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Bite Your Tongue – Weekly Photo Challenge: Masterpiece

Because even masterpieces sometimes bite their tongues.

Great blue heron bites its tongue.

Great blue heron bites its tongue.

It’s no secret that I consider great blue herons among the masterpieces of Nature.

And it’s also no secret that their tongues are fully the length of their stiletto beaks.

Do you know that feeling of chomping down and biting your cheek or tongue in the process?

The heron shown here certainly does.

She was foraging along the northern shoreline, rooting in the waters and wet clay, and mostly coming up with frogs and small turtles that day.

It had been peaceful watching her as she rounded the curve in the shore where the water lilies were in bloom.

She was gorgeous in classic heron silhouette, sleek feathers catching the sunlight just so, and I fired off more than a few photos.

Great blue heron bites its tongue - frame number 1.

Great blue heron bites its tongue.

And then it happened: she bit down, let loose a sharp cry, and transformed into a vision unlike any I’d ever seen before, her crest feathers channeling Madeline Kahn’s bride of Frankenstein hairdo from the wonderful film Young Frankenstein.

For some of you, this might just be the first time you’ve ever felt empathy with a Great Blue Heron, no?

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress.
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(This took place September, 2009)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Play it Again, Sam: Freshly Fledged 2013 – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

“We saw a great blue heron,” exclaimed the excited young boy in the blue kayak.

My pulse quickened.

I hadn’t seen any herons at all at the nesting island since July 12th, the day of the sibling territorial standoff out on a limb

An extreme heat-wave had settled over New England, and it was too hot for kayaking on the lake, and by the time the temperatures moderated, I had been off the water for six days – a long and aching absence as I wondered about the fate of fhe two fledglings, who had appeared very-nearly ready to fledge at last sight.

Monday, the 22nd was the first foray back. It was thrilling to find that one of the two 2012 fledglings had successfully migrated back to his home on the lake. Absolutely thrilling. However, through the binoculars, I could see no fledglings in the nest atop the tall tree on the island.

Tuesday, the 23rd brought a sighting of a newly-fledged great blue heron in the small cove on the eastern side – what a gorgeous creature. There is a hidden nest in that area, I have never been able to see it in person despite watching adults and fledglings in that cove for seven years in a row. Absolutely thrilling. However, once again no fledglings sighted at the island, just an empty nest.

On Wednesday, the 24th, as I was headed for the nesting island once again, a flotilla of two mothers and their children in five kayaks bottlenecked the entrance to the keyhole tunnel.

I struck up a conversation with them as I waited my turn to pass, and asked a young boy, “Did you have fun?”

“Mom, what was that bird we saw at the island?” he replied.

I prompted him, “The island has cormorants and swans and geese….” And here I paused for a few beats on purpose before adding, “And herons.”

“We saw a great blue heron,” he exclaimed.

My pulse quickened. Could it be? I hadn’t seen any herons at the nesting island for ten days, since the day of the fledglings’ territorial standoff out on a limb. I had visited the island for two days in a row, with no heron sightings, but maybe the young boy was right.

I waited for their full group to clear the tunnel, then paddled swiftly through, into the cove, and then further south past the small waterfall and then under the larger tunnel. 

At last, the island was in sight. I raised the binoculars and focused, then focused again. No herons in the nest, nor on the island shores. I aimed next at the north shore across the channel from the island, to the denuded limb and branch where herons have perched in the past. Nope.

My hopes were dashed.

Great blue heron fledglings in the rain. They fledged between July 16th and July 22nd, 2013

Great blue heron fledglings in the rain. They fledged between July 16th and July 22nd, 2013

Had they fledged during the heat wave? Or had they perished in the nest, where there was no shade to be found? The air temperature exceeded 99 that week, with a heat index of 109 degrees at surface level. I can only begin to imagine what the heat felt like seven stories up in a nest with no cover…

A cold front brought a sweet and drizzly taste of autumn yesterday, and the lake was quiet – I didn’t see another boat before the rain drove me inside.

I did once again see the female heron and her fledgling in the small cove, the same pair I observed on Tuesday.

And I did see a fledgling from the nest on the island at last. Absolutely thrilling.

In fact, I saw two. Both great blue heron chicks from 2013 have successfully fledged!

When I found them, they were taking shelter together from the rain under the leafy canopy on the limb and branch across the channel, where I had looked the day before. 

I like that they found each other after flying the coop, that they were sheltering from the rain together.

And I am again smitten.

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Sara Rosso and WordPress.
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(This took place July 25, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Bottoms Up – Tilted Theme

She lifted her tail – higher and higher until it seemed she might accidentally tip fully forward and execute a face-plant in the water.

Great blue heron focusing intently while stalking a fish.

Great blue heron focusing intently beneath the surface, while perfectly balanced.

As she stalked her prey, there came a subtle shift in her center of gravity. 

From a standing position, head and tail level, perfectly horizontal, she slowly slowly lowered her beak towards the water’s surface, the better to peer below.

As she did that, she lifted her tail – higher and higher until it seemed she might accidentally tip fully forward and execute a face-plant in the water.

She was far too graceful for that, maneuvering those huge wings into perfect position to achieve balance…

And to achieve dinner!

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Thanks for the Tilted theme nudge Ailsa and WordPress.
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© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Full Circle: Freshly Fledged  – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

There was reason to be concerned for the newly-fledged herons. Would they survive the migration south, the winter, and the migration back? If so, would they remember this lake where they were born and make it their home once again?

The first year mortality rate for great blue herons is high. I’ve seen it cited as high as 75-90%, although there are geographic variances at play. Fledgling herons  must master their survival skills during a very short window. For birds in New England where I am, the earlier in the summer they fledge, the more time they have to learn and to bulk up before fall migration begins.

A few days ago, I wrote of the successful fledging of two great heron chicks during the summer of 2012. The adult herons – against high odds of human encroachment that had resulted in nest abandonment previously – succeeded in breeding and bringing two chicks to fledge successfully. They beat the given odds of 50/50 survival from fertilized egg to the day of fledging. Each parent sat on the nest in shifts, uninterrupted, day in and day out, for two full months, in brutal heat and fierce thunderstorms without benefit of any cover that high up. Each parent was eating for three for two months – sacrificing their own meals to feed the two chicks.

From a hidden vantage point across the channel and 70 feet below the treetops, I shepherded the nest along every possible day between May and late-August for as many daylight hours as I could, up to six or seven hours a day. It was sweet and rewarding and peaceful – and also physically arduous, sitting in a small boat for that many hours with no possibility of standing up. But, if the birds could do it 12 hours a day for two months straight, I figured I could handle six hours at a stretch. And so I did. I believe my presence there made at least some small difference in their survival – I chased humans off the nesting island when they landed, and intercepted and deterred small boats from attempting to land, and kept others still from venturing too close in the first place. I often shared my binoculars with the other boats, and think that helped raise consciousness about why the herons should be protected and treasured.

Coming back full circle to the start of this blog post, the earlier in the summer the herons fledge, the greater their chances of survival, since they have more opportunities to fine-tune their fishing and feeding skills. 

What of the herons of 2012? The adults started building their nest – entirely from scratch – late; it wasn’t completed until the last week of May, whereas some nests are usually done by late March or early April. The nestlings fledged on August 12, which is similarly late. Migration can start as early as late September to mid-October, and so the fledglings of 2012 had maybe two months to learn what it takes.

Great blue heron yearling “Number 2” – this yearling fledged August 12, 2012 and was photographed here July 23, 2013.

There was reason to be concerned for the newly-fledged herons.

Did they have enough time to get smart and strong? Would they survive migration south, the winter, and migration back? If so, would they remember this lake where they were born and make it their home once again?

And, even if all of those answers were “Yes,” would I find them, and then recognize them if I did? After all, they would have gone through their first molt, exchanging their russet feathers for grey-blue and white ones, bringing a striking change in their appearance.

Once again, I am elated: BOTH of the 2012 fledglings survived their migrations, and have returned to the lake this summer. I found yearling “Number 2” a few weeks ago, but hadn’t gotten around to posting any photos from that session. Only yesterday did I find yearling “Number 1,” within 100 yards from where I saw her last, last Autumn.

So, not too surprisingly, they have each taken up their old haunts from last summer, about three miles apart from each other. And so, not too surprisingly, once again I am elated. And smitten.

(For people who are curious about how their appearance can change, the yearling in the photo I took today and posted here is the same heron shown here.)

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Sara Rosso and WordPress.
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(This took place July 23, 2013)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Freshly Fledged  – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

No crumpled birds littering the island floor, no sodden nestlings floating in the waters nearby…

When I arrived at the island, the nest was entirely empty. Both chicks had definitely fledged for good. My job as shepherdess was complete for that season. It had been only a few days shy of three full months, and I had seen them through from building the nest to fledging.

 © Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com) Great blue heron fledgling focusing intently while stalking a fish.

Great blue heron fledgling focusing intently while stalking a fish in the cove three weeks after leaving the nest.

It was an emotional realization, a few tears of joy for them and their new soaring life, and some of sadness at the thought of never watching that heron family in the nest again. At never hearing the sometimes sweet, sometimes raucous chih-chih-chih…chih-chih-chih of the chicks at feeding time, so loud it could be heard above the din of boat traffic – so head-turningly loud that people who didn’t know what was afoot would stop and turn their canoes towards the noise to see what it was.

I wanted to see proof for myself that their maiden flights were a success, and so started a circumnavigation of the southern lake, staying close to the shoreline, binoculars in hand, looking for the fledglings. Close to the island, I found  no crumpled birds littering the island floor, no sodden nestlings floating in the waters nearby.

Two-and-half hours after beginning the exploration, I spied a fledgling on the far southwest shore! I kept a good distance to avoid interrupting his foraging – every morsel counts at less than 24 hours out of the nest – and took a few photos through the telephoto. More little tears. (Yes, I can be sentimental and silly.)

Satisfied at having found a fledgling safe on the shore, I paddled back to the special cove nook, to have oatmeal and coffee and watch the empty nest in hopes the chicks might return.

I was reading a book, floating in the shade, the waters were like glass, so very quiet you could hear the…

… You could hear the soft frawhnk of a heron in flight…

… In flight towards the nest.

One of the adults soared over the island, then swooped onto the tallest branch of the nest-cradling tree.

And not two minutes later, another much softer frawhnk, as a fledgling glided up to the nest and settled back home. Goosebumps!

And then came the music to my ears:

Chih-chih-chih…chih-chih-chih…chih-chih-chih

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge Sara Rosso and WordPress.
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(This took place August 13, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

United States great blue herons fledging

It is so exciting to see the Cornell herons fledging already! As for the herons nesting here, I’m off to check on them today, fingers crossed that the extreme heat this past week wasn’t too hard on the two nestlings. In the meantime, in this earlier post is another link to that heron cam that Petrel41 had posted: http://wp.me/p3sJPz-2L

Dear Kitty. Some blog

This video is called Great Blue Herons, Camera host Cornell Lab, beautiful birds,they are courting,4/9/13.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Heron Fledging Has Begun

The first young heron took flight from the nest tree in Sapsucker Woods yesterday just after noon. The fledgling earned the nickname “Uno” from the hundreds of chatters who witnessed the flight on the new Heron Cam 3. Enter our contest to see if you can guess when the final heron will fledge–the winner will be announced on the Bird Cams Facebook page and will receive a 5″ x 7″ print featuring one of the nestling herons!

While you’re waiting for the last nestling to fledge, check out the growing nestlings on the two Osprey cams (Dunrovin and Hellgate). The nests are only about 10 miles apart from one another in western Montana, but the Dunrovin…

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The Edge of his Feathers – Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph…

From the poem “Birds”
Pablo Neruda,
Art of Birds

When last the great blue heron nestlings appeared here, they were playfully testing each other with bill duels just like the adults sometimes do in courtship and in face-to-face territorial attacks. At that point in time, they were just over a month old, and learning how their wings worked. As you can see in this photo, the edges of his feathers stand out in stark relief, with far too much daylight between the individual feathers for him to get true lift.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

In this photo and the sequence below, the herons’ play is taking the form of practicing a “forward” display. In case you’re wondering if he’s not simply testing his wings for flight, there are a couple of clues. Notice in the first two frames that his cap feathers are erect. This crest raising display isn’t a sign of an ordinary test flight. In the next five frames, he pivots and turns towards his nestmate, assumes the forward display posture, and follows with wing waving threats. The final clue is this: within one minute of the last frame shown below, he engaged his sibling in another bill duel, grasping the other fledgling’s beak firmly in his bill. Assertiveness training, anyone?

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: getting started by crest raising.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display frames 3-4.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: territorial display frames 5-6.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: forward display.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: territorial display frames 7-8.

As I wrote earlier, 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.
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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge, Michelle W and WordPress.
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(This took place July 29, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Expecting to Fly – Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

Imagine how lonely it would be to be only one, sitting alone in a high-up nest, waiting to grow in your feathers.

The nestlings are starting to try their wings. It is remarkable and yet I can barely stand to watch. They don’t have enough feathers yet for flight, since they’re only 4 1/2 weeks old, but they roughhouse with each other in amusing ways. 

It has been said that animal babies’ “play” helps develop their survival skills, and my observations of great blue herons over the past decade supports that theory. One form of great blue heron baby play is shown in the photo sequence here. The fledglings thrust and parry, grabbing each other’s beaks in a bill duel similar to that used by adult herons in courtship, and that also helps develop their eye-beak coordination.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: bill dueling.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: bill dueling.

Adult great blue herons are generally solitary creatures when not in mating and nesting season, and the nest play of chicks is one way they can improve their survival odds.

I am glad there are two of them, to keep each other company, and to serve 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.

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge, Michelle W and WordPress.
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(This took place July 29, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Fleet of Wing, Nimble of Foot – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

Focusing higher, there he was… On a limb twenty feet farther out from the nesting tree… At the tip top, fifteen feet higher than the nest… Which itself was at least seventy feet above the island floor.

The great blue heron nestlings were learning to fly. For a few weeks they had been stretching their wings, furling and unfurling feathers in the tight confines of the nest. They went through a stage of climbing from the nest to nearby branches by extending their legs and reaching out with their toes, but now they were using their wings instead. Up and down, hop-flying up to a branch and then back down to the nest, practicing.

I had been watching for an hour, then was momentarily distracted. When I glanced back at the nest, only one chick was in the nest. The other? Scanning the branches just above the nest for him with binocs, not there. He had been there a few minutes earlier. Focusing higher, there he was… On a limb twenty feet farther out from the nesting tree… At the tip top, fifteen feet higher than the nest… Which itself was at least seventy feet above the island floor.

Great blue heron fledglings practice flying.

Great blue heron fledglings practice flying.

This was more than a practice hop up from the nest; the fledgling had fully “flown” to the tip of that branch.  It was thrilling. 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!”
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(Thanks for the photo challenge nudge, WordPress!)
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 (This took place August 11, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Bodes Well

The mother heron perched on a limb high up in the trees on the shore directly across from the nest, in a horizontal posture that would let her take flight in a heartbeat. She was staring intently at the nest and island and the far shore, watching. I sensed a longing in her stock-still watchfulness…

The day before, I discovered one of our fledglings in a cove midway up the lake, about two miles north of the nest. This is quite an achievement for a heron that had fledged less than three weeks earlier. I’ve observed the fledglings as far as three-quarters of a mile from the nest, but never that far away, and never that far north.

It bodes well for that fledgling’s survival, as the shoreline and fishing there is much more suitable for their foraging. Only a narrow strip of land separates  that cove from the secluded inlet which is the best feeding ground, where I’ve watched the most fledglings grow over the past eight years.

Great blue heron three weeks after fledging the nest.

Great blue heron three weeks after fledging the nest.

The main concern for this one now would be territorial disputes with adult males in the area. Those can be exciting to watch, but can be deadly for the losing bird.

That day,  an adult heron worked the eastern bend in the shoreline, about twenty yards from the chick wading along the northern-most shore. The fledgling was definitely aware of the adult, and watched it for a while before starting to forage. The adult was facing away from the chick, and didn’t seem aware at all.

Eventually, the adult reversed direction, and she noticed the fledgling. I say “she” because a male adult would have become territorially aggressive and attempt to chase off the interloping youngster. Instead, this adult fluffed out it’s neck feathers fully, which can be either a greeting display or a territorial display, depending. There was no ensuing chase scene, and eventually the adult lazily flew to the west end of the cove and the fledgling continued on fishing.

Later on, I paddled down to the nesting island. No fledgling in the nest, I hadn’t seen one there in a week (which doesn’t mean they didn’t stop by at night). Both parents were in the general area, the male was perched on rocks alongside a tunnel, perfectly camouflaged – his grey, black, orange, rust, and white feather colors echoed by the rocks.

The mother heron, however, was perched on a tree limb high up in the woods on the shore directly across from the nest, in a horizontal pose that would let her take flight in an instant. She was staring intently at the nest and island and the far shore, watching. I sensed a longing in her stock-still watchfulness, waitingness. I swear she was watching for her fledglings.

I may be anthropomorphising, but my sense is that she had noticed that the fledgling was missing from the nesting grounds.

The adults sometimes venture there, to the north and the mid-lake area , and the fledgling may return back south, so eventually the herons will find each other again.

Still, I sensed a longing in her stock-still watchfulness, waitingness…
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(This took place September 2, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

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