Last weekend I found myself birding on Moose Island, a small island in northern Illinois near where the Des Plaines, DuPage and Kankakee Rivers meet to form the Illinois River. Located there is the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center and a pretty walk along the water and through a nice prairie. My brother Brian and I birded there briefly for the first time last year, but I think it was pretty cold at the time.
I also walked back over the bridge and a short distance along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. From 1848 to 1933 the I&M Canal connected the Chicago River to the Illinois River that then feeds into the Mississippi River, thereby providing a waterway from New York Harbor all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Below is one view from the island as well as a map of my route, including the short north-south walk along the narrow I&M Canal on the west side. It was a gorgeous day.
I took photos of a Belted Kingfisher dive-bombing the water for fish and a few other birds of interest, but the surprising thing about this day was the number of herons of different kinds that I encountered. The most interesting one, and one that entranced me for over an hour, was this Green Heron I came across on the I&M Canal.
In my experience Green Herons generally sit hunched over, facing forward, without expression or apparently without the need to move one femtometer for hours at a time. This one was different, and despite the middling quality of these photos due to the low light I thought this bird would be worthy of presentation.
You can see the alertness of the bird in the photo above. Suddenly it decided to do something I have never seen. Maybe it was being territorial, although I didn’t see any other herons. It stretched itself farther than I ever thought it could. Look at that last stretch downward!
It started twitching, then took off flying suddenly, landing only about 15 feet away.
So now I knew to watch for the twitching before it took flight. After quite a while it started twitching again so I started taking pictures, but instead it launched downward and plunged its head completely into and out of the water…
and came up with a Bluegill!! A big one, too.
It seemed bemused by the size the fish, and it took a while to finagle it off its bill.
I was surprised when it started to swallow the fish–can it really eat something that large??
Apparently so. Here’s its reaction when it swallowed:
The bulging of the neck afterward is very visible in the photo below. I would have gotten a picture of the Green Heron taking off again but I was too busy “chimping” my pictures on the back of my camera (as my brother accuses me of doing) and missed it. Note to self: After a heron eats a big fish, it is not interested in continuing to fish and will likely leave.
The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.
I wish I had known that. I would have paid more attention to what the bird was doing. Next time…
Walking back along the canal I came across another heron, this pretty Great Blue Heron. It assumed the standard statue pose and allowed me to take quite a few shots before it flew off gronking. That’s two herons…
And back on the island a Great Egret, yet another type of heron, flew overhead. In fact, at the end of the day many of these flew in sequences of brilliant white across the dark, rosy-tinged clouds of the sunset. By that time my SD cards were full, so I just sat back and experienced the sight. Beautiful.
When I processed my pics later I came across a bird I had managed to get a shot of earlier in the afternoon. At the time I thought it might be an American Bittern (which to my surprise is also a heron), but in fact I found it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Heron. So with four species, the theme of the day really appears to be “herons”!
On a side note, earlier this year I made a resolution to pay more attention to butterflies and dragonflies (and maybe damselflies). I was amazed by the photographs and descriptions of these on Brian Hicks’ site. So here is a shot of a Blue Dasher (yes, I looked that up) I took on Moose Island during this day. This image does tolerate enlargement, so clicking on it will show a larger version.
What an enjoyable day.
9 thoughts on “Heron Now”
Good to see you back Ron and what a fantastic sequence of shots! I’m also surprised at the size of things birds will eat. I witnessed a Great Black-backed Gull swallow a Snipe whole, beak and all! And a Kingfisher swallow a fish half its body size, the process took 3/4 of an hour! Wish I had a camera in those days.
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I apologize for the delay in replying, Brian! I can’t believe it’s been so long, but it seems like I’ve been in a whirlwind and I’ve been interrupted multiple times while trying to log in here. I really appreciate your comments here and on my brother’s blog.
I haven’t seen any other bird eat anything of this relative size, so I’m amazed by the two you report! I have shots of Great Blue Herons eating fish they’ve stabbed, but not really large ones. However, I’ve seen video clips of an Osprey struggling to lift a fish out of the water, and an American Bald Eagle swimming to shore carrying a huge fish. I’ll post if I see more examples.
Thanks–again, I’m sorry about how long it took to get back to you.
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So first of all NEVER CHIMP!… it’s bad enough you delete images in the field (shudder) but in the words of Kenny Rogers, “There’ll be time enough for chimp’n when the birdings done”. Now with that public service announcement out of the way, isn’t that Four Rivers Environmental Education Center the place we photographed the Hooded Mergansers out on the water? I was aware Herons were able to swallow large fish whole, however, never been able to get it in the tin so very nice job on that – I do have pictures of cormorant throating a smaller fish than the one here – also note they are smart enough to swallow them head first so the fins don’t gouge them. I like the post swallow shot and how its head feathers went up like “what the hell did I just eat!?!” Really liking that second shot – somewhat over the shoulder in my signature style and nicely framed by the branches. WELCOME BACK – the way I see it you just went +4 on your count..plus a Skimmer Dragon.
My apologies to you, too, for my delay in replying!
Well, I could say that wasn’t really chimping, I was just checking the pixel intensity histogram on the back of the camera (which was true given the low light available), but really I was mostly admiring my pictures… And yes, that’s the place we stopped at and photographed the Hooded Mergansers. It was a lot nicer weather this time, and there were a lot more birds. We didn’t cross the bridge to the I&M Canal at that time. Actually, I was heading to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, but construction had stopped the traffic so I took the immediate exit ramp and meandered to this location instead. That second over-the-shoulder shot is your signature pose that I recognize in the field and make sure I get that shot!
Actually, I’ve only added 3 to my count of birds posted to this blog because I already had posted pics of Great Blue Herons.
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When do we get another post!!!
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Reblogged this on Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog.
New post please!!!!