Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Great Blue Heron Heronry

Today I visited our Great Blue Heron Heronry (known to the birders around here as The Rookery). It’s only three miles from our house, but it’s not well known, and we lived in our house eight years before learning about it. However, we knew something was up somewhere around us because from the day we moved into our house in 1999 a Great Blue Heron (Big Blue) would fly out over our front yard in the morning (probably heading toward the Little Miami River) and fly home over our backyard in the evening. It may sound strange, but you feel special when you're on a Great Blue’s flight pattern. You start watching and waiting for him, and when he appears, it’s a like a friend is there. 

The first time we saw the heronry was on March 25, 2007 when it was in full swing. Huge birds were flying everywhere squawking, circling, landing, and carrying cumbersome sticks. From my field journal:
Rick, Matty and I went to the rookery today with high hopes. It was beautiful. There are six huge sycamore trees with over 63 nests (and those were just the nests I could see). The trees and nests are monstrous. I’ve never seen anything like it…so much activity!
In early February, however, it’s quite a different story. At this time, males are starting to pick out nests. Herons reuse nests, and older nests can grow to outrageous sizes. Pre-built nests are usually claimed first. When these run out, arriving males will stake out a site in the colony for a future nest. By the end of February, females start returning to the breeding grounds to pick out a mate. Every year, herons choose different mates.

Today when I arrived at 2:00, there was no action. I didn’t expect any because it was the middle of the day and I assumed the Great Blues were out fishing in the Little Miami River, but I knew at about 5:20 a heron would fly over our house and head for home, so I headed for the heronry then (just after I put some dinner in the oven). When I arrived, I saw one heron on a nest.

He is very handsome. You can just make out his 
breeding plumage in this photo. I need a 400mm lens!

…soon after, another heron flew in. Look at his path, 
he’s gunning straight toward the heron already perched.

Yikes! The first heron flies off and the newcomer takes his place.

…but First Heron decides he’s not giving up his stake 
without a fight and returns for a little claw action.

They struggle for a few seconds and eventually 
the newcomer flies off finding another branch, 
and First Heron reclaims his perch.

I am King!!

I’m going to travel to the heronry a lot over the next couple of months and will keep everyone posted on the progress of the colony. (Thanks for pulling the dinner out of the oven, Rick! Needless to say, I got caught up watching the herons and was about 10 minutes later than I expected returning home. :-) I'm sure it didn't surprise Rick at all.)

For Part 2 of this series, click here: Feb 13 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 3 of this series, click here: Feb 17 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 4 of this series, click here: March 6 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 5 of this series, click here: March 9 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 6 of this series, click here: March 10 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 7 of this series, click here: March 17 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 8 of this series, click here: March 31 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 9 of this series, click here: April 22 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery
For Part 10 of this series, click here: May 3 at the Great Blue Heron Rookery


Kim said...

What fantastic heron pictures, seriously!! I love the ones in flight and on the tree branches!!

Thanks for the info on herons now claiming their nests. I am going to be on the lookout for one who nested in a place last year. I am eager to get pictures of it re staking its claim so I will be sure to get up their this upcoming weekend.

Shelley said...

I find the Heron so interesting and you made it even more so through your photos! Now I'm going to be on the watch for the Herons that fish on our lake and montior their flight times.

Nick S said...

Lovely shots ! I've always wanted to see a Heronry.

Roy said...

Nice shots of Herons in the trees! It always cracks me up to see big wading birds like these and Great Egrets perched in trees; they just look so unlikely up there, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

No heronry here, but we do have quite a few Great Blues year round. In the summer we also get Green Herons, Black-Capped Night Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Glossy Ibis. Heh, heh! Living in a salt marsh has its advantages.

Cicero Sings said...

We used to have a heronry that we monitored regularly too ... when we lived in the Fraser Valley. I've never had a zoom lens to take such great pictures though! I'm always amazed how such big birds can maneuver through the tree branches let alone land on them!

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
No heronry here neither!!! but some herons sometime.. Great shots, you did a great job there!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed that those nests can stay in the trees. Looking forward to the see what you get. Looks like a great start.

Kelly said...

Kallen: Thanks, it really is a cool sight.
Shelley: Thanks! Once you start, you fall in love with them!
Nick: Thanks!! We are lucky to have one...
Roy: You are right, it does seem unlikely to see the big, gangly things up there.
Cicero: I know...watching them fly from branch to branch is incredible.
Chris: Thank you!!!
Steve: Same here. I think a few nests came down in the Hurricane-force winds that swept through our area this fall, causing major damage to homes and trees, but most of the nests remained. Amazing!

Heather said...

There is a heron "rookery" at a lake about 45 minutes from our house, and we've tried for 2 years now to go check it out, but it was too late in the season both times to see the nests (all the trees were leafing out and it just wasn't possible). Maybe this year we'll make it out there BEFORE the trees leaf out to see it.

Kelly said...

...we are lucky because our nests are in sycamores, which leaf out later than the surrounding trees. The sycamores tower above the other trees too, so we get extra viewing time.