us along with it,” drawled the captain.

Dejected, I started to turn the kayak away, when he said it.

“I can’t jump ’em, but I can sure tow ’em in.”

And so he did. He motored over to the disabled boat beached on the nesting island, and hooked up a tow line. When last I saw them, the two boats were moving slowly south, tethered by a stout rope. It was a remarkable gesture of kindness between total strangers.

And what of the herons?

I paddled the kayak back to the secluded hide across the channel and raised my binoculars once more.

The nest was empty.

Both fledglings were gone.

“But wait, over there, what is that atop the leaves?”

One of the fledglings had only flown fifteen feet from the nest, and while I watched, he flew back.

He stood on a small limb just above the nest and stared out over the water.

And stared.

And stared.

For a long time, he stared out, looking in different directions.

I’m sure he was looking for his nest mate.

Earlier, I wrote about this pair of fledglings:

I’m glad there are two, keeping each other company and entertained, while serving as practice partners. I imagine it would be very lonely to be only one, sitting alone in a high-up nest waiting to grow in feathers before fledging, expecting to fly.

And now there was only one.


Thanks to Paula for her Thursday’s Special Non-Challenge Challenge.

Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned. (Did the remaining heron feel abandoned? Alone? Confused? Anxious? What, and how much, emotion do birds feel, and how do we draw the line at anthropormorphizing?)

Thanks to Krista and WordPress for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes. (Three photos show the herons as the story unfolds.)

Thanks once again to Stewart Monckton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2014 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron

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. (

If The Heron can Read This, You’re Too Close – Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreshadow

“… Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves.”

Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder,” 
In “A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories

Great blue heron fledglings practicing 24 hours before they fledged.

Great blue herons practicing 24 hours before they fledged.

The sleek kayak had been tugged up into the shrubbery on the hillside just south of the keyhole bridge. No, wait, make that a sleek kayak and a custom canoe nestling there in the bushes. How odd.

I had noticed the same two paddlers the day before, farther north. How could a person not notice their high-end boats and expert-looking water skills?

Fast forward a day, and there were those boats again, cruising the southern waters.  The two men beached their custom-made canoe on the tiny nesting island. I quickly paddled my kayak over and explained to them about the great blue heron nest and the eggs that were due to hatch within the next 10 days. They replied, “OK, we’re outta here,” and left right away. Success!

Keyhole tunnel portal to the southern waters.

Keyhole tunnel portal to the southern waters.

I should have expected that something was afoot when I noticed a white flag hanging off the promontory southwest of the keyhole tunnel the next morning, it wasn’t there the day before. I should have connected it to the two expert paddlers, but didn’t grasp what it foreshadowed.

The next morning, I was enroute to the secluded shady hide along the western shoreline, thinking to pull in and read a book while munching a bagel for breakfast, when I noticed a man in a red kayak heading for the island. I wanted to warn him off, and so spun my kayak around. As I was about to aim towards him, a red canoe came out of nowhere, making a beeline for the island, the woman in front paddling harder and faster than I’d ever seen in a canoe.

I intercepted them, positioning my kayak in their path and they started to curve around me back towards the island. By this time, the man in the red kayak had meandered around the island and maybe 20 yards to the south, not threatening the island, so I focused on the red canoe and explained to the woman that they needed to steer clear of the island due to the nesting herons and chicks that should be hatching soon. She got the message and she and her partner gave the island and nest a wide birth and paddled in the direction of the east shore. Whew.

Next, I paddled south of the island and to the shady hide on the opposite shore,  and turned around to face the island before settling in, when I noticed a green canoe perilously close to the east side of the island, within a foot of the shore, ducking under some tunnel-like branches and then exiting and paddling farther east.

Curious about their odd behavior, I got out the binoculars and saw something hanging from one of the lowest branches on that side of the island. There was a flash of red, and I remembered seeing it Saturday afternoon when I had dissuaded the two men in a canoe from hanging out there – the two who said to me “we’re outta here.” I thought it was red from the baseball cap one of the men was wearing yesterday. But maybe it wasn’t that at all.

By this point, the man in the red kayak had circled the island and was coming around the north side, very close, too close. I paddled up to him and explained about the nesting herons and incipient hatching. He took off his baseball cap, craned his head and neck backwards to look straight up into the trees at the nest, and then back down. He gave me a level gaze and laconically drawled “Well, I need to rest my kayak in a stable spot for a few minutes,” and pulled out a snack and settled in. Aaarrrgh, he was virtually at the base of the nesting tree, his red kayak shining like a beacon that the adult herons couldn’t possibly fail to notice.

I paddled back towards the west because there was now another green canoe heading straight for the island. I paddled alongside and explained to the young woman in front that they needed to steer clear of the island due to the nesting birds, and – to my relief and gratitude – they headed much farther south.

Then, I circled the south side of the island and ducked into the tree tunnel and saw the red thing. There was a plastic ribbon sash circling a low branch, the red ends flapping down about six inches. Suspended from a white cord was a sort of rectangular card with a large number written prominently on it. The cord was wrapped around the neck of the top of a cut-off white plastic milk-bottle with the another number hand-written on it, such that about five inches of the milk-bottle top was suspended mid-air about three feet above the surface of the water. I thought maybe it was a trap for mosquitoes – they sometimes try to detect virus-carrying mosquitoes with traps, but an open-bottomed milk bottle wouldn’t be a very effective trap.

Putting one and one together, I deduced that it was some sort of scavenger hunt.

A scavenger hunt using the nesting island as a way station.

I was, and still am, horrified.

Even though I had explained to the men who placed the scavenger hunt apparatus in the shrubs about the federally protected herons sitting on eggs in a nest on the tiny island, they chose the island as part of their game. Even though I explained about the eggs about to hatch to the man in the red kayak, even though he looked directly up at the heron’s nest, he still chose to park his boat on the island shore for his snack.

I cut down the offending dangling plastic red sash and the milk bottle apparatus, and as I pulled it into the boat I noticed some sort of red plastic fob dangling from the bottom, sort of like a very large clothespin or something strange. I had no idea what it was, probably a weight to keep things from blowing in the wind, and I pulled that into the kayak too, and stashed it all behind the seat back with my sneakers and socks. In that instant, in my own small way, I understood what Greenpeace might feel like.

I then quietly, nonchalantly paddled southeast a bit and circled back to the front of the island. As I was doing this, a silver-haired couple wearing circa 1960 vinyl PDFs proclaiming Boy Scout Troop NNNN was bearing down hard and fast on the island in an ancient silver aluminum canoe. I explained to the woman that they couldn’t approach the island because of the nesting birds and eggs due to hatch and I thought they were paying attention to me, but I was mistaken. They were heading closer and closer as they circled around to the back of the island.

In the meantime, I paddled up to the snacking man in the red kayak still beached on the island, literally to beseech him to leave before the heron abandons the nest. While I was trying to talk to him, the silver canoe came upon me from behind and rear-ended my boat. Outrageous lack of seamanship on a 700-acre body of water. I asked them to get away from the island and again explained about the nest and what would happen if they got too close for too long and the adult herons abandoned the nest.

My heart was in my throat again and I paddled away from the island, heading west. I turned the boat around, and the lunkheads in the silver canoe were still there. I boldly waved my left arm in broad sweeping strokes motioning them all away from the island. And I kept on motioning them away.

The silver canoe then came right up to me and the woman asked me “Did you see the remote?”

I had no idea what she was talking about and so honestly said “no.” It was only after they paddled away that I realized that the red plastic fob on the end of the milk carton string behind my seat back must have been the “remote,” whatever a remote is.

Father great blue heron has fled the nest and watches anxiously from the tall pines.

Father great blue heron has fled the nest and watches anxiously from the tall pines.

I paddled to a secluded spot on the northern shoreline of south lake and relocated the milk carton and dangling fob on the branch of a different bush, far enough from the island to not be a concern for the herons, but close enough to their original placement to not make a huge difference in their little game.

As I raised the binoculars,  I could tell by then that the adult heron was not in the nest. Would the adult return? All I could do was watch and wait. 

I lost track of time, but it seemed an eternity. 

I headed west a little bit more, turned around, and there in the sky was the adult, making a nice big circle and a perfect landing on the nesting tree! He quickly got back into position on the nest and hunkered down.

By this point in the afternoon, the silver canoe was gone, the red kayak was a fair distance away, and I needed to head back for the day, and so I turned my kayak towards home.

Just then, a middle-aged woman in a tiny tan kayak with a big black dog wearing it’s own adorable PFD passed by. I remarked about her cuddly first mate and she said he couldn’t wait to get out of the boat.

I then realized that they were going very fast, straight for the island. I called to her and said you can’t go the island, there are nesting herons with chicks due to hatch soon and she replied, “I’m doing an orienting weekend. I need to get to the remote.”

And on she paddled towards the island, as my blood ran cold. I could only imagine the havoc her dog would cause romping about the island floor.

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know that the eggs hatched, the two heron chicks fledged and they have both successfully migrated, fall and spring, and found their way back to their home at the lake. I am in awe of how they did that.

Photographer gets too close to a great blue heron nest while the nestlings are being fed by an adult.

Photographer gets too close to a great blue heron nest while the nestlings are being fed by an adult.

Between mid-June, 2012, when the above story took place, and August 12, 2012, when the herons fledged for good, there were many – too many – instances of human encroachment at the nesting island. The father heron in particular would leave the nest, and watch anxiously from tall pines across the channel.

Whenever I noticed people landing on the island, or venturing too close and jeopardizing the herons’ survival, I’d try to educate them, and often shared my binoculars to let them see the beauty of the herons.

Fellow photographers were often the worst offenders, so eager to get closer and closer to get that “perfect shot” of the baby birds.

What is the cost of people being careless or disrespectful in nature?

If you’re a nature lover, birder, photographer, boater, whatever, take a minute and read Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” and imagine that instead of a  butterfly, it’s a great blue heron.

And after your next nature outing, how would you answer these:

Did you and your children have a wonderful nature walk, but did the fledgling flush as your toddler squealed and clapped in delight at seeing the pretty birdie?

Did you and your group have a great afternoon orienteering, but did the mother heron veer away while taking fish back to the chicks because you ventured too close to the nest?

Did you and your friends have a fun time waterskiing, but did the father heron abandon his brood when your boat circled the nesting island too close one time too many?

Did you get that perfect shot, but flushed the fledgling in the process?

How long will your friends and family remember your photo? The waterskiing, orienteering, that particular nature walk?

How long will the fledgling remember the meal he missed or the calories he wasted fleeing you? 

Maybe only that single meal, those much-needed calories were his tipping point between life and death.

Read “A Sound of Thunder.”

Imagine that instead of a  butterfly, it’s a magnificent great blue heron.

Don’t be “that guy.”


Here are some great resources for birding/photography ethics:

The Jerk – ABA Blog by Ted Lee Eubanks

Ethical Standards in Birding: Protecting Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species

Bird Photography Code of Ethics by Daniella Ogden in audublog

About the title of this post, it’s a bumper sticker I’d love to see:

“If the Heron Can Read This, You’re Too Close”

Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Krista Stevens and WordPress.

(This took place June – August, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Wherein he Gets the Girl

Saturday at the lake with herons.

I barely could keep my eyes open as the photos downloaded, and then wasn’t awake enough to pay proper attention and look at them all, but one thing jumped out right from the start. The male. The male was missing the finger end of his wing…

Injured young great blue heron in territorial stance.

Injured young great blue heron in territorial stance.

The first outing of the year each May is mostly about getting back into the elements, feeling the water flow beneath the kayak, tuning muscles that had been idled winter-long, and exploring the lake to inventory the changes over the winter months. Any expectations for great blue heron sightings are low; if lucky, I get to see a solitary heron foraging along the shoreline, but at this time of year, half the population is generally sitting on eggs wherever they nest, which isn’t very near this lake (or at least isn’t visible from navigable waters).

This year, true to form, I was the first to put in at the boathouse, and had a leisurely solo paddle along the north shore, then delving into a tranquil remote cove, and back up again to the farthest reaches north. Lovely. No herons in sight, not even a high-altitude flyover, but such a sweet paddle. Winter was mild here that winter, there had been no big snows, so not much had changed along any parts of the shoreline, and there were no new recumbent pine trees that had crashed down since the previous autumn. It was so very good to be back on the lake, even if there were no herons about.

After finishing that circuit, I turned south, venturing deeper to pass under the tunnels and beyond into the only part of the lake where water skiing and fast powerboating are permitted. It’s a dangerous place for kayaks and other people-powered things, but the high season wouldn’t start til the following weekend and the lake was very quiet just then. It was worth taking the chance of the kayak getting swamped.

Not far beyond the last of the tunnels is a very small island with very tall trees. Cormorants roost there in numbers, and a mute swan pair nest beneath the pines. Great blue herons had a large nest there that had been used for generations. Four years ago, though, they abandoned the nest mid-summer due to human encroachment. It was a very sad sight, the abandoned nest. Then, three years ago, a fierce storm took down the top of the nesting tree. It didn’t look promising on the island for the herons for a few years. Two years ago, though, just before the high season started, I paddled down to the island area and was excited to see a young heron on a branch of what remained of the still-tall roosting tree. He was snug against the trunk, preening. Had he been born on that island? Was he waiting to attract a mate? Would they start a brood there? I wondered.

So, that Saturday, I went back there to see if he was again in that roosting tree. Binocs up. Focus. Focus again. Wait for the powerboat wake to subside and then focus yet once more. Several cormorant nests with birds in them, nests that weren’t there last year. Focus higher in the tree. A heron, ten feet above the cormorant nest. No, wait – two herons, very close together.

I watched transfixed as they preened, and then one peeled off, soared over my head, and landed in the pines across the channel from the island. A few minutes later, he reappeared – carrying a stick in his beak – and soared back up to his mate.

I have often said that I would never photograph nesting herons up close because I wouldn’t want to interfere with their breeding by getting too close, and a suitable telephoto lens would be too expensive and too heavy for use in a kayak. Plus, it wouldn’t be the same traveling to one of the rookeries that get overrun by photographers. So, I was content knowing I’d never photograph them, myself.

But here they were on my lake that Saturday, nesting – no travel involved, no expensive telephoto needed, no interfering with their mating attempts, no crowded rookery.

Goosebumps erupted at the realization that these weren’t just any herons, they were birds that I’d been watching for seven summers. Each year, if lucky, I’ve been able to see fledglings from that year’s crop, but have never seen the actual nesting. Until that Saturday.

I watched from a safe distance for about an hour as the male flew off and returned, back and forth, with sticks for the nest, and then as the female wove them into the nest. It was a very new nest, probably not more than a couple days worth of building so far. Mostly the female did the weaving, and sometimes the male helped before flying off to gather sticks and boughs.

What a thrilling scene, to watch these herons nesting on my lake. Curiosity was intense as I wondered exactly which two of the birds I know so well were they. I could guess through the binocs, but wouldn’t be be able to tell for certain until I downloaded the photos afterwards.

I was exhausted when I returned home after kayaking for more than four hours and could barely keep my eyes open as the photos downloaded. By then, I wasn’t awake enough to pay proper attention and look at all the shots, but one thing jumped out at me right from the start: the male.

The male was missing the finger end of his wing – it was the same two-year-old male who had suffered traumatic wing-end damage the previous summer, and who had tried valiantly that autumn to seduce the older female heron. I had been apprehensive about his odds for survival with that injury, and was elated that my fears had been unfounded. He had survived migration and the winter with his damaged wing, and he had found a mate and was building his first-ever nest.

Gorgeous in his now-adult plumage, he got the girl.

(This took place May 19, 2012.)

And in the end, then, I was mistaken about never photographing nesting herons, wasn’t I? Thanks for the nudge, WordPress.

© 2013 Babsje. (

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