Saturday, June 7, 2014

Proof of Life, Another Year Turns at the Heronries

Spring Migration                          11 May 2014

Great Blue Heron

Bruce greets me enthusiastically at the landing, and, as the sunrise breaks into scattered clouds, the bow of my canoe slips sharply through glassy waters.  Bruce studies the light as I guide the canoe to our favorite roost. A master photographer, Bruce Leventhal sees things in the light that I still do not, understanding exposure microcosms, the nature of reflected light, and the unusual phenomena that arise when color, texture, and light play between each other. When he discusses light, my ears perk up. We gently tie the stern to a flooded snag and hover motionless within a swift river current.  Each year we have practiced this unique photo shoot, and each year we get smarter.  With the sun behind us and herons ahead of us, we are ready. We study the birds intently as the sun climbs higher and clouds move in subtle waves through the river valley.

Great Blue Heron and Baltimore Oriole

All around us, herons make hasty preparation for a short growing season.  Evidence for their resilience, we hear chicks in some of the nests, proof that they incubated through the howling snowstorms of April. This year, the heronries are roaring with life, the tall silver maples holding more than eighty active Great Blue Heron nests, more than two dozen Great Egret nests, and more than a dozen Double Crested Cormorant nests.  For such a tiny piece of floodplain forest, the birds are really packed in this year.

Double Crested Cormorant

Great Egret

Great Blue Heron

In the time Bruce and I have worked with these nesting colonies, I have moved from a Canon Rebel to a Canon 30D to a Canon 40D and, now, to a Canon 7D.  I have learned essential lessons in maintaining dust-free sensors, using my autofocus, and I have run experiments with and without a 1.4X teleconverter.  Each year, the rookery changes as well, with an ebb and flow of breeding pair populations and a steady increase in egrets and cormorants.  As the river levels change with each winter's snow accumulation, every year's natural history is unique.

In the silver maples above, eight male Baltimore Orioles give chase to a single female.   A golden-yellow Prothonotary Warbler sings in the distant flooded timbers, shining brilliantly just above the dark waters. A Yellow Warbler pulls insects from low willows.  The tropical rainforests are arriving by wing in Wisconsin, arriving long after the ice-tolerant herons.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow-rumped Warbler in red osier dogwood

Spring warms into summer.

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4L IS lens.  A seventeen-and-a-half foot Wee-no-nah Canoe helped put the cameras in position.  The herons paid no attention.  It was a very good day. To see Bruce Leventhal's excellent photographic expressions, be sure to visit   A dynamic team, Tamy Leventhal offers a different perspective and her images sometimes accompany Bruce's images in their blog.