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!