Birding Unites Us

These are the opening lines of an old Noel Paul Stookey/Michael Kelly Blanchard song:

And in these days of confused situations
And in these nights of a restless remorse
When the heart and the soul of a nation
Lay wounded and cold as a corpse

I thought of those lines this morning.

Then I got to thinking some more. In this time of troubling polarization, (and in this time where too often, emotion trumps reason), what can unite us?

Clemson Professor of Wildlife Ecology Dr. J. Drew Lanham offers an answer in his 2018 Year of the Bird piece, “The United State of Birding.” His answer? Birding can unite us.

With that thought in mind and with a desire to promote Lanham’s idea, I’ve decided to repost some of what I wrote last summer about the Green Heron and city parks. The Green Heron is a bird species loved by all, and city parks are green spaces created for all (and that reflect us all).

Adult Green Heron
Adult Green Heron

An Ode to the Green Heron

My last blog, “An Ode to a City Park,” was an ode not just to a single 11-acre city park in Chesapeake, VA, but really to all city parks (and by extension, all natural places that have been built/preserved/restored). These parks are critically important for wildlife and also for people—especially neighborhood people (see below). Research has shown that among other things parks provide visitors with any number of mental health benefits. If you have any doubts about the importance of these green spaces and about their need to be preserved and protected, please visit the City Parks Alliance website. You’ll find a wealth of information there.

My blog wasn’t just an ode to parks, though. It was an ode to what you can learn, especially about bird life, while visiting them. Of course, you can learn a lot about human life while visiting them, too. Click on any photo in this photo set to enlarge it and/or to view the entire set carousel-style. And do the same with the photo sets that follow.

 

I summarized “An Ode to a City Park” this way in an email I sent out to a few fellow birders from the great state of Maryland: “My blog concerns the importance of city parks for birds, bird life in general (migration, avian specialization, parental care in birds, bird vision and hearing, etc.), and the Green Heron, an immensely popular, yet difficult to study and understand species.”

Juvenile Green Heron preening
Juvenile Green Heron preening

The Green Heron

I ended that email with a reference to the Green Heron. But that’s where we’ll begin here. And our focus will be on young birds.

Now, I could write volumes about what I’ve learned in the last few months while engaged in my own field study about this species (and about birds, in general), but for now, I thought it’d be fun to just share with you some photos of these fascinating creatures.

Juvenile Green Heron feeding
Juvenile Green Heron feeding

Of course, I’ll throw in a little commentary here and there. I can’t help myself. Like the late Toni Morrison, I enjoy writing as much as I enjoy most everything.

Young Green Herons Exploring

Here is a photo set of young birds just being young birds. Included is a photo of a nestling. I described Green Heron nestlings in some detail in “The Killdeer Saga, Part 2,” under “Killdeer Chicks.” The transformation of this bird’s feather coat from varicolored down to developing feathers to flight-ready juvenile feathers is truly remarkable—and remarkably quick. The transformation from dependent nestling to independent (or nearly independent) juvenile—and the drive toward independence—is remarkable, too.

 

Some of you may wonder how I’m able to get so close to these young birds. Yes, I do go into the field with a 500mm lens—and that helps. But because these birds have so little real-world experience, or because they’re so laser-focused on finding food, preening, or navigating the new environment, or because they’re so preoccupied with enjoying their freedom and experiencing the joy of living, I’ve been able to get remarkably close. I’ve sometimes had them only a few feet away (and couldn’t possibly fit them inside a photo frame). Here’s an example of what I mean. I could’ve almost reached out and stroked the traces of down on this young bird’s head, it was so close. You might be able to tell here that it wasn’t long after sunrise, which is always a great time to shoot.

Juvenile Green Heron only a few feet away
Juvenile Green Heron only a few feet away

Speaking of shooting…a few days ago a city contractor showed up at the park to treat the water with an herbicide. The algal bloom, created by what she described as “filamentous algae,” had reached nuisance level and was threatening wildlife, not to mention that it had become a real eyesore. I introduced myself and told her that I often come to the park to shoot birds. With a surprised and curious look, she responded, “I didn’t think you could do that here.” I went on to explain to her that by “shoot” I meant “take photographs of,” not dispatch. She smiled and appeared relieved. It was a fun exchange.

Young Green Herons Foraging and Feeding

As Green Herons spend a lot of time searching for food, a characteristic they share with other birds due to birds’ higher metabolic rate, I thought I’d include some photos I’ve taken of the young birds foraging and feeding. The last photo in the set is a silhouette. I’m having fun attempting silhouettes.

I was telling a gentleman who came up to me the other day—and people so often do when I’m out and about with my camera gear—that these young Green Herons aren’t adept fishermen yet, but boy do they know how to stalk and capture dragonflies. They are consummate pros in that department almost right out of the gate. But I also made it a point to tell him that just like consummate pros (and I was thinking there of Major League Baseball players) they only bat around .300, if that. The birds strike out a lot, and for the moment, anyway, the dragonfly evades capture.

 

It’s fascinating watching these juveniles stalk their prey. They move slowly and deliberately, all the while getting lower and lower. Once they finally get into position, they strike with almost blistering speed. Here we go again with baseball analogies, but that strike reminds me of the delivery of a high-powered fastball. And where all that torque comes from, God only knows.

Green Herons—Some Unusual Views

I’d like to close things out with some photos of Green Herons as you might not have seen them before. As I said above, I’ve been able to get quite close to these birds. And as I’ve spent hours in a park just down the street watching them and photographing them, I’ve also had the privilege of seeing all kinds of interesting behavior on their part.

 

Juvenile Green Heron exploring

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