Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 6, 2010 Watching a Great Blue Heron

Lagoon Campground: Nearly a century ago road building cut off nearly a half mile long oxbow of the Siltcoos River. In the middle of the loop lies Lagoon camp- ground. One of our favorite nature trails follows the oxbow around the campground. Some stretches of the oxbow have filled with cattails, parrotweed, sedges and other aquatic vegetation. Other stretches still have pools of dark, clear water.

A great blue heron hunts on the edge of one of the open pools. Slowly, ever so slowly, he stalks in the mucky soup on the far side of the lagoon. His belly is barely above the water surface. He pauses, frozen for about three minutes. All I see in the tall grass is his head and neck. Sunlight glistens in his yellow eye. His bill shows a lot of yellow and red and there is bluished skin between his eye and bill. I’ve never seen so much color on a great blue heron’s head … but I probably never had such a good look during breeding season. The colors are striking. The feathers coming off the back of his head are long and dark.

Darn. I can't see his first catch. Dale stands farther down the trail and tell me it looks like he caught a four inch bass.

Oh good. The heron is coming into full view. He moves and waits, moves and waits. His long neck is stretching out and off to one side. Very intent. Relaxes just a tad. Now stretching his long neck straight ahead. Bam! The prey is tiny. I see a tid bit caught in the tip of his bill. With a quick flip he tosses the morsel in the air and swallows it.

In a moment he is hunting again. He slowly walks to a new spot, then freezes. The chilly breeze blows the long grey plumes on his chest and back; and blows the long dark strands on his head. I thought when he focused he always stayed as still as possible, but we are so close I see that sometimes he sways his head and neck ever so subtly. It is almost mesmerizing. Is that what he is trying to do?

Out eases his long neck again. A pause. A quick jab. His successes are frequent, but most of the prey is very small. Fish I assume. We've seen great blue herons catch lots of salamanders in the other big lagoon, but today's dinner appears to be fish.

Note: When we looked at our photos on the computer we found that most of his prey was aquatic nymphs …. Maybe some large dragonfly nymphs and one that might be a Dobson fly nymph. The fish appears to be a stickleback.


  1. Wonderful post, Elva! I always learn so much from reading your entries ; ). Lovely heron, too~~

  2. Beautiful. I love your descriptions of what you are observing. I can see the scene through your eyes.

  3. Great post and beautiful picture. As I scroll down I realize I've been here before. Well I am sure I'll be back again too!

  4. Elva, I like your writing style. It mirrors mine, not that I really have one, in the sense that it is "stream of consciousness thinking", writing down random thoughts that go through your brain as you write. It feels like I'm right there beside you as you explain what's going on.