Herons – my husband and I love herons. It is not unusual for us to sit in our canoe for a couple of hours watching a heron, taking photos. They always remind us of being a little prehistoric, don’t you think?
We have photographed herons all over Ontario. On the waterways, in ditches, on dirt roads, from our canoe, you name it. They don’t weight as much as you might think, maybe 5-6 pounds. I think their height makes up for their lack of bulk. They can grow to be anywhere from approximately 38-50 inches tall. They are the largest heron found in Canada and they can fly up to 55 kms an hour, which is quite impressive. Their lifespan is about 15 years but one was recorded as being 24 years old, not sure how they found that out!
They can live in freshwater and saltwater habitats and as I mentioned are quite often found in swamps, ditches and shorelines of lakes
We were fortunate, this year, to find a heronry, a first for both of us. We had tried traveling to different spots over the years but were disappointed, this year we were not disappointed. They were quite a distance away from us but it was still fascinating to see them sit way up high in trees alongside their nests and young.
They nest mainly in trees but there are other places they will nest such as the ground and elevated platforms. They normally go to the same site every year. A heronry is more than one nest and family, you can see anywhere from dozens to hundreds of nests in one location. The males will pick the site and get the materials. Now in heron families, the male and female will both incubate the eggs and they will have 1-2 broods and 2-6 eggs at a time. The heronry we saw this year was quite a distance away but I feel like I only saw one baby per nest. But maybe the rest were huddled down and only one at time was allowed to look out.
We have never seen a heron at night but apparently they have fantastic vision that allows them to hunt at night as well as daytime. Honestly we have never looked for a heron at night before so maybe we should start.
The photo below I took while we were canoeing at Marten River Provincial Park. We came around a corner and he was standing there and I guess we startled him and off he went. Hence the shot from behind. But I like it. Their legs are so long.
We normally see them catching fish or frogs but they will eat insects, other small mammals, birds, baby ducks and more. Not too fussy these guys!
If you see a heron cleaning his chest or her chest, it’s because they have specialized feathers that are always growing and they need to wash off the remains of their meals. I think the fellow below took the chest cleaning a little too seriously. I don’t even know where his head is.
I was reading an article that said if you have a pond with fish in it, for example Koi fish, they will feed your fish. What? Yes, they will regurgitate into a pond and of course the fish will smell that because it smells of FISH and come running. Then they get eaten. Herons are very smart. Fish are very dumb.
Great blue herons do migrate out of Canada during the winter. I mean really, who doesn’t want to do that? But herons living on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts will stay all year round.
Surprisingly, the adult Herons have very few enemies. Now the eggs and the young do have predators; crows, ravens, gulls, eagles, raccoons and a few others.
However, in the fall of 2018 we were camping in Algonquin Park and we went to a favourite spot of ours. As we were leaving, I heard this commotion and we looked and a heron flew in and had a very rough landing by the shore of the pond. We watched him and noticed he could not stand up, his legs were straight out behind him. Long story short, we contacted the Park Warden and the resident biologist, Allison. They came and looked at the heron and said there wasn’t anything they could do, it was a form of botulism caused by a bacterium. This affects their nervous system which paralyzes their wings, legs and necks and eventually they die. Sometimes it can be treated. Allison told us that one year, on one of the lower Great Lakes, there was about 7,000 loons, grebes and other birds all found dead from botulism. It is caused by the birds eating polluted fish and it was heartbreaking to hear about. So the poor heron had to stay where he was and we checked on him the next two days and the third day he had passed away. What I thought was odd is that he was not attacked nor eaten. Was it because other animals sensed he had a sickness? Or is that just my romanticism showing?
In the photo below, you can see his legs sticking out behind him.
We were in Restoule Provincial Park (Ontario) last year and we paddled every day we were there. Wonderful paddling; we could paddle from one lake, down a river and into another lake. The wildlife in the river was terrific. We spent a lot of time watching this one heron, what a character. I love the photos I got of this guy/girl. Not sure what he was doing but he was quite dramatic.
So that’s it for herons, hope you enjoyed my photos and stories.
Stay safe and let’s hope paddling weather gets here soon.
I have been meaning to write about this topic for quite some time but haven’t had the time. However, the other day, a friend of mine posted his own personal “Photography Code of Ethics”. His list is everything I believe in and so I asked his permission to use his list; plus it saves me time from making one, which I appreciate. Bill is a wonderful wildlife photographer having been featured in National Geographic magazine and other media outlets as well as winning several photography awards. His photos are terrific, please take a look at his website – Bill Bickle Photography
Ontario Provincial Parks also has an article on Ethics if you would like to read it. Here is the link Ontario Parks Ethics.
You see people all the time who go to great lengths to get “that” photo. I’m surprised at times who I see doing questionable acts by putting either themselves or the animal at risk. Quite often I am shocked that I know some of these people. I think they get caught up in the moment or their adrenalin gets them going, I don’t know.
We have all seen and/or heard the stories about people trying to get too close to bison at Yellowstone National Park or standing 10 feet from a grizzly in Banff, Alberta to get a photo. The stories go on and on.
My husband and I have seen many situations where some of these codes are not followed and believe me, it does not turn out well for the animals. Humans seem to get away with whatever they want to do with no regard to the animals involved. We have so many stories of wildlife being put down because they are a “nuisance” when in actual fact the people breaking the rules are the true nuisances as their actions resulted in the animal becoming habituated.
I am not going to get on my high horse but I will share some situations that we have personally experienced. These experiences have certainly shaped the way I think and how I do my photography. I’m going to provide some examples of what we have encountered during our travels.
Years ago there was a family of foxes living in a particular area of Algonquin Park. There was the Old Fox, his mate and a passel of young ones (kits). They were almost always in the same large area and one day we were by the road photographing them as they played. I knew approximately where the dens were but I had never, and would never, go to either of them but this lady who joined us did. She asked me if I wanted to go with her and I said “No, I’m good, I don’t believe in bothering them at their homes”. That, to me, is their safe spot. So people might say, well they are just animals but would you want people walking into your home to stare?
People were also feeding/baiting these animals for photos. One day we stopped to photograph the Old Fox and he was trying to climb this small tree. Another couple were at this spot photographing him; they had hung bacon over the branches of the tree to encourage a “better” photo. People were feeding the foxes so much that it got to the point that if they heard a car/truck door slam, they would run towards the vehicle.
Long story short, the foxes became habituated which is not a good thing. Eventually the Parks Staff took the Old Fox to a sanctuary as he was not in good health, having been hit by a car among other things…….and the rest of the family was also taken away. Below is a short Blog post I wrote on the Old Fox as he died earlier this year.
Below is the old guy and one of his kits having a drink.
Pretty sad story.
In 2016 there was a young Black bear cub hanging around the campgrounds in Algonquin Park. He may have been about 2 years old. One day we had been out canoeing all day and came back to our site to sit and have a beer. I felt someone watching me and I looked up and he was about 20 feet away by our firepit. He wandered up and down the rows of campsites 2 or 3 times a day looking for food. He was not scared of humans at all. I felt bad for him, in fact, my husband said that little bear had the saddest eyes he had ever seen.
He would drop by at our campsite almost every day we were there and then move on to walk through other campsites. Now some of these photos seem very close but keeping in mind my husband and I have very long (big) lenses. We do not have to be close. Although when he came into our site, we were kind of close, through no fault of ours. This occurred in the month of June.
During our June trip, this same little guy also followed us on the bike trail. We had started biking towards Rock Lake and we encountered an older couple walking along the trail towards us; the bear was following behind them. We didn’t want to go past him so we got off our bikes and walked back the way we came along with the couple, bear in tow. After a few minutes we stopped and made all kinds of noise and he took off. Sadly, this same year we went back in the autumn to camp for 3 weeks and one of the Park Wardens told us that he had been put down.
I was told that if bears are sighted near humans, or people complain about them, they have a tag put in their ear. If they are tagged 3 times, that’s it for them. I don’t know for sure if this is true but if anyone knows it to be a fact, I would appreciate the information. So long story short, don’t go tattling on the bears.
In 2018 we were camping in Algonquin Park and there was a Mom Black Bear and her four cubs, yes four, we couldn’t believe it. Anyways, she was hanging around Lake of Two Rivers campground and Mew Lake campground. One of the cubs (below) was so cute and tiny. We were driving into the campground and they were crossing the road.
In the case of this particular family, I was told that the Mom Bear was put down, one of the cubs was run over by a car and the other three were taken away.
But you know it’s not just photographers that can be the problem; some campers have dirty campsites and by that I mean they leave their food and garbage out, etc which is an attractant for wildlife. The adult bears become habituated and teach their cubs and then they are all running around the campgrounds looking for Pringles and wieners. In our opinion, Park Wardens could do a far better job of enforcing the cleanliness of campsites. And people in general could use a little more common sense and consideration.
In Algonquin Park there are a couple of spots where Pine Martens regularly hang out. They are super cute but again, people are feeding them. A friend of ours told us that one guy was caught feeding the Pine Marten and was fined by a Warden (this year). We were at this same location the next day and we spotted a woman feeding him. My husband told her about the guy that was fined for feeding him, the outcome, she was not very nice to us after that and kept feeding the pine martin anyway.
So as I mentioned, it’s not just some photographers that show no respect for wildlife, it can be campers, hikers, canoeists, tourists and the list goes on.
We have been to Alberta a couple of times in the last few years and things are no different there. We were driving somewhere around the Banff area and there was a bear feeding on the side of the road. You would not believe the number of people who stopped to get a photo, which is understandable. Getting a photo is one thing but did they have to get in the ditch with the bear? Standing so close that some of the people could have touched him. These are wild animals regardless of their “tame” behaviour. They like to have their personal space, just like we do. And in fact they NEED their personal space.
Another time we were photographing a moose; he was standing by the side of a road, another gentleman was with us. We were quite a ways back from the moose and all of a sudden a car came from the other direction. They spotted the moose and stepped on the gas coming to a screeching halt just short of the moose. The moose took off into the forest and these people piled out of their car and chased him into the woods. If they had shown some respect, they would not have upset the moose, or us, and we all could have enjoyed the moment. I don’t know what happened to them or the moose; the other gentleman and Clint and I got into our cars and left. But you would be surprised, or maybe not, how many times we have watched people literally chase after the animal or try to “sneak” up on them to get a photo. Seriously Dude, that bear or moose or whoever, know you are there. You aren’t fooling them. And they are wild animals, they don’t know your intentions.
Now some might say we aren’t exactly following the rules by taking photos of these animals when we have a good idea of where they hang out. There may be some truth to that, however, we drive down roads and hike trails and hope to see wildlife but we don’t encourage them by baiting or invading their nests/dens. If you get familiar with an area you can have a good idea of where they might hang out. My husband and I do our best to stay back and as mentioned, we both have long lenses. I know the trips we have taken to Alberta and British Columbia, we have quite often sat in our truck and taken photos from the windows. You see lots of bears out there on the side of the road but a shot from a truck/car window can be just as good. You can also book a tour and go with guides who know where to go and how close to get.
The lady who was feeding the pine marten told us she would keep feeding him and the birds. Now, in my opinion, feeding birds is not a horrible idea. We have several bird feeders in our backyard. I don’t think feeding the chickadees, grey jays, blue jays is wrong. I look at it this way, these birds are not going to be hit by a car when they run out on the road looking for food, they aren’t going to be put down because they are a nuisance and they do not pose a threat to anyone.
I also want to mention, it’s not just wildlife we should have respect for. We have seen some crazy things when people are trying to get photos of landscapes, buildings, whatever. We were in Victoria, British Columbia last year. We went down to the Fishermen’s Wharf where they have the floating homes. This is a beautiful spot. Fishermen’s Wharf
We stayed on the dock to get a photo or two of these really cool homes. Some tourists however were walking up to peoples homes, standing on their decks, sitting in their chairs, climbing over railings, etc… to get a picture. Just crazy and disrespectful behaviour.
We have seen people go onto private property to get a photo of a dam or cascades or some other point of interest. Some properties have signs so when Clint and I see signs “No Trespassing”, “Private Property”, “Keep Out” etc, we pay attention and we respect the signs. Should I assume for those that don’t respect the personal space/property of others that it is ok for me to wander through their yard, stand on their deck and do as I wish in the pursuit of a photograph. Just something else to think about.
At the end of the day, everyone loves to see wildlife. It’s a thrill for me to call out “There’s a moose!” and grab our cameras but it is our responsibility to take care of our wildlife, respect them and allow them room to live in their own environment without being hassled. Same goes for people’s property.
It appears that in todays digital social media world it is more important to get those likes and immediate recognition for your picture than to be respectful of our precious wildlife and fellow humans.
I would love to hear comments or stories of any situations you have encountered.
I love black bears. We see them quite often, particularly in Algonquin Park. Two years ago we went to Northern Ontario and last year to Northwestern Ontario and we heard of bears being there; but regrettably we saw none. But in Algonquin, we see them regularly. We are very respectful of bears and very wary. OR we are beary wary lol. I am actually more nervous around moose. Moose are unpredictable. Bears, I find, can be a little more predictable. Especially the habituated bears that we normally see. Don’t get me wrong, bears also make me nervous ! Continue reading “Bear Stories”
We have seen dozens and dozens of moose in Algonquin and other places. But we have had a few up close and personal interactions with moose. We are very cautious around them but I do love them. I think of them as one of the “Big Five” of Canada. Moose, bear, wolf, beaver and fox. At least those are my Big Five ! So onto our encounters…..