Saturday, July 5, 2008
Heron Days of Summer
Summer. Many kids my age are overjoyed when summer begins, since it means the end of school. Well, my schooling goes straight through the summer, and I'd personally rather have spring or fall, due to bird migration. Sure, summer has its good qualities - swimming, root beer floats, and birding. Birding? How can summer be bad (I guess I shouldn't use "bad" to describe summer. How about "less enjoyable"?) if it involves birding? Birding in early July in Orange County is less exciting than the rush of migration, but certainly still productive. I've been doing a lot of local birding, and I've been keeping tabs on a family of Green Herons in my neighborhood.
I can still remember my first sighting of a Green Heron, way back on June 18th, 1999. I was hunting for frogs with some friends at a little pond in Franklin, Michigan, when a little heron flushed from the pond's edge and landed in a nearby tree. I looked it up later in our battered copy of Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds. This was pre-Sibley!
Nearly a decade later, I found myself staring at a feisty brood of Green Herons hanging out at the little lake in my neighborhood. They could undoubtedly forage for their own food, but they opted to laze around on the little wooden dock and wait for their parents to bring food for them. They awkwardly jostled for ideal spots on the railing; it isn't being agile when you are shaped like a football with legs!
I edged closer. Green Herons are normally wary birds (certain people have dubbed them "Fly-up-the-Creeks"), but these ones paid me no mind as I sneaked toward them, trying to keep my balance on the steep slope. It's hard being agile when you are a human, too. I believe the nest was in the large patch of tules at one end of the lake; I've seen Green Heron nests in trees before, but never in tules or cattails. I watched as one started acting like it was choking; for a good reason, because it was ejecting a pellet. (Herons, like owls, usually swallow their food whole. Later, they cough up the bones and other indigestible parts).
The sun began to shine down directly on my subjects, killing the soft morning light I was working with. I packed up my scope and began to walk for home. When I glanced over my shoulder, the three adolescent herons were still sitting on the railing, awaiting a meal. I was happy to get good photos of them - I ended up digiscoping over ninety photos. I never can resist the urge to photograph a cooperative bird...