A Green Heron Colony

Douglas, a fellow FM Forums member, just posted some awe-inspiring Green Heron nestling photos. He took them 15 feet from the birds’ natal tree—one of many trees that line a Maryland lake. A few of the photos feature a nestling being fed by a parent, a spectacle everyone should see at least once.

Karl’s comment, which follows, sums up how viewers have responded: “Amazing shots in challenging lighting, all full of character and new life!” Full of character, indeed. Here is one of my favorites, a photo of siblings engaged in behavior that will put them in good stead for obtaining food on their own.

Green Heron nestlings
Green Heron nestlings

Here’s my second-tier photo depicting the same kind of “practice” behavior.

Green Heron fledglings
Green Heron fledglings

Our Local Colony

My wife and I live about a mile from a Green Heron colonial nesting site in the city of Chesapeake, VA. It’d be a lot easier just to call it a rookery, but Green Heron nesting sites aren’t usually called rookeries. So I call it, as most would, a colonial nesting site or colony. FYI, all the photos following Douglas’s were taken at that site.

I described my impression that there was a colony there in a message I sent to several different Facebook groups back in July 2019. (Consider the opening line as fall migration gets underway.)

Hi all, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT neglect small town and city parks during spring migration. Migrating birds often concentrate in these “less desirable” places, and breeders head there, too. Lakeside Park is not even a mile from where we live in Chesapeake. I’ve only walked through the park or have driven by, but never once considered birding there. There aren’t that many trees, there’s always a fair amount of trash, it’s sandwiched between a school and a busy road, and it’s a known hangout spot. But my friend, Laura Mae, started birding there and just put the park on the birding map. I followed suit, and together we’ve tallied close to 50 species, including 5 migrant warbler species (and both waterthrushes)! Laura also discovered nesting Yellow-crowned Night Herons there, and it’s very possible that more difficult to locate and study Green Herons nest there as well. So, sure, you can travel to the local National Wildlife Refuges, or to Wildlife Management Areas or state parks, but you might very well have a certifiable birding hotspot in a town or city park in your own backyard. Good luck!

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

Later, I wrote the following in “An Ode to a City Park.”

Not long after I sent out that message [on Facebook], I discovered my first of about a dozen (a dozen!!!) Green Heron nests there. Green Herons, like many birds that show up in this park, are neotropical migrants that spend each winter in the tropics but migrate north each spring to breed.”

My earlier impression turned out to be true. (And as of 8/28/20, we’ve tallied 87 species!)

A Great Representation

I mentioned Laura Mae above. Her photo below is a great representation of the colony. It shows what you can find in the park during the busy breeding season. It also provides further proof that the species isn’t as secretive and/or hard to find as many think (and as I initially thought).

Green Heron nestlings
Green Heron nestlings

Word Has Spread

Word has spread about the colony. A few months ago, before the 2020 breeding season got underway, a science journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, National Wildlife, and other publications, contacted me about it. She wanted to visit and learn more, with the goal of writing a feature article. She considered it unusual that a Green Heron colony would exist in a small city park. But unfortunately, with concerns and questions swirling about the pandemic, she later contacted me to cancel her plans.

I was disappointed, but understood, and promised to stay in touch and keep her posted. First, I sent her “Bird Love,” which included some recent park photos as well as some recordings. Then, I sent her the following, which I described as a fledgling trying to master the two-step. I’ll send her more at season’s end.

Green Heron fledgling
Green Heron fledgling

Juvenile herons walking around the lake bulkhead are a common sight during the breeding season, as are herons negotiating the observation deck and the two chain-link fences.

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

And the Point?

Now, why am I writing about a nesting colony near the end of a breeding season? Because I’m laying a little groundwork. The next blog will largely be pictorial, and you’ll already have some background information. I may share in the blog some more of Douglas’s photos, and heaven knows I have a number of my own. So please stay tuned.

And This Just In

Douglas Liu considers himself “only a hobbyist.” Maybe so, but the Green Heron pictures he took with his Sony a7R IV and FE 200-600mm lens were professional-grade. He won the “Feature Thread of the Week” at FM, outdoing a number of photography pros.

Quip, Question, Quote

“The gentleness, or as many would say, the stupidity of this bird is truly remarkable, for it will at times allow you to approach within a few paces, looking as unconcernedly upon you as the House Sparrow is wont to do in the streets of London.” John James Audubon, writing about the Green Heron

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

13 thoughts on “A Green Heron Colony

  1. Dave, this is a dream to capture these unique moments. The photos are simply outstanding!!!
    A Juvenile Green Heron looks like he needs a hug 🙂

    Like

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed both the article and your wonderful photos. It was great meeting you several days ago in the parking lot as you were out watching the birds, and I was headed to work at the school. I will make sure to frequently pause before going home and check out the bird activity at the park and to share what you told me with our students. Inspiring a love of nature and concern about the environment in the next generation is one of my personal goals. Thank you!

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Heidi. I enjoyed meeting you as well and am pleased you enjoyed the piece. And so glad you’ll be sharing what you learned with the kids. I agree that inspiring them to love and care for the natural world is key.

      Like

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