Last Chance Diner. A great blue heron hunts for its final meal of the day, Baylands Preserve, Palo Alto, California, 1989.
Nikon F3 (probably) with Nikon AI-S 200mm f/4 lens (possibly) using Kodachrome 64 (almost certainly).

A few months before we moved from Arizona to Colorado in January 2023, I decided that I finally needed to deal with digitizing my slides, which covered about 1981 until I received a D200 as a gift in 2006. I’m not sure how many slides I had, but it was a couple thousand or so and I didn’t want to move stuff that had already been gathering dust for decades. How I went about that task is a blog for another time, but since great blue herons are the subject de la semaine, I decided to include a few of my early heron photographs.

The image above was taken at the Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto, California. Somewhere late in my college days at Stanford I discovered this nearby place which was a nice area to decompress by wandering around and taking pictures of the birds. The larger shorebirds—like great blue herons and great egrets—are easy to find and, being generally slow-moving, relatively easy to photograph.

Unfortunately, my most memorable encounter with a great blue heron was a time when I did not have my camera with me. I had pulled up and parked in what I remember being a dirt parking lot. There was sort of a berm on the edge of the parking lot right in front of my car. That berm was completely riddled with ground squirrel burrows and there were ground squirrels everywhere.

And one rather gluttonous great blue heron.

It was standing next to one of the burrows and staring intently down at it. Within a few minutes of my arrival, it skewered a ground squirrel through the back of the neck with its beak and stood up with it hanging lifeless on its beak. It then flew over to the water, dipped the squirrel in the water, and swallowed it whole. Pretty scary.

After about ten minutes, it flew back and staked out another burrow. A few minutes later, another ground squirrel made the unfortunate decision to look outside and was promptly dangling off the predator’s beak. But this wasn’t a clean kill, so the heron stood there and waited until the squirrel squirmed its last. Then it flew over to the water, dipped the squirrel in the water, and swallowed it whole. Pretty scary again.

After about another ten minutes, it flew back and staked out yet another burrow. When I left shortly thereafter it was still standing in wait above the hole. I had seen it swallow two squirrels in less than half an hour and I don’t know how many it had eaten before I got there or how many it ate after I left. Very scary.

If herons were twelve feet tall, I wouldn’t leave my house.

After I graduated, I lived with some roommates a little north of Palo Alto in Redwood City. We rented the back side of a divided house. One nice thing about this spot was that it backed up to the water and even had a little boat dock. Herons and egrets and ducks were all frequent visitors. The particular great blue heron below was quite willing to allow me to get within ten feet with my 500mm lens:

Spearpoint. The business end of a great blue heron, Redwood City, California, 1989.
Nikon F3 (probably) with Nikon 500mm f/8 reflex-Nikkor on Kodachrome 64 (almost certainly).

The reason for herons on the mind at present is that I recently went to a nearby state park—Cherry Creek State Park—which has a large reservoir formed by a dam across (you guessed it) Cherry Creek. I had been told that there were lots of bald eagles, which sounded fun. I didn’t find any bald eagles, but I did find an area where great blue herons nest high in the trees:

Buzzing the Tower. A great blue heron flies above another standing in a tree-top nest, Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/3000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800.

There were at least four nests in pretty close proximity; I am sure there were lots more further back in the trees where I couldn’t see them. Fortunately, these trees had not yet started to leaf out or I wouldn’t have seen them at all. Part of what made it fruitful, photographically, is that the birds were continually flying around to collect sticks for their nests:

Coming Home from Nest Depot. A great blue heron brings a twig to its nest, Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/3000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500.

I am planning (someday!) to do a birds-in-flight blog. My Z8 is so much better at this than any camera I have ever had. I am not particularly good with it yet, but the fact that I could get some perfectly in-focus shots like the next one is pretty exciting. That background of trees is about as busy as a background gets:

Low-Flying Heron. A great blue heron banks in front of a thick wall of trees in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 280.

This next heron passed close overhead; 500mm was a lot of lens for even getting him in the frame:

Heron in Flight. A great blue heron flies close overhead in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/3000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 720.

A few months ago, when I was blogging about my trip to Whidbey Island, I really wanted to include this next heron picture but it never fit into a post and I eventually moved on to other things. So I will include it here. If I ever print this image I will likely brighten up the bird a bit more, but this is probably my favorite great blue heron picture. I love the reflecting highlights on the water in the background, the water droplets in the bottom right (fortunately against a slightly darker part of the background), that the centerline of the bird is in perfect focus, and that the wingtips are a little blurred. The blurring is mostly depth of field, I think, but it feels a bit like motion blur, which—together with those suspended water droplets—gives the image some dynamism. I also love the almost monochromatic steely blue-gray color palette. It deserves a place on the wall.

Launch. A great blue heron takes flight in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island, Washington.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 400mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 220.

Thank you, as always, for following along on my adventures. Next week I will show off some other wildlife from Cherry Creek State Park.

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2 responses to “Heronsy”

  1. Lovely pictures. Yes, the last one is especially beautiful. The one in flight in front of the busy background is gives me g.a.s.! 😅 Have a great Sunday! Timing of these blogs is wonderful by the way. I usually find time to read them. That says a lot. Test, test, test. 😉

    • Thank you, Catherine! I am glad you find time to read them and I am glad you get something out of them, even if it is just bad g.a.s. 🤣 (Hmmm…maybe I need to set up affiliate links. 🤔) Thanks for the feedback that you like the schedule, too. I try to be consistent with it. You need to get your blog going; I am willing to practice my German with it. 😁