Blue Heron in the Snow

Posted on February 19, 2010

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Blue heron wading in a roadside storm water ditch in West Ocean City.

I’ve been stalking the elusive neighborhood blue herons (are there two of them, or more?) for over a year. It’s not that easy to get a good picture of one, unless you have a long-distance lens.

A heron will sit calmly and let a UPS truck drive up and park next to it. But try walking slowly up on a heron. Just as I’m getting close enough to get a picture, he spreads his amazing wings and takes off up the street. Also, their coloration is good camouflage, so they blend almost invisibly into their habitat. That’s where the snow is a photographer’s best friend.

After our most recent snow, I noticed this guy in a drainage ditch across the way. I got in my car, pulled up and stopped next to him, and was able to get several close-ups before he flew away. In one photo, he is standing right in front of that tree, and is almost invisible. But the heron pops out against the background of the snowbank.

Now I’ve got to work on getting a picture of one of these beautiful birds with wings fully extended in flight. I used to think herons were primarily wading birds, and they are definitely right at home on the ground or standing in the freezing water. (Apparently these birds do not get cold feet. They stand, I would guess, 2.5 to 3 feet high. Maybe taller.) And they can fly quiet well, at least for short distances.

With one one beady eye on each side of its head, the heron must have nearly 360 degrees of vision. Does it have any natural enemies? No small animal would want to tangle with its sharp beak, and the bird can easily fly away from any large animal. The herons seem to tolerate living near human neighbors. I suspect their major enemy may be pesticides and diseases in the environment.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen more that two herons at the same time. Usually,  they appear to be solitary birds. On the other hand, since they are so hard to see, there may be more of them around than I know.

— John Hayden

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