June 28, 2020 ~ Friends had enjoyed spotting the Green Heron, Butorides virescens, in several nearby locations, and so I’d been trying hard for months to find one. You know how it is when you eagerly point your lens at a distant blob in the reeds thinking “I just know this is it”, only to zoom in and find an artfully dried and drooping lotus leaf, or a humped weathered tree branch. But, finally, success!
The “green” in his name is inspired by the hint of green iridescence in his wing and tail feathers.
This heron was along the southeast edge of Elm Lake, at Brazos Bend State Park, in Texas. It was a scorching day, in blazing sunlight, so my ISO was very low, allowing an aggressive crop.
The Green Heron is a small shy heron, who sits very still waiting for prey to wander by. He weighs about 6 ounces, and is only about 17” long… although he sure doesn’t look that long, here.
He is found in a large area of North and Central America, but not in South America. Here on the Gulf Coast, I’ve learned to look for them motionless on low bare tree branches hanging out over shallow water, or motionless among the reeds under the bank of a shallow waterway, and often, safe from land-based predators, out in the middle of a shallow body of water on a lotus leaf.
Here, he perched on a sodden log in the dappled shade of a cypress at the western edge of Elm Lake. The green plants on his feet and on the surface of the water are Watermeal, Wolffia columbiana.
The above shot is a great illustration of the challenge of depth of field (DOF). If you click and zoom in, you can see the minute details in his near foot clearly, while his far foot is fuzzy and out of focus. This illustrates the very narrow DOF my lens gives when shooting nearly wide open (f/6.3) at very close distances. And he is turned just slightly away from me. This means that, though his near foot is in focus, his neck, head and face less than two inches further away, are not. An aperture of f/13 would have been much better. Remember that you can use the PhotoPills DOF Calculator to arrive at these numbers.
Two weeks later, photographer Bill Maroldo pointed out a Green Heron near the shore of 40-Acre Lake at Brazos Bend State Park. The heron was hunting in the shallows as the early morning light streamed across the water. I spent several minutes taking photos of him not moving one millimeter.
And then this chunky little heron gave me a surprise: look at that neck!
The Green Heron’s muscular neck is longer than its body and allows it to strike at prey, pinning, stunning or killing it without warning. Note that the large Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) leaves near his beak are in focus, but his neck and body are not. My DOF was insufficient for his elongated form. I should have used a higher aperture, or stepped back away from him, or focused on the mid-point of his neck instead of his eye… or all of the above. Here’s a technically (but not artistically) better shot.
And now he is in a bit of a pickle. How do you eat your tasty snack with no hands? If you open your beak, will you drop your prey?
Nope! Herons perform a handy little trick – they toss their subdued food upwards, and open wide to catch it deep in their throat. Noms!
He posed for a moment, foot in the air, and gave me a quick look over his shoulder before he flew away across the water. You can see how that powerful neck is smoothly covered by his flexible skin and feathers, creating a seamless and aerodynamic silhouette.
That whole episode lasted just over 2 minutes. And I had straightened to stretch my back when he flew away, so I missed the bird-in-flight shot. All of which just shows that the photographer needs to be more patient than the bird. Ah, well. I was tickled to see that hint of green iridescence on an otherwise chestnut and dark gray bird. And I was truly surprised at that long neck, so well hidden and so briefly visible on this sturdy little heron.
4 thoughts on “The Surprising Green Heron”
Your final comment concerning South America and the Gallapagos Islands explains why relatives of the species seem quite common here in parts of Brasil.
Thanks for the comment Father Ed. Linda’s observation does point out that a very closely related species would be visible in your area. Let me know what you see 🙂
Green Herons were once referred to as “Green-backed Herons” and lumped with two others that occur in South America and the Galapagos Islands, but finally split off and got their own name. Good shots and looking forward to great images with your new lens 🙂
Thanks for the species clarification, Linda. I’m always amazed at how fluid the science of naming birds can be. And, yes, I’m looking forward to that new lens!!