Nailing the Strike

Green Heron’s are one of my favorite migratory birds to photograph in the northeast. They take on a variety of shapes as they hunt the shoreline for frogs, small fish and aquatic arthropods. You’ll find them tip-toeing through shallow waters in a crouched position until striking through the water’s surface with an impressive neck extension. They also stalk their prey from the trees, dropping food and insects into the water to bait fish. This kind of clever behavior has placed green herons atop many lists of most intelligent birds.

I haven’t witnessed any bait fishing this summer, but I did get a front-row seat at a shore-side hunt on the Connecticut River recently. Green herons are most active at night, but you can spot them during the day this time of year as they’re provisioning for their young. The tricky part for me was finding a heron that stayed out of the reeds long enough to get a clean shot. The combination of high winds and running water made stabilizing my kayak a difficult task. With a little persistence I did manage to get a few decent frames.

My technique was to start upstream from the busy wader and drift into view as slowly as possible. I flushed the heron in my first pass but had better luck an hour later when he returned. This time he was striking the water left and right, which kept him preoccupied while I snuck a few shots in. The anticipation of the strike can be pretty tense when your hoping for an action shot in a moving kayak. You’ve only got a few seconds before the river pulls you out of view, and paddling isn’t an option with a camera in your hands.

Keeping the shot in focus was another obstacle on this shoot. With both the camera and the subject in constant motion I had to push the shutter button at the exact moment the heron was in focus. A second later and I’d be a couple feet closer with a blurry heron in my viewfinder. I decided to shoot these in aperture priority so that I could increase my depth of field while maintaining proper exposure for the changing light conditions. Nailing a few shots was a fun challenge, but I’ll take still water any day!

37 responses

  1. Very nice, Chris. I love our green herons down here. Of the herons and egrets in Florida and south Georgia, they’re one of the trickier and more elusive to photograph. Quick to flight and quite nervous. Every now and then one cooperates, though. Awesome species!

    June 18, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    • Thanks Janson! That’s good to hear, because I’ve struggled getting good shots of them….usually just a fly-by. :)

      June 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm

  2. What a co-incidence. I just done a post about Green Herons a couple of days ago. No problem finding them during the daylight around here. Great shots, Chris.

    June 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    • Thanks for filling me in Bob – good excuse to catch up on your blog. Great pics!

      June 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    • Wow you got a great orange glow to yours Did you shoot it right after it rose? I misesd that moment and it wasn’t that impressive. It was already up too far in the sky.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

  3. Hi,
    I have never seen this bird before, what beautiful colours, and I love the way it can stretch it’s neck out like that just incredible. Fantastic photos.

    June 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    • Thanks Mags, I really love these birds. Appreciate the comments! :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:30 am

  4. Wow – I’m impressed!

    June 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm

  5. Great pics! Seems like I see a Great Blue Heron at almost every pond, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this Green Heron in my area. What a beautiful bird!

    June 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    • Wow, I wish I saw blue herons that often Mandy! I do see them more than greens though. Thanks for the nice comments. :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:32 am

  6. Beautiful photos! I hope to get to ‘my river’ this week and get some good shots

    June 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    • Great, good luck and have fun. There’s always something to photograph out on the water. Thanks for your comments oldentimes! :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

  7. I am simply overwhelmed by your talent and your subjects.

    June 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    • You’re very kind Juwanna! Thanks for visiting, and the nice comment. :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

  8. I am so glad that you share your tales of getting the shot as that part is as interesting to me as the shot. I am so impressed with how you do what you do and the shot you get.

    June 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    • This is great to hear kbpetrillo. I love the feedback, as it helps me to know what kind of information visitors are interested in hearing about. Thanks for the support, and the kind words. :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:40 am

  9. emilygtshipman

    These birds are so weird and cool. I saw them in the winter in Oaxaca along with the North American Migratory Coot. Great shots.

    June 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

  10. What a beautiful bird – stunning colors – same colors was I dress in for the autumn, but I don’t wear yellow tights – maybe I should invest in a pair for this year- goes well with the outfit. *smile Clever little bird too – Chirs, stunning photos again – my favorite is the middle one.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:35 am

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Viveka. I always enjoy your nice comments here! :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:42 am

      • Chris, you .. so welcome.

        June 19, 2012 at 7:50 am

  11. oh my, the colors are exquisite! love the clarity of motion in the last photo ~ beautiful!
    Bird-watching requires so much patience *applaud*

    June 19, 2012 at 3:07 am

    • Thanks so much Jeannie! Patience comes easy when you’re enjoying the day on a kayak. :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:43 am

      • Thats true, time always fly past when you are enjoying what you are doing ;)
        And kayaking is something i miss doing!

        June 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

  12. Great photos Chris! Thank you for signing up to follow my blog! I hope that you will find it entertaining!

    June 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

  13. Hi Chris, I nominated you for the versatile blogger award. Love your work!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm

  14. Spectacular action shot – what a neck extension!

    June 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    • Thanks so much Photockie! Glad you stopped by to check it out. :)

      June 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      • That’s really thinking at an imprsiesve level

        August 15, 2012 at 6:19 am

  15. I always feel so fortunate to be present when nature provides such a great show! Great captures!

    June 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm

  16. These birds are crazy neat! Their colors are so bright – awesome captures (:

    June 23, 2012 at 10:29 am

    • Thanks Angela, I love these guys. I saw another one while kayaking this afternoon! Cheers. :)

      June 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm

  17. It seems to go in waves…lots of great blue herons posted for a few weeks, then they fade out. The past few weeks, it seems green herons are making a showing! The one I posted a few weeks ago was the first I’d photographed in 3 years.

    February 12, 2013 at 3:02 am

  18. Reblogged this on sueshan123.

    May 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

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