IT was very late Golden Hour Lighting and the sun was settling into a cloud deck. (thus the red colorcast… natural). I had been watching this 5x5x5 bird (5 pound, 5 foot tall bird with a 5 foot wingspan) for 15 minutes. Sitting across a pond literally on the Montana / Wyoming border, he is 50 feet up a mature CottonWood Tree. The Pond is artesian and never dries up. The birds commonly seen in marshlands in the south, are rare sightings in this backcountry setting. There is a Heron rookery on ranch so I see them more than most. This photosession was just 9 days ago as this posts.
The cottonwoods are leafing out. I could only see 1 nest in the tree line where 6 were visible a week ago. I’m worried about the huge wind storm that blew through a few days before this. I’m guessing 80 mph gusts took a few nests out. Hopefully others are just obscured by the leaves of the trees. I looked very carefully to sky other nests but could only make out one. There was a Red Tail Hawk Nest not far down the tree line that I also could not locate in the 15 minutes I was watching this timeline unfold.
Catching a bird of any size at take off is a matter of reading it’s body language. Birds OFTEN poop just before they go errrr launch (no pun intended). Then there is that Squat 200 microseconds before the feet leave the perch. Timing and anticipatory focus. I’m thinking the focal field is 2 feet deep here… maybe 3… Focus a few feet in front of where he is standing…
I left after this fellow flew the coop as the sun was going down and I was a way out in the backcountry. A few miles to go over grass fields in the dark is tricky sometimes…. .
The return of the Great Blue Herons signifies the start of their nesting season on Ranch. I have only seen 4 Herons so far but it’s early. We expect 5+ inchesnow/single digits over the weekend (a week ago as this posts). The Ranch has “left the light on” for others to straggle in as they work their way back from winter haunts south. There are 6 nests in the trees across the lake from my camera where this mated pair is building a nest. The third is probably waiting for a mate that is out hunting.
The group obviously weren’t worried about my truck as the three were mostly motionless for 20 minutes all through my maneuvering. Left them still standing like this as I backed up to leave. I drove away as the sun disappeared. It seems they just don’t care about my Black Ford Raptor. I have not been much of a concern to these birds. Many local wildlife are already familiar/tolerant to my 3 month old rig. Many see it at least 2 times a day on average.
Natural behavior occurs while I’m in this rig. I just drive around like I’m a grazing animal. Stop, Start, turn, sit a minute. The truck is all black and only a little smelly/noisy. Just like a Black Angus cow :). Going really Slow in a factory “Baja truck”…. only in America.. 😜🤘📸
I approach groups of animals living here on the huge grasslands with respect. If I scare them, I don’t get to photograph them. Of course most wild animals sense your approach early. At my crossing some pre-determined line in the sand, most bolt. Learning where that line in the sand is becomes pertinent towards the pursuit of the image.
I find stopping well back, take a few photos, figure out the light, get your settings up for a quick exit shot, then move. I usually readjust my settings for quality, get the composition set and click. Then go back to settings for speed (faster shutter, more ISO and or bigger aperture/fstop.). Move closer….rinse and repeat until you get the shot. (you might think this is “tough” light to work…. You would be right).
Most of the time with really long fixed (non-zoomable) lenses, I fill the frame, get the shot and leave without causing the animals to move. (Pronghorn excepted since they move regardless). 😜
Spring Time Heron Rookery is a capture from Late Spring (May) of this year. I know it’s a little out of season but I think a little green is good now and then.
There are 6 Great Blue Heron Nests are 50 feet high up those Cottonwood Trees. (Can you find them?). There were sitting birds in all the nests this eventing this was the only parent returning in light I could catch him in. Later was too dark to catch any action. This was a sunset looking north. Early in the year the sun is still way to the left and has just set. There is NO blue shadow under the pink that would represent the earth’s horizon’s shadow. If the sun had been down for 15 minutes, there would be a large wedge shaped blue shadow low over the distant hills. The pink band moves above as the red light is reflected by the ice in the atmosphere becomes blocked by the horizon.
As I said, any darker and the bird would have blurred. This is right on the edge of catchable in the camera. I would love to see green grass sooner than May. That isn’t happening up here lol. These 6 nests have been productive this year. The species as a whole haven’t been seen here for months now. They move south as the lakes they feed on freeze over.
This is a spring (and runoff of course) fed lake from an aquifer 500 feet below by a crack in the ground. (a fault). This crack allows water to seep up to the surface because the “hydraulic head” is higher than 500 feet at this place. The sandstone that provides this lakes source is literally a water tank full 500 feet higher than the sandstone is at this location..
Great Blue Heron Family 50 feet up a CottonWood Tree
This family portrait was taken from about 100 yards out from an adjacent ridge. I’m in my portable blind at the time (Jeep Grand Cherokee). I find that vehicles make very good blinds. Most birds aren’t threatened by slow moving cars but these guys are aware when I move into their ‘territory’. Once I’m there and stationary, they go back to normal behavior soon. Maybe a few minutes of nervous and then they are all back to normal business.
Mostly watching Herons in the rookery is about shift changes. Sometimes it’s hours between comings and going even with several breeding pairs. There is no schedules to it as far as I can tell. Incoming parents switching out with their better half who has been sitting on eggs for hours. The male brought back a belly full for the young this time. It will be the turn of the female next turn around. They don’t spend too much time all three on the nest. Usually it’s just 2 or just the fledgeling after it gets old enough.
Great Herons do best when they are away and free from human disturbance and have areas nearby to forage. This rookery is several miles from any ranch building or human activity. That is except me in my car every few days during breeding season.
Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb these feathers into a “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes. They use the down powder like a towel to remove fish slime, organics and other oils from their feathers as they preen. By applying this powder they protect their feathers against the water slime and oils of lakes and swamps.