Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Blue Heron

I recently spotted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) along the shore of Bechtel Lake. These very large members of the Heron Family, which includes herons, egrets and bitterns, are the most widespread species of heron in North America. They typically stalk the shallow waters of oceans, bays, rivers, marshes, lakes, and ponds in search of fish, amphibians, and reptiles, but will also consume invertebrates, birds, and small mammals.

Seeing one at Bechtel Lake is a rare treat. These typically shy birds spook easily from the shores of the lake at the first sight or sound of human presence. It's also a bit difficult for these large fliers to readily escape the confines of the lake due to all of the large trees that surround the shore.

I was able to capture the photo below as the most recently sighted bird attempted to make it's escape over the treetops. It took 2-1/2 laps above the surface of the water for the bird to gain enough altitude to fly over the trees and across the property. One day I'd like to see one of these magnificent birds come in for a landing at the lake.
The above photo shows the typical body posture of a Great Blue Heron (GBH) in flight. The large wings, spanning 6 feet from tip to tip, beat very slowly but with an even pace. The neck is coiled close to the body and the long legs trail straight behind the bird's body. At a distance, they almost appear to be flying backwards due to their strange silhouette.

Along the shores of our lakes and reservoirs, GBHs are seen in this typical pose. The body is held nearly horizontal with the neck slightly bent. They slowly move along the edge of the water searching for all manner of prey. The long neck uncoils with lightening speed as the heron reaches out to grab or stab is prey with the long sharp beak.
The GBH can be easily identified from other species of herons and egrets by it's large size (standing nearly 4-ft tall) and blue-gray plummage. The next largest wading bird in our area is the Great Egret (Ardea alba) which is nearly as large but has completely white plummage.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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