The great blue heron is a very large common bird (up to 4.5 feet tall with a wingspan of up to 6.5 feet) in our marshes and streams. He eats fish and frogs mainly but is opportunistic and will feed on insects, small rodents, small birds, crayfish and about anything else he can catch and swallow. His long legs aid him in wading in and the big feet help stop him from sinking into the soft marsh bottom. The long, pointed bill is helpful when stabbing through the water to catch a fish and is an excellent defense weapon. His throat is expandable to allow for the swallowing of larger prey.
So why am I telling you about great blue herons when most herons headed south for the winter a month ago and you are not going to be seeing any for awhile?
Well, during the last week of October, when out looking for photographing matter in the Alabama Swamp, I accidentally ran into one on a local marsh. It was along a dirt road that ran right next to a marsh edge where the water level had been recently drawn down to help restore the aquatic environment. There was a little gap in the heavy brush that paralleled the road where a small pool of water existed in front of a culvert.
Cruising along slowly looking for photo matter, I actually was on top of him by this opening before I knew it. I stopped and grabbed the camera thinking, “Fat chance on getting on him before he flies!” but he didn't. He just stood there in the water waiting for another small fish to show. Needless to say, some time was spent there photographing him and his activities.
Going back later that day, I found him there again and once more he allowed me to get up close (20 to 30 feet depending where he was in that pool of water). This is very rare situation as herons are extremely shy. There was something unique about this new friend — he had a broken secondary wing feather on his right side. It was still attached to his wing but was apparently partly broken, just up from where it was fastened to the wing, and it would hang along his side or flip up when the wind caught it. So the obvious was done: I gave him the name Broken Feather.
Just about every day after I met him, I spent a bit of time with Broken Feather. I learned that he slept in that fishing hole and he always accepted my presence. This routine was kept up for over two weeks, until the big snow and freeze-up in mid November forced him to leave.
It is not often that wildlife allows you to get so close, especially herons, while they continue on with their normal activities. I have learned to take advantage of situations like this to get a variety of pictures and learn more about wildlife. I was rewarded with ton of shots of Broken Feather doing everything from catching fish and stalking to yawning and falling asleep.
One morning as I was waiting for him to catch something, he backed off from the culvert entrance a bit and the feathers on the top of his head and along his neck stood straight up, telling me something had put him on high alert. I quickly surveyed the sky for an eagle, as they often swing over this area, but no eagle was seen. Broken Feather's attention was directed at the culvert and I soon figured something was inside. A mink came out with a small fish in his mouth and ran off before I could get a picture. Later the mink returned and allowed me a couple of shots before disappearing into the culvert again. Then Broken Feather began catching small fish like crazy and I realized what was happening. There were a lot of small fish in that culvert and the mink was scaring them out to my friend as he tried to catch some for himself!
Broken Feather worked that spot until there was only a small opening due to the freezing temperatures. After that 10 inches of snow dropped on us, he still hung around, but shortly afterward I found his "hole” completely frozen over and only tracks in the snow where he walked across the road to check the other end of the culvert. He was gone.
A lot was learned about great blue herons from this adventure and enough great pictures were gotten that would more than fill this paper, so I felt the time involved was well worth it.
Oh, yes, my friend's broken feather never did come off.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or email@example.com .