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Urban Safari: Heron Hunting

Urban safaris are something we started doing when we joined the Franklin Park Zoo a few years ago. Since then, we have had many “adventures,” some of them in Boston, others in cities around the country. This year, we got off to an amazing start with a Bald Eagle on Jamaica Pond and many Snowy Owls on Plum Island in January, and more eagles on the Merrimac River in February. The outings slowed a bit in March and April, but now that Spring has finally arrived, it was time to venture out again.

Outfitted with our highly portable Nikkor 18-300mm VR zoom lens, a sturdy tripod, and a tip that a Great Blue Heron has been spotted at the Arnold Arboretum, we went on a “hunt” for the bird this past weekend. The outing was a rousing success. We got both photos and videos of the large avian at various locations in the Arboretum performing a variety of interesting behaviors. The lack of foliage made spotting and tracking the heron relatively easy. The flowering plants added to the photos by providing a  picturesque backdrop. All in all, an excellent excursion.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is an impressive bird, both in flight and standing still. The one we saw easily had a 6-foot wingspan and stood around 4-feet tall.

Our arrival was timely as the bird was out looking for breakfast. It was not long before it speared a good size fish. In fact, it was so big that it had trouble swallowing it. After several attempts, it actually abandoned that catch and went off to search for something smaller.

When scanning for food in the water, the heron appeared hyper-focused and paid only a passing notice to our presence. At one point, the heron was actually moving closer to us. We kept our distance at first, but as it did not seemed aggressive, we tried to move in closer to it. By moving slowly, we were able to get quite close (within ten yards) to the bird. This gave us the opportunity to get in tight with our shots and from a variety of angles.

Another cool thing we observed was the ability of the heron to move one of its legs forward while maintaining the other parts of its body completely still, absolutely balanced, and remained totally focused on whatever it was going after in the water.

A Great Blue Heron taking flight was a sight to behold. With a flap of the wings, it was airborne. It climbed seemingly without effort, glided in a large circle, and was away to another part of the Arboretum, all in a matter of seconds. What we found surprising was the how little sound the heron made while doing all that. A truly awesome experience.

In this Urban Safari, we ventured out both in the morning and a little before dusk. We were successful in spotting the Great Blue Heron at the Arnold Arboretum on both occassions. The best chance of finding the bird is at the ponds located at the end of Meadow Road.

We don’t know how long this Great Blue Heron will be hanging about the Arnold Arboretum. So if you are interested in catching a glimpse of this awesome bird, you should make plans to visit the Arboretum soon!

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