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Posts Tagged ‘Great Blue Heron’

How do you capture the mood of the moment? I really love the early morning, those moments when the wildlife is just waking up and becoming active and the sun is slowly rising. This winter, though, I have been kind of lazy and a little unmotivated. Consequently I have been generally sleeping through those magical moments or been seated in front of my computer rather than standing outdoors behind my camera.

Recently, though, I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge just after dawn and captured these images, which give you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling on that occasion. In the first image a pair of Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) were flying past another duck in the foreground. As your eyes make your way across the color-tinged ripples towards the distant horizon, you can just make out successive rows of other water birds.

In the second image, a solitary Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was already at work just off the shore, fishing for breakfast. Though the heron is almost a silhouette, you can just detect the warm sunshine coming from the right that illuminates its chest.

The light is the main subject in the final, almost abstract image. The light reveals the details in the grain of the wood and creates a wonderfully distorted reflection in the ripples of the water. In many ways this image represents photography reduced to its simplest, most elemental form—the interplay of light and shadows.

Bufflehead

Great Blue Heron

reflection

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) snag a small fish on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Herons like to swallow their catches head-first, so the heron tossed the fish in the air several times to reposition it.

In the final photo, the heron had finally flicked the fish into the proper position and was preparing to swallow it. I am pretty sure that he was successful in doing so, although the photo suggests that his aim was somewhat less than perfect. I have tossed popcorn, M&M’s, and other tasty treats into the air and tried to catch them in my mouth and can testify to the fact that it is not as easy as it looks.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The early morning sun was beginning to warm the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted in a tree last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a perch where I suspected the heron had spent the previous night. I quickly got a few shots and quietly moved on—I think the heron dozed off again after I had passed by.

When I took these shots, I was close enough to the heron that I was able to zoom in with my telephoto lens and capture some wonderful details in the feathers. The sunlight was warm and beautiful during that early portion of the day, part of the so-called “golden hour,” when subjects take on a golden glow. I have gotten a little lazy about rising at dawn, but this day was a pointed reminder of the potential benefits of doing so.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On an unusually warm winter day when temperatures soared into the 60’s (16 degrees C), this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was taking advantage of the conditions to fish in a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron struck repeatedly during the time that I watched him and appeared to be having a good deal of success, although the fish were all pretty small, like the one in the second image below.

It was wonderful to walk about in the warmth and sunshine of a spring-like day, a foretaste of things to come. As I write this posting, however, a cold rain is falling that forecasters predict might turn into a couple of inches of snow.

I personally have had enough of winter this year with an unusually snowy January and am ready for spring to arrive. I feel a little like a child in the back seat of a car during a long road trip, endlessly inquiring, “Are we there yet?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We finally had a sunny day, so I ventured out yesterday to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in search of subjects. I was happy to find an alert Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in the open. During my most recent trips to this refuge, the weather was usually cold and overcast, the heron was often hunched over at the far edge of a pond, doing its best to stay warm.

Despite the sunshine, the wind was kicking up periodically, ruffling the heron’s feathers in an almost comical way. His “bed head” reminded me of my youth. I often had a cowlick at the back of my head and I remember my Mom licking her fingers and trying to flatten it down with her saliva.

Unlike the Great Egrets that leave our area when the weather turns cold, Great Blue Herons remain with us throughout the wind. They somehow manage to survive through the frigid weather and occasional snow—I suspect that this heron was not at all bothered by a little wind.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Smiling is contagious. I can’t say for sure that this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was actually smiling when I spotted him in mid-January at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but he seemed so happy that I could not help but smile back at him. I really enjoy trying to capture the personality of the individual birds when I photograph them and sometimes my wildlife subjects will cooperate with me.

Great Blue Herons remain in my area throughout the winter. It has to be tough on them right now, when many of the smaller ponds have iced over, but somehow the herons manage to find some open water and hopefully are able to catch enough food to survive.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) have long necks? If you looked at the first image, you undoubtedly would respond that they most certainly do. If you looked at the second image, though, you might hesitate in responding to my question.

Where does the neck go? In the first photo, the heron seems to have a neck-to-body ration relatively equivalent to that of a giraffe, but a giraffe, as far as I know, is not able to retract its neck the way that the heron can.

I sometimes imagine that a heron can contract its neck like the Slinky that I remember from my childhood. You could stretch out its coils a long way and it would return to its original shape. On a side note, my favorite “trick” was getting the Slinky to walk down a set of stairs.

I do not know heron physiology very well, but I think the heron’s neck is flexible enough that it can pull the neck into a tight S-curve against its body. From certain angles, it looks like the heron’s neck has gotten considerably shorter when it does this.

So what about you? Are you willing to stick out your neck when something grabs your attention or do you tend to hunker down and move slowly and cautiously forward? It is a good question to ask yourself as we begin a new year, full of new opportunities and possibilities. How bold or fearful do you feel?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled to spot this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) last Saturday as it sheltered in the vegetation at the edge of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Initially I took a photo from a distance, but then followed the trail along the edge of the pond and managed to get some closer shots.

Most of the time, Great Blue Herons seem stoic and impassive, but this one showed a lot of personality, especially in the first image. When I asked him to smile for the close-ups, though, he decided he wanted a more serious, dignified look, as you can see in the final two photos. I liked the resulting images and the think the heron would have been happy too.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and breezy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most of the birds seemed to have taken shelter and were hidden from view. There were large rafts of some kind of ducks visible in the distance on the bay, so periodically I would look out at the water, hoping that some bold bird had ventured close enough for me to identify it.

As I was scanning the surroundings, my eyes detected a bit of motion and I caught a glimpse of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Normally I see herons in the water or occasionally perched in a tree. This heron, however, was perched atop a duck hunting blind a short distance from the shore. In some years this blind has been used by ospreys for nesting, so there always seems to be sticks piled on the roof that you can see behind the heron.

I am not sure why the heron chose this particular location, but maybe it felt secure and sheltered there. I noted that the heron was perched on one leg and recalled that herons will sometimes tuck the other leg underneath its feathers to keep it warm.

I was careful not to disturb the heron from its chosen spot while I grabbed a few shots and then I moved slowly down the trail in search of additional subjects to photograph.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was so close to this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that there was no way I could fit its entire body into a shot. I decided to zoom in on its head and captured this little portrait of the heron as it walked slowly through the water. Ever vigilant, the heron kept its eyes focused on the water, looking for signs of potential prey, and ignored me, though I am sure that it was aware of my presence.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the past I have seen Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch some incredibly large fish, but the tiny fish this heron caught on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge may be the smallest prey that I have ever seen a heron catch.

Hopefully the fish was just an appetizer and not the main course.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday, I could not help but notice that the water levels were really low—the waters of the Potomac River and adjoining bodies of water are definitely influenced by the tide. Large stretches of the land that are normally covered with water were visible.

I spotted an opportunistic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) poking about in the tidal pools, searching for tasty tidbits. The heron seemed to be having some success, though its “catch” was so small that I could not tell what it was, even with my telephoto zoom lens fully extended.

I love watching Great Blue Herons and am happy that they remain with us all winter, unlike their cousins, the Great Egrets, that depart my area in the autumn for warmer locations.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The angle at which I took this shot makes it look like there was a headless heron haunting Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. (As most of you can probably tell a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was showing off its impressive plumage and wingspan this shot.) I think I have been seeing too many Halloween displays at local stores, causing me to see spooky things everywhere.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on Tuesday, it was standing in the shallow water of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I could not tell if the heron was actively fishing, but it did seem to be alert and attentive, so I decided to watch and wait. It moved slowly toward a patch of vegetation and bent over slightly, its head disappearing from view.

Suddenly the heron thrust its body forward, striking without warning. When the heron turned its head, I could see a squirming creature in its beak, but I could not tell what it was. At first I assumed that it was a fish, but when the prey started to coil itself around the beak, I began to wonder if it was a snake. When I examined the images on my computer screen, I began to wonder if it could be some kind of eel.

I am presenting the images in reverse chronological order, because I think the shot of the heron struggling with its prey is the most compelling—I usually try to lead with my best shot, because it is the one that shows up as the thumbnail image for those using the WordPress Reader feed. A few seconds after I took that shot, the heron flew a short distance away, out of range of my camera, and I watched heron subdue and swallow what I am assuming was an eel. The second image provides the best view of the eel, and the final shot shot shows the heron before the action began.

UPDATE: A Facebook viewer has indicated that the catch is probably a juvenile American Eel (Anguilla rostrata).

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes you cannot get your subject to cooperate in posing and sometimes it simply does not matter, especially when you are focused primarily on capturing the mood of the moment, rather than the anatomical details of the wildlife creature.

On a recent early-morning trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a distant Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) perched in a tree. The heron was facing away from me and appeared to be basking in the sun, trying to warm up a little after what had been a frigid night. The morning light was beautiful as it illuminated the interlocking grid of branches—in many ways that light became the main subject of this image.

There is a kind of abstract feel to this image that I really like, though it is quite different from most of the photos that I normally take. Somehow it recaptures for me the serenity of that early-morning encounter in a way that a detailed close-up shot would not have been able to do.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As the waves rhythmically struck the rocky shoreline, the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) slowly moved forward, all of his attention focused on one small spot. It was lunchtime on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and this heron was hungry. I watched and waited and finally the heron struck the water with a mighty thrust. When he pulled his bill out of the water, it was empty.

The heron paused for a moment and seemed pensive, wondering perhaps if he was looking for lunch in all the wrong places.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At the edge of a small pond a solitary Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) hunched over, trying to stay warm on a frigid winter morning last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. From a distance, it looked like the heron had wrapped itself in a shaggy winter coat.

The heron did not move from its single-legged pose as I passed, but seemed to be tracking me with its half-opened eyes, judging that I did not represent a threat.  There was no need to expend its precious energy in avoiding me.   Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The fish was modest in size, but the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) had waited so patiently to catch the fish that it was determined not to lose its prey. As the heron adjusted the fish in its mouth, it turned away from the water, so that if the fish somehow escaped its grasp, it would not be able to swim away.

A few seconds later the heron tilted its head back and swallowed the fish. The heron took a quick drink of water and went back to fishing, probably hoping that it would be able to catch a main course to go along with the tasty appetizer that it had already consumed.

I watched this little drama unfold this past Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Both the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and I were trying to keep a low profile as we crouched down and stalked our respective targets. I am not sure what kind of prey the heron saw, or thought it saw, but I was happy to be able to capture this shot of the heron through the vegetation earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Normally I like to try to isolate my subject, but in this case the background and the foreground help to tell the story and I am not bothered by the fact that the heron is partially hidden.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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And so the new year begins. In many ways I feel like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, alert and wide-eyed, but hunkered down alone on the sidelines, cautiously waiting until it is safe to engage more fully.

The Great Blue Heron in the second image was the final bird I photographed in 2020—I captured this image yesterday afternoon. This heron appeared to be fishing, standing motionless for a long time, watching and waiting and hoping. Perhaps there is a lesson for us here as well as we begin 2021. Patience has been in somewhat short supply this past year and we could all use more of it this year.

Happy New Year to all of you and to your loved ones.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am not sure what caught the attention of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), but the heron was intensely focused on something on the shore for quite some time recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps it was thinking back to warmer days, when it might have been able to snag a frog or even a dragonfly, but, alas, the weather has turned cold and those creatures are no longer stirring.

Eventually the heron gave up on that spot on the shore and re-focused on fishing, hoping for better luck.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love watching Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch fish. Often they will stand still for long periods of time and then strike suddenly and violently. Catching a fish, though, is only half of the battle for the heron. The heron must then maneuver the fish into position so that it can be swallowed head-first.

During a trip last month to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I observed the whole process and was able to capture a series of images, including these three. It looks like the heron speared the fish initially, leaving it either stunned or possibly dead. I admire the boldness and skill of the heron as it flipped the fish into the air, as you can see in the middle photo, as part of the positioning process. Eventually the fish was correctly positioned, as shown in the final photo, and a split second later, the heron tilted back its head and the fish disappeared down its throat.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was watching a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in the shallow waters of low tide on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the heron seemed startled when it sensed my presence and took to the air without warning. I had the presence of mind to react almost as quickly and captured a short series of shots that I have presented here in reverse chronological order.

When I first spotted the heron it was looking off into the distance with its neck fully outstretched—I was amazed at how far its neck extended, as you can see in the final photo. I watched the heron as it walked along slowly scanning the water as it searched for fish. It was quite windy and the water seemed really choppy, which probably made things more difficult for the heron.

I captured the middle shot just after the heron had taken off and you can see water drops coming off of the heron’s feet if you zoom in on the image. I was most shocked that I managed to capture the image of the heron with outstretched wings—the heron got really wide really quickly and I was almost zoomed in too closely. I actually cut it even closer than it appears and I added a bit of additional water to the left and upper image edges of the shot to create the image that you see.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is hard to appreciate the length of the wings of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) when it is standing in the water. When it takes off, however, the heron extends its wings fully and the sight is amazing, especially when the heron is flying away from you. This Great Blue Heron that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge initially was standing on a small sandbar, but took to the air when it detected my presence. It started out heading away from me and gradually turned to my right as it gained altitude.

In case you are curious, the wingspan of a Great Blue Heron is 65.8-79.1 inches (167-201 cm), according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. Wow!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Some birds are with us for only a season or two before they migrate to new locations. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), however, stay in our area throughout the year and I can generally find one if I look hard enough. When I spotted this one recently at Huntley Meadows Park, it was perched on a single leg on a wood pile near the edge of the forest.

The heron was in the process of preening and if you look closely, you can see what I think are tiny feathers in its long bill. I noticed that the heron’s eyeswere only half-open, almost like the heron was still half-asleep as it prepared for the new day.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year, the vegetation is thick and the leaves are still on the trees, so it is hard for me to spot birds. Of course, it is a bit easier when the birds are large in size, like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted amidst the reeds and lily pads this past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The heron did not show any signs that it was actively hunting, but with herons, it is hard to tell—they will stand for lengthy periods of time in a single spot and then strike suddenly and violently. As a photographer, it is tough for me to have that same amount of patience and vigilance. After a reasonable amount of waiting, I will often move on, as I did here, and leave the heron peacefully in place.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As the pandemic continues, I encounter signs everywhere reminding me of the importance of social distancing. Most of them are quite straightforward, but some of them attempt to convey the message creatively, like this large banner that I encountered last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo shows only the text in the top one-third of the banner and does not include the image of a Great Blue Heron that filled the bottom two-thirds of the banner. The bottom line message is simple—Be like the Great Blue Heron and practice social distancing, but the literal bottom line that made me laugh. You may need to double-click on the image to read the text in fine print, but I am sure that it will put at least a smile on your face if you do so.

Have a wonderful Wednesday.

social distancing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The shape of the silhouette is familiar and if the lighting is bad, you might be able to convince yourself that a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is standing in the corner of a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. I have visited the pond dozens of times, so I know that the heron is not real, but it still makes for a fun subject to photograph.

I love the heron’s distorted reflection in the first photo and the touches of green provided by a small tree to the side and the duckweed floating on the surface of the water. I was equally thrilled when a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) perched on the heron’s head after I had moved in closer. I doubt that a real heron would have been quite as accommodating in permitting the dragonfly to perch and seem to recall having seen a Great Blue Heron attempt to snatch a dragonfly out of the air as it flew by.

Great Blue Heron

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I first got interested in photographing birds, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were one of my favorites. They were large, easy to find, and cooperative subjects. Rather than fly away when they sensed my presence, they would often remain in place. That tendency, I learned, was both a blessing and a curse. It is easier to photograph a bird when it is stationary, but eventually I wanted to capture action and Great Blue Herons, I learned, have endless patience—they can stay motionless for a really long time before they strike, often longer than I was willing to wait.

I still love to see Great Blue Herons and spotted this one earlier this month during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron seemed restless and was slowly slogging its way through the vegetation. Perhaps it was hunting or maybe it was just relocating to another spot. In any case, it was wonderful to see and photograph one of my old familiar favorites.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling everything’s going my way.” I started my Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with this handsome Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) who seemed to be serenading me.

If you have ever heard the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, you know why it is best that there is no soundtrack. Instead, I recommend that you click on this link to a YouTube video of the song that I cited in my opening sentence from the classic 1955 movie “Oklahoma”—it is guaranteed to brighten your day.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was sunny this morning, as forecast, but it was also windy and cold when I set out at 7 o’clock, about 25 degrees (minus 4 degrees C), according to the thermometer in my car. Most of the birds at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seemed to have decided to sleep late, but eventually I started to see some of them, including this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that was wading out into the shallow waters of a low tide.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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