Great Blue Heron Portrait Session

Posted on Aug 14, 2015 in color, photography, wildlife

Before work on Friday morning, I decided to visit the dam near the entrance to the Ashuelot River Park in Keene. On several previous mornings, I have seen a great blue heron hunting near the base of the dam and I had a strong feeling that I would see it again. When I first arrived at the overlook on the northern side of the dam, mist was rising from the base of the dam due to the cool morning air. A quick scan of the area below the dam revealed nothing, and I felt very disappointed because normally my intuition is pretty good when I actually listen to it. Just before I gave up and headed back across the wood-planked bridge, something caught my eye in the mist near the base of the dam on the other side. When the mist parted a bit, I was able to see a great blue heron standing quietly on the flat stones at the base of the dam. I took a few documentary photos from my position on the other side of the dam, but the heavy mist obscured most of those photos. I quickly made my way back over the footbridge and headed for the overlook at the other end of the dam.

Knowing that the great blue heron was hunting below, when I got within ten feet of the overlook on the other side of the dam I went into stealth mode, crouching low and easing my way towards the railing at the edge of the overlook. I watched the heron carefully, timing my movement to coincide with the heron looking away from me. After I few minutes, I reach the railing and was in perfect position about fifteen feet above the heron. The stars were aligned — I had my long telephoto lens on the camera ready to go, a good vantage point, and so far I had gone completely undetected. I dropped my camera into quiet mode to keep the shutter sound to a minimum, and began making photographs of the great blue heron below.

Closeup portrait of a great blue heron's head

A great blue heron stands at attention

After a few minutes, something in the great blue heron shifted as it went from meandering and casually looking around into a more distinct and very serious hunting mode. The heron began to open its beak, as if it was anticipating its next successful catch.

A great blue heron opens its beak while hunting

On several occasions, the great blue heron assumed a very low posture, its enormous body parallel to the surface of the river. The heron even tilted its head, as if putting an ear towards the water to listen for prey.

A great blue heron assumes a listening posture while hunting in a river

It is always a treat to watch these magnificent birds in action because their focus, intensity, and patience is unrivaled. I find this inspiring, because these are qualities that I often aspire to in my own life.

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