What a day! A two post day for sure.
The morning started off with an entertaining and educational tour of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC (blog post to follow).
Next, my wife and I were off to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, where I had a birding opportunity heretofore unprecedented for me.
Duke Gardens is a massive cross between city park and botanical garden, sprawling with trails and ponds and happy people. My goal was to simply find some interesting natural wonders to photograph, as it's been a while since the weather has allowed me to partake in my outdoor hobby.
We began at a nice looking little pond where my eyes became drawn to a set of cypress knees under a beautiful sun.
After snapping a few shots, I looked way across the pond and saw a Great Blue Heron patiently fishing. I've photographed many herons - in fact, I had previously considered my coolest heron spotting as last summer when one let me get within about 15 feet. Normally in the wild, I've found that blue herons get rather irritated when a human passes too closely, letting you know quite vocally before taking flight that you've mucked up their fishing. If you've heard their loud angry squawk, then you know exactly what I mean. If you use your imagination you can almost hear the word "asshole!" escape their beaks as they take off.
I have a decent (non-professional) camera - so the above image was taken with 12x optical zoom - further than it looks.
Immediately after getting this shot, a couple of kids approached the heron and started throwing bread at it.
"Damn," I think, "now they're gonna scare it away." I look over at my wife, shaking my head. "They don't even eat bread!"
But the big bird doesn't move. In fact, he gets closer to the the kids and begins staring at the water where the bread floats by. The heron had become completely acclimated to people! (note: I'm using "he" but herons are not sexually dimorphic, so I have no idea its gender)
"I've got to get over there to get some pictures - mind if I run ahead?" I ask my wife, as I begin sprinting down the trail around the far side of the pond - just knowing that the bird will be gone by the time I get there.
It was my lucky day - it was still there!
I immediately (and slowly) perched about 15 feet away and started shooting.
I decided to test his comfort zone limits and slowly moved to the arrow in the above image.
He still remained statuesque. In fact, the kids continued to thrown bread into the water, even pelting him a couple of times. At this point it became quite clear that this bird had learned to use human behavior as fish bait. He stared intently directly over the floating bread, waiting for any fish to nibble.
This went on for ten minutes (no fish), so I just began taking as many cool shots that I could.
Next I took a quick video of this beautiful bird.
And then - for the climactic ending.
I was in the middle of setting up for another shot when the heron lunged into the water in about a third of a second! I immediately tried to switch to video mode as quickly as possible, which took about two seconds.
THIS is what followed:
I was a bit sad to have missed recording the actual capture - but hey - how much can I really complain after witnessing it myself AND getting all these cool shots.
As an aside, after this event we went to watch "Coraline 3D" (an insanely creative movie by the way). This required wearing special polarized glasses.
Which got me thinking - any fisherman knows the value of a good pair of polarized glasses for reducing surface glare. Do herons and other fishing birds have polaroid filters in their eyes? I found one mention that this is the case in the abstract of a paper from 1973, but I haven't absolutely confirmed this.
And finally - check out this video of a green heron actually fishing with a piece of bread - utterly astonishing behavior!