Great Blue Heron Repeatedly “Baptizing” A Large Fish

This behavior from a Great Blue Heron was new to me. Each of the following 7 images is presented in the order it was taken.

 

great blue heron 2849 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

When I first approached the bird yesterday morning at Bear River MBR it already had the fish, a large carp. At first it was still alive but based on its movement it wasn’t for long. I include this rear view because it gives us the best chance at judging the size of the carp (and because I like that flailing tongue).

 

 

great blue heron 2915 ron dudley

  1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

The heron repeatedly dunked the fish in the water – usually with a significant amount of time (roughly 15 to 45 sec) between each dunk.

 

 

great blue heron 2958 ron dudley

  1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

Here it did it again. The fish was dunked roughly 10 times in the 6 minutes I spent with it.

At first I wondered if it was plunging the carp into the water in an attempt to get the fish off its bill because it had been impaled by the lower mandible but in reviewing my images I think not because the upper mandible was always clamped tightly down on the carp during the behavior. Nor did I see any other evidence that it was trying to get the fish off of its bill.

Because only the lower mandible penetrated the fish (something I’ve seen several times before) it makes me wonder if herons instinctively open their bill slightly during the strike to give them a better chance of one of the mandibles finding the target.  

 

 

great blue heron 2965 ron dudley

1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

At this point the heron apparently decided it wanted to attempt to swallow this large meal in private so it began walking toward the right side of the clump of vegetation so it could hide behind it but even during the short trek it continued to plunge the fish into the water.

 

 

great blue heron 2967 ron dudley

  1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

Here the carp is still covered with a sheet of water as it’s being retrieved.

 

 

great blue heron 2989 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

Yet another dunk into the water.

 

 

great blue heron 3079 ron dudley

  1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc. not baited, set up or called in

Eventually the heron made it to the edge of the vegetation clump, walked around it and disappeared from view so I don’t know if it was able to swallow the large fish.

Perhaps this plunging behavior is common in the species but it was new to me and I can’t think of a purpose for doing so.

Ron

Note: Whenever I publish a post that involves carp I seem to get a lot of interest from readers in Europe and even Asia because their attitude toward the fish differs so remarkably from ours in North America. Here we generally think of them as trash fish but elsewhere they’re considered a trophy and excellent eating. Here in northern Utah carp are a scourge, largely because they displace native species and do an incredible amount of damage to wetland vegetation. Yesterday the Salt Lake Tribune published an interesting article on our attempts to control the carp population in nearby Utah Lake that I though some of my readers might be interested in. 

 

 

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Big Birds In Flight

I don’t post images of these two species as often as I should. Both are common in my area and such large birds are relatively easy to photograph in flight so I hope the reason I’ve largely ignored them has nothing to do with snobbishness on my part.

 

 

american white pelican 2135b ron dudley

 1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this American White Pelican three weeks ago at Bear River MBR. I have other shots of this bird (and others) with slightly more interesting wing positions but they were against a plain sky background. I much prefer those images that include far off mountains in the backdrop and this is one of them.

I often wonder how these heavy-bodied birds can even fly but once they become airborne there aren’t many species that are more graceful and effortless in flight.

 

 

great blue heron 0969 ron dudley

  1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

When I do get a featureless, homogenous background I tend to crop fairly tightly on the bird if I have the pixels to do it. This Great Blue Heron, photographed at Bear River a week ago, was in good light against slightly smoky skies. The shot was taken early in the morning so there’s no annoying shadows and the light was still warm and flattering.

Both of these images are examples of something I need to improve on – my shutter speed and ISO are much too high in both shots. When I’m driving around looking for birds most of them are on the ground or perched against a darker background and I have my camera settings adjusted appropriately. But when a bird in flight suddenly appears, by the time I get my pickup aimed the right direction and the engine turned off I often have no time to adjust camera settings before taking the shot. In that situation the bright sky background automatically boosts my shutter speed, sometimes dramatically (I shoot in aperture priority).

Often my choice is to get the shot at the settings I’ve already dialed in or miss the bird as I’m fiddling with my camera. But I must admit that since I purchased the Canon 7D Mark II that handles higher ISO’s with less noise than my previous camera I may have become a little complacent about less than ideal camera settings.

One more thing to work on in the field…

Ron

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