There are plenty of great blue herons that hang out in Juanita Bay. While they are quite calm most of the time, they do get a little aggravated if they intrude on each other’s turf. If one flies close to another, a little spat will ensue. What is hard to tell is who is the one that is the aggressor and who is the one on the receiving end. A pair of them ended up circling and wheeling around over the water one evening. I wasn’t entirely sure how it had started but they were coming around on each other repeatedly. Eventually they went in different directions and it was all over. I’m not sure if either of them ended up in the space that they were fighting over!
In some previous posts I have discussed how aggressive the red-winged blackbirds can be towards the great blue herons. The herons are quite happy to eat the chicks of the blackbirds, so the aggression is justified. One of the herons was flying in my direction when a blackbird swooped down at it. It came in from above and behind and started to attack the heron. I got a sequence of shots as this evolved and my favorite is one where it actually looks like the blackbird is riding the heron. If only it had some reins!
When watching the herons hunting in Juanita Bay, you never know exactly what they are going to catch. Something like a stickleback will be a relatively easy thing for them to swallow once they have caught it. On one occasion, though, a heron caught something a little longer. I am not good with different fish so can’t tell you what it was but it had a long body and a tail with some power. The heron had the front of the fish in its beak but the back end was still flailing around. The heron was hoping to win the battle but the fish made sure to give it some healthy whacks around the head before it finally succumbed.
Herons hunting for their food have been on here before. I have often been trying to get good shots of them making the strike as they go after a fish in the shallows. The effort to then eat that fish has also been covered here. Therefore, I am going to be repetitive today. I happened to be a lot closer than usual to a heron when it was fishing and I got some good close up shots of its head as it swallowed its meal. Looks like the fish didn’t have much of a chance!
Much of my heron photo collection is of them hunting for their lunch as they stand at the water’s edge. However, I do occasionally get photos of them in flight. Now I like most things that fly but I do think that the heron is not the most elegant bird when it is flying. The long outstretched neck works for a swan or a goose but, for a heron, it seems rather out of balance. With the large wings, it is an efficient flyer but it doesn’t have the look of a bird that is having an easy time of it. This one was heading across Juanita Bay and over the the shore where another heron had been hanging out and, as is the way of wildlife, it was determined to drive the other bird away whether it needed to or not!
This heron was standing around on Juanita Bay when mum and I were there. It wasn’t showing any sign of hunting so I assume it had already eaten well. The sun was out and it was pretty hot so, after a little preening, the heron adopted a pose I had not seen before. It opened out its wings and faced the sun. I couldn’t work out whether this was a position designed to absorb the sun’s rays or whether it provided a mechanism for cooling by maximizing the surface area exposed. Whichever it is, it was curious. I also shot some video of the bird which is below.
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.
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!