Tucson’s Great Blues
What bird stands four feet tall, has a six-foot wingspan, and weighs only about five pounds? The answer, of course, is the Great Blue Heron. This bird is among the tallest of North American species and a ferocious predator. Yet, it is all feathers, muscles, and bones, a marvel of ultra-lightweight bio-engineering.
There is a public park on Tucson’s west side that has a breeding colony of these magnificent wading birds. Annually, four or five pair of them nest in a couple of Eucalyptus trees that grow on a tiny islet in the midst of the park’s “lake” — actually, a small man-made pond of only a few acres in size. The herons remain loyal to their nest tree for year after year partly because the county, in its wisdom, has seen fit to stock the lake with fish. Thus, food is abundant for the herons.
It is a bit surprising to find Great Blue Herons in the midst of what most people think of as a burning desert. These are, after all, wading birds who are normally associated with marshes and other bodies of water. But, they actually do populate the area in reasonable numbers. I’ve seen them hanging out by irrigation canals in the midst of the agricultural lands between Tucson and Phoenix, miles away from any natural body of water. The canals and their margins are home to frogs and small rodents and the herons have learned that pickings are pretty easy there. Give these birds a bit of water and some food and they will come.
This morning I was pleased to see several herons in the nesting tree at our local park. Their breeding season seems to have begun. I also photographed herons actively foraging in the waters at the lake’s shoreline.
Sometimes there’s a real advantage to finding wildlife in an otherwise unexciting setting like a public park, because the wildlife there becomes relatively inured to the presence of humans. No self-respecting Great Blue Heron in the wild would ever let me get as close to it as I was able to approach the park’s herons.
The park is also an excellent venue for capturing these magnificent birds in flight.
They tend to commute back and forth from their nesting tree on predictable flight paths. It’s pretty easy to capture them on the wing once you’ve figured out where they’re going to fly.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture priority setting, ISO 1250. The first image shot at f8 @ 1/1600. The second and third images shot at f8 @ 1/5000 and 1/4000, respectively.