Thursday, May 28, 2009

May Wonders 4: Great Blue Heron Nests!

On Monday of the enchanted weekend, I went walking in the glorious woods not far from G.'s house. At one point the path was blocked by the fallen trunk of a particularly large pine. As I was trying to navigate around the tree, and to find the spot where the curving trail picked up, I heard the raucous croaking of herons overhead.

The deep woods are not a place where I normally think of seeing herons—I usually see them by the shores of ponds. But G. had had suspicions that they might be nesting somewhere in the vicinity. She'd seen them flying over her house with sticks in their beaks. So I stopped to look up.

There were at least two in flight, flapping and landing in one tree and another. I knew herons nested in colonies, so I scoured the treetops. Finally I spotted something: a bird on a nest!

It's hard to see, but I believe that is a heron's neck that is emerging from that pile of sticks and curving slightly toward the tree trunk in the photo above.

I saw four herons all together and found what I thought were two nests. The black clump in the tree near the center of the photo above is one of them—surprisingly small for a bird of this size, I thought, but apparently that's right. One of my old bird books refers to the heron's nest as a "rude platform."

I think the bird above is standing on the nest.

And this one is just lookin' pretty.

P.S. One of my great pleasures is to look up the descriptions in Dr. Montague Chamberlain's Popular Handbook of Ornithology of the United States and Canada, based on Nuttall's Manual (1891), to see how it used to be.

Chamberlain says the heron's "favorite and long-frequented resorts are usually dark and enswamped solitudes or boggy lakes."
"These recesses defy the reclaiming hand of cultivation, and present the same gloomy and haggard landscape they did to the aborigines of the forest, who, if they existed, might still pursue through the tangled mazes of these dismal swamps the retreating bear and the timorous deer."
As for the boxer and me, we gazed at our herons, strolled for a while, and went home for lunch.

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