Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Great blue heron on the Pacific coast

with 40 comments


I’ve seen an occasional great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in Austin, but the closest I ever got to one was at Muir Beach on the Pacific coast of California on November 1st of last year. Why the bird let me get so close, I don’t know, but I wonder if my being downhill from it made me seem less threatening. From a photographer’s point of view, my lower position let me aim upward enough to isolate the heron’s head and neck against the sky.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2017 at 4:56 AM

40 Responses

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  1. Great shot! It looks like it was trying to be invisible/hoped it was undetected, or was that a fleeting movement of its head/beak?

    The day is awkening here, and I’m about to join friends for a morning of birding…. Perhaps the birds will be as photogenic as this heron was for you!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    January 17, 2017 at 5:07 AM

    • I took pictures of the heron with its head held up like that, motionless, for a little over a minute. And not a little over an hour has passed since you left your comment; let’s hope the time brought you the photogenic birds you hoped for.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 6:17 AM

      • Si, it was a great day, and the birding was nice, but the walk down Milpe’s trails rewards anyone with an appreciation for plants/trees/ bromeliads, etc etc… mindocloudforest.org

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        January 17, 2017 at 4:26 PM

        • It looks like a great place, and I’d enjoy visiting it, but the high altitude wouldn’t agree with me.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2017 at 5:05 PM

          • Quito knocks me to ‘huffing and puffing’ just walking along a sidewalk! I’ve adjusted to the cloud forest altitude, but noticed that my travel companions/tourists were a bit out of breath…

            Playamart - Zeebra Designs

            January 17, 2017 at 7:14 PM

            • I’m sorry that I didn’t take the chance to visit the northern Andes when I was in Honduras and a few of the guys in my Peace Corps group went to Machu Picchu. I don’t think I’d risk the altitude now. Huffing and puffing is one thing, getting altitude sickness is another.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 17, 2017 at 7:50 PM

              • si; i’ve had altitude sickness once – in Riobamba after sprinting up several flights of stairs. Silly me! No better the next day, we went ‘down’ to Banos, which provided an instant cure…

                Playamart - Zeebra Designs

                January 17, 2017 at 8:23 PM

                • I sympathize. Twice I’ve gotten altitude sickness and had to descend. When we headed for the southwest corner of Colorado in the fall of 2014, I spent three days in Albuquerque so I could acclimatize at 5300 ft.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 17, 2017 at 8:27 PM

  2. Great, indeed.


    January 17, 2017 at 5:45 AM

  3. Outstanding heron 🙂

    Sherry Felix

    January 17, 2017 at 6:18 AM

  4. One of those flew over us as we walked a couple of days ago. It was a good sight to see.

    Jim Ruebush

    January 17, 2017 at 6:40 AM

    • The first, fourth, and fifth words in your comment together made me think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This heron finally flew away when I tried to walk even closer to it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 6:45 AM

      • A good movie. Classic battle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched.

        One of them stood in the pond we sometimes pass. As long as we walked, it seemed unconcerned. When we stopped to stare, it got nervous and left.

        Jim Ruebush

        January 17, 2017 at 6:53 AM

        • I’ve acted on the strategy—whether effective, I don’t know—of not staring at birds when I’m close. I figure if they can see my eyes looking at them, they’ll feel threatened. Sometime I slowly advance while looking through the camera’s viewfinder so that my eyes stay hidden.

          I know I saw the movie. I think I also read the book.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2017 at 7:06 AM

  5. No swampy area here is complete without its blue heron, but we seldom see them at this unusual angle. Very nice.


    January 17, 2017 at 7:06 AM

    • This species has quite a range. I don’t remember seeing any at Volo Bog. Even if one was there, I might have been too caught up photographing other things to notice.

      Yes, being on a hillside below the heron gave me a vantage point I hadn’t had anywhere else and might never have again, so I had to take advantage of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 7:15 AM

      • Years ago there was more open water, and more frogs, at Volo Bog. Big fat tadpoles were pretty thick in the water until recently. I’m not sure what happened to them. There has been a tremendous amount of development within the watershed~perhaps toxins are finding their way in. At any rate, it isn’t much of a heron hangout any longer.


        January 17, 2017 at 7:44 AM

        • Sorry to hear about the decline of that area. I had nothing from the past to compare Volo Bog to, the way you do, so it seemed fine to me on our one visit. Down here in central Texas, where I can make personal comparisons, I’ve seen so many pieces of nature shrink or disappear altogether over the last few years.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2017 at 8:05 AM

          • I find I keep myself a little in denial. Otherwise it is hard not to simply give up and be heartbroken. It seems a growing number of people not only don’t know what we are losing, they don’t care.


            January 18, 2017 at 6:02 AM

            • When I see now-developed properties where I used to wander, I remember them as they were, often even the specific plants. Some of those plants live on in photographs. Some of the places where I’ve worked are canyons and parks and nature preserves, so they live on in reality.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 18, 2017 at 7:46 AM

  6. Beautiful and dignified! Such clarity of its whole body!


    January 17, 2017 at 7:46 AM

  7. What an outstanding picture! 🙂


    January 17, 2017 at 8:22 AM

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm. (For some reason this comment went into WordPress’s spam folder and I just found it there, along with two other comments that I’ll resuscitate.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2017 at 12:57 PM

  8. I wonder if you have an invisibility cloak, because I’ve seen herons, my house is by the river, not far from the sea, but they always show me just for a second before they fly away.


    January 17, 2017 at 9:18 AM

    • You’re the first person who’s ever suggested I have an invisibility cloak. If only I did, imagine the additional pictures I could get. I did take some steps to move even closer to the heron, but finally I reached what the near limit must have, and when I turned to look up, the heron had flown away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 10:06 AM

  9. Personally, I think he heard via the grapevine that the Schwartzman Photographic Caravan was on its way, and he beat it down the hillside to pose. Or, if he didn’t, it came out just as well as if he had. It’s a great portrait, and an unusual pose: one not often captured. I especially like the vertical line of his neck crossed with the horizontal hilltop.

    I wonder if he might have been getting a jump on mating season. I’ve read that early courtship displays include stretching the neck, and pointing the bill skyward. And, it looks as though some breeding plumage is developing. Here’s a photo showing what those wispy feathers can turn into.


    January 17, 2017 at 1:47 PM

    • Your first sentence is an agreeable anthropomorphic fantasy.

      I didn’t realize that the pose with the upraised head hasn’t often appeared in photographs; so much the better for rarity.

      As for courtship, I didn’t see any other herons around, so maybe the bird was practicing on a convenient stand-in.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 3:23 PM

  10. Beautiful shot of this elegant bird!


    January 17, 2017 at 2:43 PM

  11. I love your photo of the heron. We see them very often here on the north shores of the Long Island Sound. So majestic!


    January 17, 2017 at 10:37 PM

    • I’m glad you like this portrait. I grew up on Long Island but didn’t pay much attention to nature back then.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2017 at 11:05 PM

  12. Nice shot Steve .. having the blue behind his neck and head is superb. Such an elegant bird ..


    January 20, 2017 at 8:31 PM

    • Eventually I’ll show another elegant heron from this trip, one that’s all white, isolated against the blue of water rather than sky.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2017 at 9:59 PM

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