A Close Encounter

Since a number of you enjoyed my recent Green Heron photos and the unusual story I shared on 10/14, I thought I’d throw together an impromptu post to fill you in on the details.

I’ve been tracking a juvenile Green Heron that’s spending time along the shore of Gifford Pinchot Lake in York, Pennsylvania. The bird will soon head south for the winter and will likely wind up in the tropics. Most Green Herons leave this neck of the woods by mid-October, so it’s getting late for this little guy/gal.

Two Close-ups

I’m just under 6 foot. I was a little over 2 body lengths away from the bird when I took this photo on 10/12. If you know where to look, Green Herons aren’t hard to find. And juveniles are often approachable if you exercise care. 

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

Here’s a head shot I took moments later. I shared it on Facebook with these words, “A different take on a fascinating and beloved bird.” Beloved, indeed. One viewer sent me this in response: “At first glance it looks like a view of earth, very beautiful.” Another wrote: “I never noticed the color pattern on the top of the head before. Great picture!”

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

Fast Forward

Fast forward to the morning of 10/14. The bird was still there. When I arrived around 8 a.m., it was near the top of a dead tree. A strange place, I thought. I took a few long-distance shots with my camera, but tossed them both. I then fired away at a pair of Canada Geese that were flying through the evaporation fog that covered the lake. Here’s one of those shots. It’s like a black and white. Often, when I see a pair like this, I think back to the time when I saw one fall after being shot. I described the incident in “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters.

Canada Goose pair
Canada Goose pair

As I approached the tree, the bird stayed (no surprise to me there). I went beyond the tree and turned to get a better photo and one at a lower angle. I also went there to get better lighting. 

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

Then I went back in hopes that the bird would make its way down to the ground so I could get some eye-level shots. 

A Close Encounter

While I was there, I heard several Great Blue Herons chasing each other and then a ruckus at the woods’ edge. An adult Cooper’s Hawk was being mobbed by American Crows. Fortunately for this photographer, the hawk landed. And it landed in a perfect spot. The crows were just above and out of view.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

But before I knew it, the Cooper’s took off and headed straight toward the heron. The crows followed. It then strafed the small bird, which appeared to make a split-second decision to plunge to the water below. I think it did so for its own safety. The hawk would never follow it there. The bird let out a screech as it plunged, and it’s crest went straight up.

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

It was a close encounter. But though Cooper’s Hawks will prey on nestlings and fledglings, I’ve never heard of one picking off a juvenile. All the same, juveniles and adults want nothing to do with those hawks.

Here’s a photo I took moments later. When I posted it on Facebook, I did so with these words: “Here’s something you don’t often see: a Green Heron in the drink. The bird was perched in a tree, but was strafed by an adult Cooper’s Hawk and wound up in the water (a safer place). It eventually flew to the shore and seemed none the worse for wear.”

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

One person who viewed the photo said that the bird looked at home in the water—”like a duck.” I think it was at home. These are water birds, after all. With their mostly hollow bones, air sacs, and feathers that are mostly air (all things shared with other birds), they have no trouble staying afloat. Green Herons also have some webbing between their toes, which enables them to swim.

A Final Photo and Final Thought

After the bird returned to the shore and things seemed to return to normal, I started to head to my truck but turned around to get some parting glimpses. I also took some additional photos, including this one. If this photo doesn’t say “returned to normal,” or “all is well,” I don’t know what does. 

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

Any day now, the bird will make it’s first trip, its maiden voyage, from the breeding grounds where it was born to its wintering grounds. It’ll probably leave during the night. I’ll revisit the lakeshore a few days later and won’t find it—it’ll be gone. I know you’ll join me in hoping that it makes its way to those wintering grounds safely. I have little doubt that that’ll happen, and that we’ll see the bird next spring.

Thanks for reading.

 

8 thoughts on “A Close Encounter

  1. What a great story, Dave! I would welcome little Green Heron to our warm winter location 😊 Our birds/ducks leave in the summer and return in the winter, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of them around in our few water areas. I think your two bottom photos are my favorites 💙

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