morning at the marsh

It’s amazing how much you can see early in the morning before the cyclists and hikers have hit the trails around the local marsh.  And it always amazes me to find such a diversity of wildlife inhabiting a small wild oasis in the urban landscape! I’m sure if I had spent more time on this hot, humid morning, I would have seen even more.

floating island-

Dense mats of cattails float around the marsh propelled by the prevailing water flow.  They attract a wide variety of wildlife that may hunt from their edges, nest in their stalks, and hide within small crevices from the peeping eyes of photographers.

great blue heron-

Great Blue Herons are often found along the shoreline, usually obscured by the vegetation.

great blue heron-

Another heron was making its way down toward the shoreline — perhaps the mate of the other one?

great egret-

I can always count on seeing a Great Egret or two foraging near the edge of the marsh.

green heron-

What else is hiding here in this vegetation near the shore? A Green Heron pops up to see if I’m a dangerous predator.

green heron-

A less nervous juvenile Green Heron hunted in the shallows.

common loon-

Out in the water, a Common Loon swam by.

double crested cormorant-

Nearby, a double-crested Cormorant surfaced from its dive, and took a look around.

I spotted something white way out in the middle of the marsh, swimming quickly away from me, and grabbed a quick shot of a Trumpeter Swan family with their two, seemingly newly hatched, cygnets.

trumpeter swan family-

It’s a bit late to find these newly hatched chicks; perhaps the first nesting failed and these are result of a second nesting attempt. The chicks have a lot of growing to do before they reach the body size of the adults which can weigh more than 20 lb.

trumpeter swan family-

portraits in the dark

Sometimes shooting in low light adds an interesting dimension to an otherwise ordinary portrait.  Dark forests with light gaps, post-sunset after glow, back-lighting — yesterday’s photo session at a local marsh provided lots of challenges.

eastern kingbird-

An Eastern Kingbird waited for me to focus while sitting on a little stick above a small pond. Just a hint of a halo around its head from the little remaining light in the day — it was almost 9 p.m. when I took this shot.

song sparrow-

A pair of Song Sparrows were madly chipping at me as I got too close to their territory, but deep in the woods, with the only light behind the bird made this a tough shot. Taking out the deep shadows in Lightroom helped.

great blue heron in a tree-

Great Blue Heron in a tree, with just its head illuminated by the last remaining rays of the sunset.  It was unusual to see such a big bird perched high in a tree like this.

great blue heron in a tree-

Checking me out — the heron decided to mimic just another branch of the tree with its long neck outstretched.

One of these is not like the others

I counted 51 Great Egrets at the marsh early this morning.

great egrets and Great Blue Heron

There were so many egrets spread out over the marsh I couldn’t get them all in one shot with my telephoto lens. A couple of mallard ducks flew through the scene.

But then I noticed that one of these egrets looked a little different.

great egrets and Great Blue Heron

Sure enough there was a Great Blue Heron in the middle of this enormous flock of egrets.

great egrets and GBH

Kind of looks like the egrets are giving the heron a wide berth. It is a bigger bird, with a longer, sharp bill.

great egret and mallard duck

It was a beautiful morning for photographing bird statues.

the best heron

I love taking photos of Great Blue Herons — they are such regal birds standing and walking around in their wetland habitat.  But the best photos I have ever taken of the GBHs came from a bird standing right by the side of the road at the base of a waterfall, cascading down an embankment from a prairie pothole pond.

Great Blue Heron at a waterfall

The bird blended into its background so well, I almost didn’t see it. We had stopped so I could take a photo of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds there.  Click on the photo for a much larger version.

Or, perhaps this is the best shot?

Great Blue Heron at a waterfall

Even though I got a closer shot with the telephoto, the bird is remarkably well camouflaged against this background. It might have been hunting frogs or perhaps little fish that washed over the edge o the pond. Click on the photo for a much larger version.

More on prairie potholes in the next post.

the heron and the goose

This is a story of nest defense.  The other day I was out at my favorite local marsh watching a Great Blue Heron forage along the shore.  One time the heron ventured too close to an incubating Canada Goose female, and the male goose immediately flew over and drove the heron off.  I watched this entertaining interaction with amusement, but was too far away to get any decent photos of the birds.

Minutes later, the whole scenario was repeated, and this time I was a little closer. Here’s how the action went:

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

When the Heron got just a little too close to the nest, the male Canada Goose immediately swam over to confront the heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Wait — why is the goose honking at his mate instead of the heron?   Meanwhile, the Heron proceeded to walk even closer to the nest, blithely undisturbed by the whole situation.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Silly goose — he’s taking out his aggression on his partner, instead of the heron. Heron still very unconcerned by the whole incident.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Having scolded his mate into submission (note lowered head of the hen), Mr. Goose can turn his attention to that busybody heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Finally, the unperturbed Heron takes the hint, and delicately steps away from the bad-tempered male goose.  (Click on this photo for an up-closer look at the birds’ heads and expressions.)

I’m not sure it’s a wise idea for the goose to threaten a taller bird that carries such a wickedly sharp, pointy beak.  I mean, they stab fish with that weapon.  Who says they wouldn’t use it to thwart aggression from bad-tempered Canada Geese?

A morning snack

The other day I watched a Great Blue Heron fishing in the pond in the backyard. The bird waited so patiently for just the right moment to strike.  I waited so patiently as well, hidden behind a lot of branches, hoping to get a dramatic photo of the big catch.  So, here’s the sequence of what happened.

Great Blue Heron fishing

Stalking, and waiting…

Great Blue Heron fishing

The strike…

Great Blue Heron fishing

the grab…what is that — a tiny little fish?

Great Blue Heron fishing

Well, that was entirely underwhelming — it’s just an appetizer of a snack.  I don’t know how they keep from losing their catch when they toss them around before swallowing.

Flying away

The blog will be taking a vacation while we are traveling in southern Africa for the next few weeks.  If I find some internet availability there, I may be able to post a photo or two of our travels.  But there will be plenty of shots of exotic wildlife from the African backyard when I return.

In the meantime, enjoy a few of my favorite “flying away” photos of herons and egrets (the ones that are always flying away from me).

great egret flying

Just once — could they fly toward me instead of away from me?

great egret flying


great blue heron flying

great-blue-heron flying

Ciao for now…

The patient hunter

Nothing exemplifies patience better (in the bird world) than herons and egrets fishing.  On a recent morning walk at the marsh at Wood Lake nature center, I spied these statues along the shore.

great white egret fishing

I love the mirror image of this statuesque bird.  Unfortunately, I disturbed its hunting and it flew off.

If they are undisturbed by a photographer’s presence, they will stand, unmoving in a fixed stance, for minutes on end, patiently waiting for the unwary fish or invertebrate to swim by.

great blue heron fishing

I was so far away from this bird that it continued its imitation of a bird statue for 10 minutes while I stood there.

great blue heron fishing

An imperceptible lowering of the bird’s head must mean there is something interesting there, but another 5 minutes went by with the bird in this position with no action. I moved on.

green heron fishing

Further along the marsh shore I spied a juvenile Green Heron repositioning itself on a branch. It assumed the statue stance… while I hid behind a tree to capture what I hope would be some fishing action.

green heron fishing

Sure enough, within a minute of landing, the heron started into its attack stance.

green heron fishing

Another lesson in patience — holding a pose while upside down clinging to a branch. Waiting…waiting…(me with my finger on the shutter, I mean).

green heron fishing

The strike and grab happened in a blink. To make up for my slow trigger finger, I just pressed down on the shutter and rapidly clicked off multiple shots.

green heron fishing

It’s a tiny little fish, but every calorie taken in counts when you’re trying to put on fat to migrate.

green heron fishing

Toss that baby back in the throat, just like you would a much bigger fish.

green heron fishing

And now back to pose number one — the statue impression.

The patient hunter reaps a reward!  Herons and Egrets have an astounding 70% average success rate (# of captures/# of strikes) in both natural and man-made aquatic environments in the southeastern U.S*.  I assume it’s roughly the same up here in the northland.  Great Blue Herons were by far the most successful hunters in estuary habitat, racking up a 93% success rate there.  Great Egrets enjoyed their greatest success along rivers (94%).  Snowy Egrets were almost equally successful in a variety of aquatic habitats (65-75% success) but were not able to match the prey catching efficiency of their larger cousins.

*data from H.D. Mincey, 2006.  MS Thesis, Georgia Southern University.

Marsh birds

At the local marsh this morning, about 20 Great Egrets congregated around the edges of the shrinking pond of flooded wetland left after the abundance of June rain.  I wish I had been able to photograph the scene at 7:30 a.m. when I drove by, but went back with a camera an hour later.

snail lake marsh

Only a few Great Egrets remained from the earlier congregation.  The water level of the flooded wetland has gone down quite a bit, but is still attractive to the big waders.

great egret

Still water makes for nice reflections. Too bad I was so far away.

great egret flying over the marsh

One by one, all the egrets eventually took off, perturbed by my presence.

great blue heron

I didn’t spot the Great Blue Heron until it moved to a new spot. It was well camouflaged by the dead grass in which it was standing.

great blue heron

And, of course, it took off shortly after I spotted it.

The reddish leaves of the dead trees and brown color of the grasses that were in the flooded areas make it look like fall has arrived here already.  But recent cool mornings and evenings will probably start that chain reaction of leaf color change soon enough.  We hardly had summer weather this year.


Record rainfall in June created new wetland habitat in a local marsh that overflowed its cattail border and created new ponds out of former meadow.

flooded bike path

The flood has receded somewhat, but the bike path is still flooded.

flooded bike path

There is enough water here to attract a variety of waterbirds, like this Great Blue Heron hunting right at the edge of what used to be the asphalt bike path.

great blue heron

flooded bike path

Water from the marsh flows through the bike tunnel under the road and out into meadows on either side of the trail creating (temporary?) ponds that attract a variety of wildlife.

great egret flying over the marsh

Quite a few Great Egrets use the shallow water of these temporary ponds to hunt frogs, and perhaps fish that were washed in from the marsh.

great egret panting

It’s a hot day in the marsh, and this Great Egret was panting, rapidly fluttering the skin in its throat area to cool itself.

great egret in the marsh

Another egret perched on the shore of the shallow meadow lake.

flooded marshland

I counted as many as four Green Herons hunting along the shore of this flooded meadow here.

These birds were quick to find and utilize this newly created habitat — a real serendipitous occurrence.

great blue heron flying over the marsh