Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

… and blue

with 67 comments

You’ve heard me say that Great Hills Park is my neighborhood park, and fortunately one that because of its terrain is bound to remain almost totally undeveloped. On the afternoon of January 19, with temperatures in the upper 70s, I went photographing along an upper branch of the unnamed creek that runs through the park and whose presence is among the reasons the land can’t be built on. At one point, when I’d just finished balancing my way across the creek on some concrete steps, I suddenly glimpsed a large bird of a type that I don’t remember ever seeing before. It was aware of me and it was wary of me, but I quietly switched to my longest lens, cranked up the ISO on my camera to deal with the dim light in the woods, and began taking what pictures I could.

When I got home, excited at having photographed such a picturesque bird, I looked through my copy of John L. Tveten’s The Birds of Texas and managed to identify what I’d seen: it was a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea. The bird was attracted to the water pooled up in that part of the creek, and that’s why I found it there that afternoon. In addition to new friend bird, you may recognize a couple of twining friends from recent posts: the sinuous, bark-covered form in the foreground is a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, while the smooth and slender green vines behind it are rattan, Berchemia scandens. But I doubt you’ve paid much attention to the vines when you’ve had this stately heron right in front of you.

For someone who’s not a bird photographer (I don’t have the requisite enormous telephoto lens and heavy-duty tripod), I’ve lucked out several times recently. One of those, in keeping with the red theme that today’s picture of a blue bird has put an end to, was when I found a mockingbird in a possumhaw tree just two days earlier. To see mockingbirds in suburban-style neighborhoods here is nothing new, but to find a heron like this in one of those neighborhoods—my own—surprised me. It’s one more reason to be grateful for the presence of Great Hills Park. (And thanks to Marie Laing, coincidentally a subscriber to this blog, who was instrumental in getting the land set aside as a park.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2012 at 4:51 AM

Posted in landscape

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

67 Responses

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  1. A superb photo


    January 28, 2012 at 5:31 AM

  2. Very pretty blue! The beauty of this bird is stunning. 🙂


    January 28, 2012 at 5:42 AM

  3. Que cette espèce de Héron est belle. Rien à voir avec nos hérons gris terne 🙂


    January 28, 2012 at 6:46 AM

    • Val says how beautiful this type of heron is, nothing like the dull grey ones they have in her mountainous part of Europe. Readers, you can visit her blog to see pictures of mountains and snow that of course are more majestic than anything in central Texas. She’s recently posted pictures of some animals that live there as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 8:55 AM

  4. Love this…beautiful color!


    January 28, 2012 at 7:09 AM

  5. Not only did you capture the blue of the feathers but the yellow of the legs and at the crown of the beak. Beautiful!

    Bonnie Michelle

    January 28, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    • Tveten says: “The yellow tinge to the crown, for which it is named, is not easily seen.” I’m pleased that the yellow showed up in this picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:08 AM

  6. Absolutely Stunning! And with that special 3D feeling from the coming-toward-you twisting branch/vine that you’ve been delving into in the last week. I am really enjoying your posts, and the generous way you share your photography experience and enormous skills.


    January 28, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    • Thank you, Wanderer. It was quite a coincidence to be able to include the mustang grape and rattan vines that I’ve recently been showing here. Most of these things must be pretty different from New South Wales—except I’ll add that when I was there on my one and only visit eight years ago I found some lantana growing in the wild; it’s a plant that’s native here (though it hasn’t come up in this blog yet).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:16 AM

  7. We are very grateful to have such wonderful stewards of our neighborhood. Thank you, Steve, and Marie Laing for having the vision and stamina to maintain our beautiful park and nature trail! We appreciate all your efforts! xo

    Renee Voss

    January 28, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    • I’ll take a little credit in the vision department (literally), but for stamina and maintenance our appreciation goes to Marie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:18 AM

  8. I’ve never seen a yellow-crowned night heron this blue.

    Pat Bean

    January 28, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    • As this was my first encounter, I have nothing to compare to, the way you do. I imagine the shaded light in the woods and the processing of the picture brought out the blue somewhat. And speaking of colors, I noticed that the species name is violacea, or violet; many things with blue in their name seem more violet or purple to me, like bluebells and bluebonnets, but in this case it’s the other way around and I see blue rather than violet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:24 AM

  9. I’m a bird lover, and this image is such a great capture. How lucky that you were in the right place at the right time, and we get to view this truly stunning image. I really like the shapes of the vines and the bird’s pose (as though just for you). Thanks, Steve

    Sally W. Donatello

    January 28, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    • You’re welcome, Sally. I was indeed lucky that afternoon, with the bird staying put in that spot long enough for me to take pictures. I did get some other poses, but as I mentioned above, the heron was wary of me, and it moved back if I came forward more than a certain amount.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:28 AM

      • Oh, and yes, the vines do add to the composition, though I’ll add that the closest part of the mustang grape vine isn’t in focus. With such low light, I had to make sure the bird was sharp, and then let everything else come out however it would.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 28, 2012 at 9:31 AM

  10. Gorgeous specimen and well shot too! ~ Lynda


    January 28, 2012 at 8:21 AM

  11. Love how you’ve been lucky enough to catch some great bird photos while looking for wildflowers. Winter in Texas can be a fantastic time to see birds you wouldn’t usually notice. Night herons are not that uncommon here, but you do have to be in the right spot to see them. I’m glad you were!

    Mind Margins

    January 28, 2012 at 8:28 AM

  12. Hey, that is a great capture for a flower guy…..LOL…..en theos…jim

    Developing A New Image

    January 28, 2012 at 9:21 AM

  13. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful bird! What a great shot…looks more turquoise to me than just blue, and certainly not violet. Looks like it should be in the tropics.


    January 28, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    • Yes, I’ve been fortunate. I always carry one telephoto lens in my (heavy) bag, and although on most days I don’t use it at all, it’s helpful for birds, like this heron and the recent mockingbird. As for the tropics, Tveten says that this species is found as far south as Peru and Brazil. Too bad I can’t hitch a ride with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 9:44 AM

  14. It’s a wonderful picture. I love birds and often use the Cornell site to record what I find. Austin has such an amazing assortment of birds. (and plants -always the plants)

    If you ever go on UT grounds the lovely creek that flows near San Jacinto is home to a variety of birds drawn to the water. I’ve seen many different herons and such there. Also snakes, nutria and well an amazing assortment.

    I love your photos. It really shows how much you love the flora of Austin. Something we all need to be proud of I think. Thank you for sharing your finds both flora and bird and lizard.


    January 28, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    • Thanks, Nancy. As you know from my blog, I’m much more familiar with the plants than with the birds here. Except for dealing with the wind, it’s a lot easier to take pictures of plants, which don’t fly away from you the way birds do.

      The creek that flows north-south through the UT campus is Waller Creek. I remember photographing along that section of it once or twice, but over the 35 years I’ve lived in Austin I’ve more often photographed along some of its northerly sections. Two pictures from my wanderings there have made it into this blog so far.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 10:30 AM

  15. Steven, this is an awesome capture, the bird is very beautiful.
    You know that I really like shooting photos of birds, and I don’t have the greatest telephoto in the world, but sometimes they just come close and pose for a while.
    I always enjoy your posts man, but this one is the one I’ve liked the most so far.

    Pablo Buitrago

    January 28, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    • Thanks, Pablo. As you can see from all these comments, you’re in good company in appreciating this pretty bird. My telephoto is a good one, but not as long or fast as the monsters that bird photographers use to get their best pictures; as you noted, I was just fortunate this time. Thanks for letting me know this has been your favorite so far. I hope switching back to flora next time won’t be too hard for the bird lovers among you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 12:09 PM

  16. Ah, pictures of birds without the ideal equipment…I completely sympathize.

    But this came out well–very well, in fact. In addition to the rare opportunity with the heron, I love that twisted branch/trunk it’s roosting on. Great stuff.

    If I may make a vague, unsolicited editing suggestion: darken the background a bit. The BG is very busy (nothing to be done about that, goodness knows) and if you darken it I think it will help allow the eye to rest where it wants to–squarely on the bird.


    January 28, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    • Sounds like you’ve been in that situation yourself, Kerry. If this had come out poorly, as spur-of-the-moment bird pictures can, I wouldn’t have shown it. Like you, I was pondering the busyness of the background: I hadn’t thought so much about darkening it as blurring it a little, but both changes would serve the purpose of having less of a distraction from our heron hero of the day. Thanks for your suggestion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 12:16 PM

  17. I do love birds! I don’t think I’ve seen this heron. it’s beautiful. one of my favorite herons to see in flight is the great blue heron. we have some in our area.


    January 28, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    • No, I hadn’t seen it before either. This is a great blue heron but not, from what you say, the great blue heron.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 12:32 PM

  18. Wow what a beautiful photo! I’ve started trying to capture the birds I see on my walks, and it is no easy thing.


    January 28, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    • No easy thing indeed: good luck. It occurs to me that the color of this heron matches your online name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 12:33 PM

  19. These are very common in my area, and I’ve never seen one so blue, either. I’m wondering if its coloration is an aberration, or if breeding plumage is a bit brighter. Generally, they tend toward a mottled gray that would blend in so well with the surrounding vines you might not notice the bird.

    In any event, here it is, and you’ve properly identified it. Perhaps you’ve captured a shot of the world’s only blue night heron!


    January 28, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    • Tveten talks about them being most common on the coast, but with occurrences near bodies of water inland as well. From your comment and another one above, the amount of blue in this heron seems quite unusual, so I have to assume some of it comes from the shadowed lighting in the late-afternoon woods, which does makes things look bluer than they do in bright light (think about the way painters paint shadows with some blue or purple in them). My processing of the photograph seems to have emphasized that blue even more, although it also implies that a certain amount of blue was already there, because I didn’t shift any colors to different hues. I remember the bird as being bluish, which is one of the things that appealed to me about it, but I’d be hard-pressed to quantify how blue it was. Adding to the ambiguity is the fact that different monitors render a given color in different ways.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2012 at 2:02 PM

  20. What a gorgeous bird and photo!


    January 28, 2012 at 8:24 PM

  21. Beautiful shot Steve! An enormous telephoto isn’t always necessary – this one is stunning!

    Michael Glover

    January 28, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    • Thanks, Michael. This one worked out for me, though the bird filled only a rather small part of the frame even with the lens zoomed to its maximum. But my camera bag is heavy enough already, and I wouldn’t want to haul around anything heavier.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2012 at 8:09 AM

  22. Stunning! Btw, I don’t post comments each time, but I really enjoy your regular postings. I live in Quebec, Canada, and it will be months before I can see green foliage and flowers again. Your blog is like a window onto another world, for us Northerners. Thanks!


    January 29, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    • Merci, Nicolas. I sympathize with you about the cold up there. I grew up in New York, but I always felt uncomfortably cold in the winter, so when I was in my 20s I moved to warmer climates. Here in Texas the counterpart to your long and cold winter is the long and hot summer; some people complain about it, but I tolerate the heat much better than the cold.

      In any case, I’m glad you’re enjoying these postings, which can tide you over till the spring finally makes it to Québec.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2012 at 10:04 AM

  23. Wow this is magnificent Steve!!!


    January 29, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    • Thanks, David. I was happier to see it than it was to see me, but at least it stayed put long enough for my camera and me to do our thing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM

  24. Beautiful picture as always, Steve, and a great bird, too! Not only is it gorgeous, it’s also not very common in the Austin area, and is usually seen east of the Escarpment when it is here.

    Diane Sherrill

    January 29, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    • I should have said not very common in winter. It’s more common spring and summer, though always a special find.

      Diane Sherrill

      January 29, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    • Thanks, Diane. From what you say, I was multiply fortunate to encounter it. Its presence may have been due to our springtime weather this January, a fringe benefit of these mild days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2012 at 11:32 AM

  25. What a beautiful bird. With all that blue I thought that it may be called a blue ………… I suppose that would be toooooo obvious.

    Claire Takacs

    January 30, 2012 at 1:59 AM

    • From some of the comments, I gather that this type of bird is usually more gray than blue, and graybird somehow doesn’t quite make it, does it?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2012 at 7:15 AM

  26. As much as the blue is the most dominant and dramatic aspect to this magnificent creature you’ve so beautifully photographed and shared, I find its eye riveting and deeply appealing. How absolutely wonderful. You are a master of surprises.

    However, I grew up in upstate New York and also lived in Quebec and now the Interior of British Columbia, and I wouldn’t trade these spectacular Northern Winters for anything in the world (except possibly a bit further North!) That said, I am grateful it doesn’t last all year round (smile). By March 21st, I’ll be READY.

    Thank you for always bringing us a smile.


    January 30, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    • I did get a Master’s degree, and although it wasn’t in Surprises—he said smilingly—I’m always happy to surprise.

      I lived in the Finger Lakes region one winter, and yes, it can be visually wonderful, but my body, which I somehow always seem to carry around with me, tolerates heat much better than cold, so here I am in Texas. Each climate has its pluses and minuses. It’s good that you enjoy your frigid world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2012 at 9:28 AM

  27. A superb photo, Steve! I hope to see more avian subjects here!

    Watching Seasons

    January 30, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    • Well, I don’t mean to disappoint you, but the last two bird photographs coming as close together as they did was highly unusual for me. Not setting out with the requisite equipment for bird photography, I make the best of whatever rare opportunities come my way. Let’s see what happens

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2012 at 5:12 PM

  28. fabulous picture


    January 30, 2012 at 5:42 PM

  29. Hi Steve. Great photo, especially the form of the heron tucked into the curve of the vine. We have yellow-crowned night herons on Grand Manan, an island in southern New Brunswick. Jane

    jane tims

    February 5, 2012 at 7:02 AM

    • I know that many birds migrate, but it still seems strange—and exciting—to think of this heron appearing as far away from Texas as New Brunswick.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2012 at 8:36 AM

  30. Your heron is picturesque. Yellow-crowned’s nest in my backyard in the trees at my creek and my family is fortunate to get to watch them up close and personal. I have photos and videos of pairs, babies, babies being fed, and fully-plumed males…nothing as stunning as this one. Herons are great photo subjects, real posers, if you will.


    February 21, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    • It’s good that you get to watch them up close, Shannon, and that you’ve been able to make videos and photos. This encounter was a first-in-a-lifetime one for me here in Austin, and the heron was pretty wary of me, but it held still as long as I didn’t approach. Even with my longest lens I couldn’t get as tight a picture as I wanted, but I was still happy to take this photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2012 at 3:47 PM

  31. […] I saw so I could list them in a handout for the people who would attend. At one point I encountered a yellow-crowned night heron, just as I had on January 19, but this time my movement startled it and it flew away before I had […]

  32. […] If you’d like to be reminded—or learn—that a mustang grape vine can grow as thick and woody as a tree, you’re welcome to check out two posts from January of 2012; one of the huge vines was curiously looped, and the other had the virtue (as we see such things) of serving as a perch for a yellow-crowned night heron. […]

  33. […] You probably remember seeing some mustang grape tendrils recently, but a couple of years ago I showed the opposite end of the scale, namely a venerable mustang grape vine that had become as thick as a tree. And then there was another thick one with a yellow-crowned night heron perched on it. […]

  34. […] I saw so I could list them in a handout for the people who would attend. At one point I encountered a yellow-crowned night heron, just as I had on January 19, but this time my movement startled it and it flew away before I had […]

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