Friday, April 6, 2012

More from the Heron Web Cam

I’ve been watching the great blue heron web cam again. I never thought I’d consider a web cam a treat, but treat it is. In the wild I would never have such a good look at the nest behavior of a pair of herons. Meanwhile where I live we just broke the March precipitation record. March is usually one of Oregon’s wet months ... this was a soaker. Still getting lots of rain now that April has started.... a good time to stay indoors and enjoy something different.

If you didn’t see my last post, you should probably read that first. I’ve been watching a web cam put up by the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell, University, New York. ( ) The birds first nested in Sapsucker Woods, Cornell in 2009. This year Cornell put up a web cam before the birds returned in the spring. On April 1 I was watching when the female laid her third egg. Here are today’s notes:

This heron has an itchy chin.

April 3 -- 2:45 PM: With a little luck and information I’ve come back to my computer to heron watch. If the heron lays a fourth egg in the same time line, it should happen in the next couple of hours. Big IF. I’m going to sketch while I watch.

The female was on the nest when I first arrived. I knew right away I hadn’t arrived late for the party. One of the herons was standing, carefully tucking a couple very fine sticks into the nest cup. When I’ve looked at a heron nest from below all I see are rather coarse sticks. With the web cam I see fine twigs line the nest cup. It isn’t nice and fluffy like an eagle’s nest or a raven’s, but at least more comfy looking that I expected. I’ve seen adults bring in lots of sticks, but not little twigs.
I’m hoping for another egg. I’m looking for some gulping and maybe a little hunching. When I’ve watched a sandhill crane lay, it was obvious a lot of hard work is going on. Yesterday’s heron egg laying took me by surprise. The female stayed flat on the nest and I really didn’t know it had happened until she stood up. Now I know better what to watch for.

The male just brought in a funny looking stick. Lots of little branchlets on one end. Is that where little twigs come from? The female stands, then bows low with her long neck plumes wired out. She croaks as she dips, then reaches for the offering. All too soon it is the female that flies off. Darn. The waiting game is on.

The web cam even has sound. Occasionally I hear a heron, but there is also a pleasant chatter of crows cawing in the distance, a hen mallard quacking and maybe a cardinal. Canada geese erupt into a squabble every so often. There are more calls, but I don’t know my eastern bird calls well.

3:45 PM: The male starts calling. The female is on her way in with a stick. She doesn’t stay long. I’m juggling drawing and trying to get a little housework done. Nothing is going to happen while he is on the nest!

5:25 PM I’m still watching. The sun has gone down (remember the nest is on the East Coast and I’m on the West Coast). The female has been on the nest for awhile. The web cam gives us a surprisingly good image using just ambient night light. I can see her plumes, an eye, and even some bill color. The calls of spring peepers fill the night. Earlier over 34,000 people were watching the web cam, but now that it is dark the numbers of people have dropped way off.

The female still lies flat on the nest, but she is fluffing the long plumes on her back -- a slow motion bellows. The feathers go up ... and down ... and up ... and down. Is this it??

All is quiet for about a minute and then she stands ....... yes! A fourth egg lies in the nest. 5:26 PM West Coast time (8:26 PM cornell time). Laura, at the Lab of Ornithology, did a wonderful job of predicting when the fourth egg would be laid.

According to the web cam moderators four eggs is what they expect, although a fifth could come. Incubation is about 28 days. First egg could hatch May 24. It’ll be a long wait between now and then.

Followup: This pair of heron has had four youngsters in the past, and four is a common clutch. I’ve been taking quick peeks at the web cam several times a day. The last time I looked on April 5 the cam was shut off. I don’t think Cornell was expecting another egg, and the moderators must have been worn out by then anyway. Morning brought a surprise -- a fifth egg! Now to wait and see if all five hatch.


  1. How exciting. I will have to go there and watch some. We have an interesting GBHE sighting here where I live. Last year someone found a GBHE nest on a big electrical tower. They successfully raised young there. This year there are two nests on the tower. A very odd sight. It will be interesting to see if they are successful again this year. Love your sketches. Thanks for the update.

  2. I saw that there were five eggs. Wow. I hope they all make it. I just love these birds.

  3. FAbulous! So interesting and you caught such wonderful action!

  4. These are such a great series, I love following your commentary on watching the webcams and waiting for the eggs to hatch. I hope you keep it going (if they keep the webcam on). I also admire your creative way to find a subject on rainy spring days, who knew the internet could be so great?

  5. Elva, another wonderful report from you. I have not visited your site for some time as I have been going through the trauma of moving, preparing for a huge garage sale, etc., but this morning I am moving slowly and taking time to enjoy some uplifting sites. Yours takes the top prize for pleasure and encouragement. The earth is continuing in its spring cycle and the critters are successfully fulfilling their creative role. Thanks for your strokes of beauty and joy.

  6. Hello, I just joined your lovely blog. What a joy you have found to be in nature in this way! I look forward to reading back posts.

  7. Oh Elva, this is such a great "take" on the "Heron Hood" experience !! Great to meet you and take in your awesome talent!! (sisbe)
    from the chat@ the Cam Cornell meeting place

  8. Just awesome!!!!! (sisbe)

  9. Eva they are about to fledge! Hope to see a pic from your vantage point!! :0) (sisbe)