Building slowly

silhouette of green heron Butorides virescens in typical perch on log
Despite some modest success recently, I’m still pursuing the green herons (Butorides virescens) at the nearby pond. They remain as secretive and shy as ever, but I’m slowly finding ways to subvert this, so the collection of photos is growing.

A state of affairs I’ve been able to exploit has been that one heron, at least (there are several, with no way to tell them apart yet,) has taken to hunting from a snag within fairly easy view of shore. Of course, the heron has an easy view of me, too, so I have to move in slowly and take advantage of the times when it’s hunting, thus less aware of closer approaches. The green herons seem to suffer from inattention blindness, or perhaps focusing too intently, because when they’re looking like the frame below, you can approach them a lot closer than normally.

green heron Butorides virescens posed on snag
The pond is quite active with tiny minnows, so the herons have plenty to feed on, and it’s usually not a long wait for some action. This was approaching sunset, with the sun almost directly behind the heron – not ideal, but whatcha gonna do?

green heron Butorides virescens watching water intently
I thought I had a great opportunity for a fish capture here, but after a few moments the heron turned around and began hunting on the other side of the log. Spoilsport.

green heron Butorides virescens making strike at minnow
At least I was ready when the strike occurred – which still can be hit-or-miss, both from the heron’s standpoint and from the photographer’s. The strikes happen so quickly that timing is somewhat up to chance, not at all helped by shooting from the shady side and thus losing the shutter speed advantage that brighter light would bestow. Still, this one isn’t ruined by motion blur, so it could be worse.

green heron Butorides virescens with successful capture
But the position meant the little minnow that the heron captured remained hidden behind the log most of the few seconds it was even within the bird’s beak, and when it wasn’t, it was moving. So, yes that’s a fish, but no, I’m trying for better than that.

green heron Butorides virescens with head almost hidden
I happened to like this one for the barely visible eye, which was actually intentional on my part (while the heron was once again hunting on the far side.) These are all shot at 600mm, by the way, and cropped tighter afterward, because I still can’t get terribly close. One of these days I’ll pace it off for accuracy, but right now I’m estimating it at 12-15 meters off. I at least took a seat on the ground for these, gaining a little stability.

green heron Butorides virescens beginning stalk
Much as it might look like the same conditions, this is actually the morning a few days later, with the light coming from the right direction – when it wasn’t shielded by clouds. So much for planning.

green heron Butorides virescens adopting striking pose
Still fishing on the far side, but at least I had a good view and a semi-comfortable position to remain in. So I was more than ready as the pose and intensity told me a strike was likely to happen any second. This happens frequently, but then the fish goes deeper or moves off, and the heron relaxes again. Not this time, though.

green heron Butorides virescens super-extending neck during strike
Hazzah! Damn, that looks painful, but it illustrates how much neck remains hidden in those feathers most of the time.

green heron Butorides virescens with successful capture
Success! So you know, the heron will retain such captures for a few seconds on average, quickly juggling it into a head-down position to be swallowed easily (lots of fish have spines on their dorsal fins to prevent otherwise.) In moments, it’s gone. On occasion, it takes a little longer though.

In fact, it was watching this, and thinking about the sequence at that link, that made me go out this morning with the macro-tripod in the hopes of catching such a thing on video. Alas, it was not to be today. I spotted the heron on this same snag initially, but realized that I forgot the ground pad; the rain has been recent enough that I’d be soaking through my pants by sitting on bare ground, and while I’ve done this, I prefer to avoid it when I can. In the few minutes it took me to return, the heron had moved on, likely spooked by someone walking their dog up to the shoreline nearby. I circled the pond and spotted two close together, but in the typical cover conditions where no clear view is forthcoming, plus I was standing upright and leaning out on the very edge of solid footing to get the shot below. Not the kind of conditions to try shooting video within, even if the heron had deigned to hunt instead of staring at me suspiciously. Another time.

green heron Butorides virescens peering out from semi-concealment

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