Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, July 24, 2008

White-faced Heron - up close and personal

Here is a very common bird, but seen a bit closer than normal. It is the White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae). It is a common bird across the eastern states (and the rest of the country too, it seems, except the dry centre). By "common" I do not mean "numerous", but certainly it is seldom a surprise to see one of these birds. It may be found around ovals and parks, fish ponds in private gardens (which you thought had goldfish in them), urban lakes like this, and is also often seen stalking insects such as crickets and grasshoppers in paddocks. It builds a large stick nest, high in a large tree, often a great distance away from water.

These shots were taken ages ago, on a trip to Melbourne (September 2006). It was at one of a series of lakes/swamps/reserves on the Dandenong Creek. This was at "Bushy Park" Reserve. I was in a "hide", which explains why the bird was not too scared of me. Clearly it knew I was inside the shelter of the hide, but my presence did not disturb the bird at all. It just kept on feeding , right outside the hide.

What happened was that the bird was working the water's edge, and I stayed put (in the hide), and let the bird walk closer and closer to me.
As you can see, the bird stared at me - but, once it was reassured, it kept on coming.Note the long yellow-green legs, and the typical pose of the hunting Heron. Compare this photo with the last one, where the legs are in deep water. Back in the water, the Heron is now keeping a steady watch for small fish.
This next photo is the one which got away. Not the fish - I am sure it is safely gulped down, but the photo. Occasionally one sees a photo like this, with a fish visible in mid air, about to be swallowed. It is just a sudden snap of movement. I missed that image, by about 1/100th of a second, I figure.

These birds catch their prey, hold the beak fixed (for just a moment) and then in one very swift move, pull the neck and head backwards, then open the beak, thus swallowing the fish which has been literally thrown down the bird's neck. See how closely the neck has been drawn back over the birds shoulders, compared to the posture in the photo above.
Note how deep this water is. If you check back to the photo of the bird walking towards the camera, all the yellow-green part of the bird's leg which is visible in that photo, is now covered in water.


Joe said...

nice shots. these birds are so cool to observe.

Junior Lepid said...

Love this series, Denis. The White-faced Herons were scarce on the ground here till last year. (Due to the drought, no doubt!) I have a photo of one perched on my shed roof!

I found one hit by a car last spring. The mate was standing in the middle of the road. I stopped to check the dead bird and it had disgorged a large number of small skinks.

Lynn said...

Last year there were a pair of white-faced herons hanging at our place. They liked to sit on the TV aerial, sit atop pot plants, and peck at their reflections in the windows, as well as eating ? from the grass. This year there is only one white-faced heron - oh dear, perhaps it is the mate of the one killed. However, this year there is also a sole white-necked heron. Both spend hours per day right next to the house and seem to be becoming tamer. The white - necked one does a lot of pecking at its reflection. They had been at some distance from each other whilst eating from the grass but now can be seen tolerating each other, only a few metres apart. If you'd like to photograph them from the hide of our house, you are most welcome Denis. We're away this week, back by Friday.

Denis Wilson said...

Interesting to hear of the skinks eaten by the WF Heron. I had always assumed that they just ate insects, but why shouldn't they eat reptiles, as well as fish and even Yabbies which they apparently do also eat. Makes sense, now you mention it.
Joe. I am sure you would get lots of Herons and Egrets where you are. Very elegant birds. This is a relatively small Heron. The European and Asian ones are larger than this fellow. I assume your American ones are too.
Lynn - thanks, I would love to take up your offer.
Thanks to all.

Mosura said...

Great shots of the heron. Well done!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mosura
Thanks. In truth the credit should go to the bird, which trusted me.

David said...

Very nice shots Denis.
Always followed up by informative and accurate writeups.