This post is a bit of a throw back to a month ago, but the Great Blue Heron is one of my favorites.
Out on the tideflats, the Great Blue Heron stalks its prey by stealthily standing so still the prey doesn’t recognize it as a predator. As a kid, the tideflats were my favorite place in the world when I visited Puget Sound. As I poked around in all the tide pools looking for critters, there was often a Great Blue Heron doing the same.
All kinds of critters live in tide pools. You get your classics like Dungeness Crabs, Shield-Backed Kelp Crabs, Sea Anemones, and many types of small fish. Then, sometimes, you get something a little more rare like a Hermit Crab, a Sea Star, or an alive Shark-Eye Moon Snail.
The Great Blue Heron will wade into one of these tide pools or at the water’s edge and stand incredibly still. Then, they wait. Patience is definitely their virtue. When a small fish nears, the Great Blue Heron leans in, then uses its dagger sharp bill to snatch the unsuspecting fish right out of the water. While they prefer fish, they may catch other unsuspecting creatures that come too close and it takes minimal effort to get them.
Watching the Great Blue Heron while staying near Puget Sound is a favorite activity of mine. Sometimes on a morning walk, we follow each other down the beach. As I get saunter closer with my tea, it makes a guttural “guak” sound and flies down the beach to a new location. If I’m walking during a low tide and I can walk farther, sometimes this happens two or three times. If my walk coincides with a high tide, the Great Blue Heron has the beach to itself for the most part. At least, until the Bald Eagle decides to hunt on the same patch of beach!
Let’s check out some facts so you’ll know one when you see it!
Great Blue Heron General Characteristics:
- Large bird, 4 ft tall
- Long neck with a long, sharp bill
- White head with a blueish black stripe above eye
- Wings are blueish gray with a black and reddish shoulder
- Wingspan stretches about 6 feet
- Chest gray streaks with white streaks
- Longest legged bird in Western US with the Sandhill Crane
- Often stands incredibly still while hunting with head extended or resting with neck and head folded onto shoulders
- Flies with neck folded
- Riparian areas including but not limited to shorelines, tideflats, marshes, swamps
- Like wetlands with cliffs and tall trees for nesting
- Most of the United States and parts of Canada
- Permanent residents but do migrate south if wetlands freeze
Great Blue Heron & the Traveling Nature Journal
These magnificent birds amaze me every time I see them. That is why I chose to create their own spread in my nature journal as soon as I got to the Pacific Northwest this year. With a wingspan of about 6 feet, they take up space as they fly. The National Geographic Birds of Western North America helped me with some of these fun facts.
I wanted to have a photo and a sketch that depicted two separate actions of the Great Blue Heron. Therefore, I chose to sketch the Heron standing in some water playing the waiting game. When they stand with their necks extended, they use their sharp vision to spot prey in the water. Since this is their usual position when I observe them, I thought it fitting. After sketching with pencil, I outlined it in a Sakura Micron Pen 08.
As I searched through my photos from this observation session, I came across a photo of the Great Blue Heron Landing. First, I chose this photo because it displayed just how wide its wingspan reaches. Second, I chose it because the underwing gathered the sunlight and I could clearly see the coloration of the underwing. My Fujifilm Instax Printer did a great job showing all this detail which I didn’t feel comfortable drawing.
Finally, I wrapped as much text as possible around the sketch and photo. After a great deal of time spent taking field notes, I wanted as much space as possible for them. Check it out above and on my Instagram!
One last note, if you’re totally lost, go check out my post on the Basics of Nature Journaling.