In Scope: Great Blue Heron

    

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. ~ Genesis 1:20

    One summer evening, a Great Blue Heron stood motionless in the waves not far off the shoreline at the Pacific Ocean's edge.  As I watched, the Great Blue Heron with laser like focus, suddenly struck a fish with its sharp bill.  In one swift motion, it grabbed the fish and swallowed it down with satisfaction.  As I looked on this beautiful scene, it occured to me how much the serene, quiet manner of the Great Blue Heron was juxtaposed to the thrashing surf of the ocean, beating the rocks on the shoreline while they ground against one another.  I picked up one of those rocks and felt its smoothness ~ the product of many years of rubbing against the other stones on the beach.

    As we walked on the beach, the sun began to set and the sky was lit up with fiery tones of pink and orange.  In that moment, God used the heavens as His canvas to paint this beautiful sunset for us to see.  I continued to watch the pulsing beauty of this ever changing scene as the sun went down.  The Great Blue Heron continued to hunt, becoming a silouetted figure against the sunset in the background.  A few minutes later the 'fire' in the sky cooled to lavender and purple and finally settled down to a slate blue in the twilight.  Awed by the 'painting' the Master Creator allowed us to witness, we returned to our campground to roast marshmallows in the campfire, look at the stars, and talk about the day's adventures until bedtime.  I knew this was an experience I would remember for the rest of my life.

   Growing up, I have lots of fond memories of Great Blue Herons.  This above mentioned scene was one of my many introductions to this magnificent bird while on a camping trip with my family at Grayland Beach State Park at the Pacific Ocean.  But herons aren't only a bird of the coast ~ one of their favorite habitats is a fresh or saltwater wetland.  Because of this, the earliest memories I have of Great Blues occured a lot closer to home ~ our backyard to be exact ! 

    Late winter to early spring storms in our area usually mean lots of heavy rainfall and gusting winds.  Often the air is perfumed with the scent of salt water, indicative of the marine air being pushed into our area by the storm system.  But salty air and lots of rain aren't the only things blowing in during storms like these ~ during these times we also see lots of Great Blue Herons !  Because there is a marsh next to where we live, our neighborhood is a welcome haven for Great Blues to drop by any time, but especially when they are looking for a respite from the storm in an inland wetland habitat.

    Although Great Blue Herons are not usually considered garden visitors, over the years, they have become familiar winter and early spring 'backyard birds' in our area.  After all these years, I consider a visit from a Great Blue Heron like a visit from an old friend.  They are one of my most favorite of all the birds in our area.  Each time I see one it takes me back to that beautiful ocean scene we witnessed years ago now and I can almost hear the roar of the ocean surf.  Although I'm tempted to let my mind linger on those childhood memories that really instilled in me a love for God and His Creation at a young age, I must continue on with this month's In Scope, which is all about Great Blue Herons !

A Great Blue Heron visiting the pasture....

    We'll be taking an in depth look at Great Blue Herons so we can get to know them a little bit better.  But first, let's learn some interesting facts about this species.

Interesting Facts

    Did you know....

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to See a Great Blue Heron

 

    Herons are very common here in Washington State.  You can find them most often near a body of water, especially in a fresh or salt water marsh or at the beach.  If you have a marsh on your property or nearby, its a good idea to make every effort you can to preserve this important habitat for Great Blue Herons.  You may also see Great Blues at lakes and ponds.

 

What to Look For

 

    If you are near a body of water and want to keep a look out for any Great Blue Herons, look for them amongst the reeds of a marsh or out in the tidelands at the beach.  Herons aren't hard to spot in the open, but if they are camoflauged enough, it may take some time before you see them !  Look for a tall bird wading through the water or standing motionless, looking like an upright piece of driftwood.  If you have the privilege of finding a nesting colony, you'll see many saucer shaped nests high in the trees.  If you can, make sure to get some pictures, but stay a safe distance away so as to avoid disturbing them.

Zoom In: Species Profile

                                     

                                             A Great Blue Heron in our backyard !

    The scientific name of the Great Blue Heron is Ardea herodias.  This large, tall bird is 39 to 52 inches tall with a wingspan of 5 feet 10 inches.  Male and female Great Blue Herons look alike.  Both are predominately a slate blue/gray color with a black stripe across their eye and a black feather plume on each side of their white heads.  In some Great Blues, a small patch of rusty colored feathers on the front edges of their wings may be visible.  They may also have white and black markings on their 'shoulder', side and underside.  One of the most noticable features of the Great Blue Heron is their long flowing, yet wirey looking chest feathers.

    The voice of the Great Blue Heron is a hoarse sounding croak or squawk.  Once when two herons flew over our backyard, I heard them vocalizing in this hoarse croaking sound to one another as they flew overhead.

    The preferred habitat of the Great Blue Heron is pastures, grasslands and agricultural areas, wetlands, especially brackish or fresh water marshes, coastlines, beaches, lakes, ponds, rivers, canals, bays ~ really almost anywhere they can find an abundance of fresh water and salt water habitat.

    The nest of the Great Blue Heron is a 'dish shaped' platform of twigs and grasses lined with softer materials, placed in a tree or on the ground hidden by reeds and cattails.  Great Blue Herons are colony nesters.  Often a heron colony may be comprised of more than 500 nests in trees built high off the ground, usually 100 feet up or more.  Even with so many birds in one space, people may not even know a colony is in the area until the leaves of the trees drop in autumn, exposing the nests.  The female Great Blue Heron lays 3 to 7 blue green eggs (4 on average)

   The range of the Great Blue Heron is widespread, across much of the United States and even Canada and Mexico, down through Central America.  They have one of the broadest ranges of all herons in North America.  In Western Washington and in much of the United States, Great Blue Herons are year round residents.

Activities

    This month I've created a Great Blue Heron coloring page for you.  This activity sheet is available in a free PDF.  To download, simply click here, then print and enjoy !

Devotional

    If there was ever a time when the reality of God stood out to me in a way that would impact me forever with the truth of His existance, that experience at the ocean's edge would be one of the many I could point to.

                      

    The reality is that I have these experiences daily ~ the faithfulness of each day's sunrise and sunset, the changing of the seasons, the hummingbirds that buzz past my window, the Song Sparrow that sings from his perch....My kitty that snuggles up in my lap, the love of my family, the feet stomping, howling, tail wagging good morning I receive from the best dog in the whole world, the stars that I see twinkling in the sky each night, these fingers that I use to type out these articles, the food that I eat, the air that I breathe and every morning that I get up breathing ! 

    Have I covered it all yet?  No, there's still much more I haven't said.  But that is my purpose, that's the reason I'm here on this earth, to preach the Gospel with my life and with my mouth ~ to tell about the glory of God and how awesome He is along with every other part of His creation.

    The Bible says in Psalm 19:1-4 Amplified,

    "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows and proclaims His handiwork.
    Day after day pours forth speech, and night after night shows forth knowledge.
    There is no speech nor spoken word [from the stars]; their voice is not heard.
    Yet their voice [in evidence] goes out through all the earth, their sayings to the end of the world.
    Of the heavens has God made a tent for the sun,...."


    Everyday, God's Creation preaches to us and witnesses to our hearts that God is real, that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that God reigns supreme over everything and that we are just a small part of the universe that He so minutely cares for and loves exceedingly.  I can only stand in awe of Him and feeling my smallness, I say with David the Psalmist,

    "What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of [earthborn] man that You care for him?"

    ~ Psalm 8:4 Amplified

    One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 93.  In closing, I want to share it with you.

    Psalm 93 Amplified

    The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is robed, He has girded Himself with strength and power; the world also is established, that it cannot be moved.
    Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.
    The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up the roaring of their waves.
    The Lord on high is mightier and more glorious than the noise of many waters, yes, than the mighty breakers and waves of the sea.
    Your testimonies are very sure; holiness [apparent in seperation from sin, with simple trust and hearty obedience] is becoming to Your house, O Lord, forever.

    Thanks so much for joining me for this edition of In Scope.  Join me next month for yet another feature on one of God's amazing birds !

    By, Jessi Wasell