Last week I was kayaking on my marshy beaver pond, and I found a young heron standing in the scrubby shallows, watching me.
He wasn’t easy to see. In the spirit of “Where’s Waldo?” , can you find him?
He is dead center, just to the right of the bushy green trees in the center of the picture. My kayak is bottom right.
His stripy brownish plumage and all-black cap mark him as a juvenile Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias:
His wing and breast have quite distinct patterns, elegant beyond belief.
He seemed not bothered by my presence, so I gradually got quite close. Something caught his eye, and he curved his neck into the classic S-shaped pose readying himself for a strike:
It was probably a frog, a favorite food of juveniles who are not yet very good at catching fish, but it all came to naught, and I left him in peace amongst the golden leaves and red winterberries:
PS: When he is all grown up, his plumage will be quite different. The dowdy brown will fade, and those white streaks are the start of what will one day be a dramatic cascade of white plumes on his chest. Here is the same young bird the next day in a different pose, so you can see the stiff white quills (taken from the far side of the pond, so it’s a bit blurry):
And here is his future self, long neck-plumes and all:
plus a drifting fan of them across his back.
(This one was stalking around the lake in July.)
PPS: Kushlan says: “Herons usually catch prey with a Bill Stab, which is a downward or lateral strike involving fast, directed movement of the head and neck while the body remains still. This is the characteristic capture stroke of the long necked herons, which have full development of specialized neck vertebrae, the elongated sixth cervical vertebra acting as a hinge for the forward strike.”
Kushlan, J. A. 2011. The terminology of courtship, nesting, feeding and maintenance in herons. [online] http://www.HeronConservation.org