I have spent a lot of time at Juanita Bay recently photographing wildlife. One thing that you won’t have to wait long to see there is a Great Blue Heron. They are a regular feature of the bay and they often come very close to the viewing decks. Consequently, I have got a lot of shots of them. Here is a sample of some that I have recently seen. I haven’t got bored of shooting them but I certainly don’t rush to shoot them when they show up like I used to!
The herons at Juanita Bay are not universally popular. The red-winged blackbirds are not keen on them at all and, since it seems that the herons may have raided one or more of the nests, it isn’t hard to see why. The blackbirds will get quite aggressive at trying to drive the herons away from their nests. I have seen them do this on more than one occasion. At one point, I got some video of a heron getting attacked by two of the blackbirds although it wasn’t keen on leaving its fishing spot. Usually, though, the herons decide to move on rather than take the abuse.
When we lived in Chicago, I first became acquainted with red-winged blackbirds. The red flashes on the wings are fine but they have a terribly annoying call and they get quite aggressive when you get close to their nests. There are a lot of them in Juanita Bay and I have to say that they are clearly not the sharpest tools in the shed. They build their nests very close to the heavily trafficked areas where people walk. There is a lot of space in the park but they build nests within feet of the boardwalk.
The result of this is that they are constantly freaking out about how close everyone is to their nest. They fly up on to the boardwalk, swoop around the heads of people and land on the handrails right next to you. It is quite fun to have them so close (except when they start with the calls) but you would think that they would have made life slightly easier for themselves by building a nest just slightly further away from everyone!
Watching the bird flying around Juanita Bay can bring out the aero guy in me. I was watching some ducks flying across the water and coming in to land. While the wings were working hard, it was also possible to see the feathers fluttering on the back of the duck just below the neck. Clearly, the flow is separating in this location when they are maxing out the lift and the feather get disturbed by the separation. Does anyone else but me care? Probably not so maybe no one is even reading at this point!
It is possible to spend a lot of time watching a heron hunting without seeing anything happen. Their ability to stay still for extended periods of time awaiting prey is impressive. You hope you will get some catch at some point and that it won’t happen behind something that stops you getting a shot. One of the herons in Juanita Bay was having some good luck catching sticklebacks. The only problem was that it would often get other debris at the same time.
After the strike, the bill would have a fish wriggling around in it and some leaves or twigs alongside. The trick was how to release the surplus material to allow the fish to be eaten without giving the fish a chance to head for freedom. Clearly this is a regular feature of a heron’s life and the technique has been practiced but I watched with anticipation as it got rid of what it didn’t need and allowed the fish to be swallowed. The stills don’t give you much idea of how much wriggling was still going on as the fish went down the throat!
Photographing herons is kind of a fun thing to do since they are such a large bird and so distinctive. Having got so close to some recently, I have got a lot more photos of them from different angles and this has included some head on shots of them. I had not appreciated the shape of the head of the heron until getting this view. The head is narrow, as I had know, but it is tapered. While I thought the eyes were on the sides of the head, the shaping means that they have more of a forward view than I had realized which is obviously important for hunting for fish and perceiving depth when preparing to strike. Head on it looks like a very different bird!
As the days get longer, love is in the air and this includes the world of geese. Suddenly the geese get very territorial both about potential mates and potential nesting locations. Fights can break out with very little warning. One of the geese in Juanita Bay was definitely in no mood for any competition. It was taking on anyone that happened to be in the way, whether they were a threat or not. Not just one at a time, either. A few other geese were in the area and they each got a dose of its attitude.
The flurry of activity when geese start sparring can often be intense but brief. In this case, the aggravation continued for quite a while. One goose would lunge at the others and they would settle again before he came at them once more. Much splashing of water, flapping of wings, honking and waving of tongues ensued. The goose that was chasing the others would be mouth open and tongue out as it charged at them. The tongue is a nasty looking thing on a goose. Lots of barbs on its surface.
After a few charges back and forth across the inlet, the others started to get the message. They took off and headed across the bay. The main goose was not satisfied yet, though. He took off after them and chased them well across the bay before deciding that the message had been received upon which he returned to the inlet to be ready for the next round of intruders.
I am not a bird expert so, while I can recognize a variety of different birds, there are plenty that I have absolutely no clue about. However, Juanita Bay is a popular spot with the ornithologists and I can learn a bit from them. A couple was chatting with me on one of the boardwalks about Wilson’s Snipes. They thought they could see them on one of the shoreline areas but couldn’t be sure. I bumped in to the same people on the other side of the shore and they confirmed that the snipes were there.
At first they were pointing out a couple of them. As we spent a bit more time watching, it turned out that there were loads of them. They weren’t easy to see given how well their camouflage worked but, once you had got the hang of it, finding the others got a lot easier. I don’t think this is a rare bird so this wasn’t an amazing discovery that we were making but they were still pretty excited about it so I was too.
Herons are not known for being too happy about people nearby but the ones in Juanita Bay are very used to the people on the boardwalks and they don’t seem to be bothered about how close they are. I had spent a fair bit of time on one boardwalk chatting to some photographers and we had discussed the heron that was over by the next boardwalk. As we headed our separate ways, I figured I would go across to see if I could get any shots of the bird.
The light was fading fast so I was shooting at higher ISOs than I would have liked but I was pleasantly surprised that the R3 seemed to have a cleaner result than I would have expected with the 1DXII. Technology does move on of course, but I think thinks have plateaued a bit in that area so this was a nice result. The heron was quite close in and, since I only had the 500 with me, I had to chose my location carefully. The eye tracking did a pretty impressive job with the bird as long as it was not looking directly at me (or away of course).
I did got with high frame rates to try and catch strikes with the food. Unfortunately, the bird was not having a great time. I got one strike but it was not a fish but a piece of bark. Another “catch” provided to be a stick. Maybe this heron is the sharpest bird in the bay. Overall, I was pleased with the results and I was more happy about the ability to let the autofocus work across the image so I could compose how I wanted rather than based on the location of autofocus points.
Imperial Hill gets loads of visitors and plenty of them eat lunch while up there. Consequently, the sparrows are keen on the place too and they get pretty confident with the people around. While I was up there, I figured I should try and get a few sparrow shots as well as other flying things. If I wanted to focus on them, they are so close and fearless that it should be easy to do.