Where blue herons nest…

Amazing sky

You won’t see any blue herons in these photos.  The Great Blue Heron is wintering in Central and South America, basking in some heat, wading in mangrove swamps, nibbling shrimp and crabs.

However, each spring the majestic birds wing their way north, scattering throughout North America.  They venture all the way to Alaska, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.  (Am I correct, Ms. Flandrumhill from Nova Scotia?)

They even settle down in our fair Upper Peninsula, prepared to raise their young.  They build nests in groups called a heronry (OK, you can call it a rookery, but a heronry is more specific.)  They build a bulky stick nest and the female lays three to six pale blue eggs.

Nancy forges ahead

Many of us have glimpsed the heron nests beside the road…but until today, I had never ventured close.  It took Nancy to push me out into the unknown woods today.  I’m sometimes nervous about leaving the car parked along the road in the winter months…not her!  She’s been visiting the nests before, and knew just where to snowshoe.

She lured me to the nests with promises of a Smoothie before departure.  She owns one of those Smoothie-machines and whirred us up the most healthful delicious blend you can imagine.  Then she placed a hard-boiled egg and some salted almonds on our plates and announced we had eaten enough protein for a good snowshoe.

Here it is--the heron rookery

We worked up quite a sweat snowshoeing to the rookery.  I mean the heronry.  (I didn’t know “heronry” was a word until Wikipedia announced it was a more specific term than rookery.)  We chatted away about every topic under the sun.  Mostly about the sun and sky and how beautiful it appeared today.  After so many gray days the appearance of the sun can truly delight.

One lone nest

As you can see by closely examining the first heronry photo, there are many nests.  Nancy counted twenty-two, I believe.  Then I counted twenty.  Then she counted twenty-one.  Heron colonies usually contain between five and 500 nests.

The heron nests should never, ever, be visited during nesting season. All of us must stay away.  Reproduction is negatively affected by human disturbance, particularly at the beginning of nesting.  Therefore…visit the nests in the winter.  Bring cameras, snowshoes, water and friends and enjoy the nests to your heart’s delight.  Only in the winter.

Look at the nests from all directions!

To read all about the Great Blue Heron, click here.  You can even glimpse a heron munching a common snapping turtle (looks like a rather small snapping turtle to me.)

More amazing sky

We didn’t trip on our snowshoes too many times.  We wandered across a swamp, visited a beaver den (possibly not occupied) , admired oh-so-many interesting trees and natural wonders.  I have probably 50 photos you might enjoy seeing.  However, to upload all 50 photos would delete all my space on WordPress and probably crash or freeze your computer and you would not be pleased.

Most amazing tree in most amazing sky

Look at that blue sky!  Look at that tree!  Who said a visit to a heronry isn’t the most wonderful way to spend a February afternoon?

Photographer captures most amazing sky but can't get up without help

If you’re going to photograph the tops of trees in snowshoes, I suggest you  bring a friend.  It’s helpful to have a friend pull you up.  Otherwise, it can be quite a challenge…

Hope you enjoyed the tour of the heron nests!  (I know I promised you an exciting walk Up the Road for today’s blog…but the opportunity to visit the heronry usurped former plans.  Another day we’ll walk up our road together.  I have something to show you.)

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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39 Responses to Where blue herons nest…

  1. I loved the guided photographic tour! And I thoroughly enjoyed the last picture of you in the snow — fantastic!

  2. Sue says:

    Beautiful!! I’d love to see that in person some day. Maybe next time I can help you out of the snow…..
    I loved all the pictures, and, oh yes….the words too!

    • Kathy says:

      Oh Sue, now I’m laughing again. I’m so falling in love with photography these days I’m no longer comparing them to words at all. (Only took a little over a year!) Yes, indeed, we can walk back to the heronry together…but not in nesting season…LOL.

  3. Dawn says:

    Very fun! Great photos of the nests. We have several rookeries..ahem…heronrys (?) around here too. One is at Kensington Park that has a walkway where people can watch from afar, another turns out to be a couple of miles away from me. You can read about it (in your spare time!) at my blog; go to archives (on the right) and choose April 2009, then scroll down to April 16…and you’ll see some faint pictures of 20 or 30 herons flying around. I didn’t realize it was so big and so near me. I think I counted about 20 nests too.

    In another related post (the heron eating the snapping turtle) read my great turtle escapade, archived at October 2009, the date was October 21st. I hope my little guy escaped the local blue heron! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Just checked out your blog, Dawn. (Boy, you have been blogging for a LONG time!) It was neat to see the herons flying around. Also hoping the turtle escaped a local blue heron. You never know… Guess we won’t think along those lines any longer…

      • Dawn says:

        No I never went back, it was getting further into nesting season and I didn’t want to upset them, plus they were so far away from the path as the leaves came inj I wouldn’t have seen much anyway. Maybe I should go back at this time of year just to visit…I hope MY snapping turtle survived the winter too! 🙂

  4. Annie says:

    Amazing views!!! The nests are so incredible!!! Did you leave a snow angel behind when you fell?

    • Kathy says:

      Annie, it is so interesting that you would ask about snow angels. Nancy suggested that we go over in the clean snow and make snow angels…but perhaps I wasn’t enthusiastic enough, LOL. Those would have been some interesting photos!

  5. Jane says:

    Thanks for showing me up close, what I’ve been wondering about and wanting to see on the south side of Skanee Rd. I had no clue those were Heron nests. Living vicariously through you once again … and feeling guilty for not claiming my own adventures, ( LOL) but grateful you did, These are really cool to see, Kathy

    • Kathy says:

      Jane, I’ve been wanting to see these for years, too. Like you, I couldn’t seem to manage it on my own…it’s all Nancy’s doings. She basically tells me what we’re going to do next, LOL. You’ll have to come along with us next if you like!

  6. These are incredible Kathy. I’m glad “so falling in love with photography.” Lucky us! I particularly like “the most amazing sky” – worth needing help up.

    • Kathy says:

      The trouble about this falling-in-love-with-photography thing is this, Terrill: I am suspicious a new camera shall have to be bought eventually. An expensive new camera… Glad you liked the most amazing sky.

  7. kseverny says:

    amazing sky shots. really impressive

  8. flandrumhill says:

    Kathy, yes we do have great blue herons here in Nova Scotia. I often see them in the marsh, sometimes a dozen at a time. I made a drawing of one at:

    They’re such unusual birds to see flying in the sky, both for their size and their crooked necks. They squawk loudly if we surprise them on our morning walk along the salt marsh trail, and that always makes my heart skip a beat. I’ve never seen one of their nests. However there is a popular tea room not too far from here called The Heron’s Nest.

    Your images are beautiful, but the last two especially so. You should have the bottom one enlarged for your sweetheart for Valentines Day 😉

    • Kathy says:

      I just looked over at your drawing blog, Amy. Your rendering of a Great Blue Heron is wonderful. I think hearing a heron squawk along the trail would make my heart skip a beat, as well. As for enlarging that photo for my sweetheart…funny!…do you think he should get a photo of me lying like a beached whale in the snow? Maybe not for Valentine’s Day…LOL…

    • Dawn says:

      Wonderful drawing!

  9. Cindy Lou says:

    You, my dear, have answered so many questions I’ve had for awhile but never took the time to look up….like: Where do blue herons go in the winter? Herons (and chickadees) are my favorite birds and their nests are way cool….maybe I could go with you and Susan and we could both pull you out of the snow! 🙂

    Didn’t you just absolutely love the sunshine yesterday? Amazing how one day has made such a difference in my attitude!

    • Kathy says:

      If you and Susan want to snowshoe into the heronry, let’s go! I’ll bet you were amazed that I actually took the time to look up some facts. Unlike Ms. Flandrumhill, I’m usually really bad about giving actual scientific facts. Would rather make up a story… As for the sunshine, YES! YES! Triple YES! –And may we get much much more.

  10. Gerry says:

    Great Blues are really big birds. Astonishing that they can tuck themselves into such relatively small accommodations.

    Most Amazing Sky is. It’s an iconic image of Winter Up North. In memory, the winters of my childhood were always like this. Bright, blue, sunny. OK, cold too. But beautiful. Always beautiful.

    I had to laugh at the Photographer in the Snow. I have been there, with the added impediment of a couple of dogs licking my face while I struggle to rise. But rise we do, and snowshoe onward, rejoicing.

    • Kathy says:

      Gerry, how come the images of our childhood are so–so–perfect? Always blue sky, sun and deep snow. Beautiful. The reality seems to be more like lots and lots of gray cloudy days. Which are beautiful in their own right, but there is something about that sunshine…

      As for those dogs licking your face…! oh my goodness! That would be a real impediment. Down Cowboy! Down, Ms. Sadie!

  11. Barbara says:

    What stunning winter photography! I appreciated learning the details of a suitable pre-snowshoeing menu. 🙂 It sounds like a perfectly wonderful afternoon!

    “I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer.”
    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, I was wondering if someone would mention our protein-rich pre-snowshoeing menu. It felt so wonderful to have someone make a special lunch before we went out. Love the Emerson quote, by the way. It it wonderful.

  12. quietpaths says:

    What a fantastic way to spend a day. Great shots. I love those up and away perspectives! I really like the one of you in the snow – pure joy!

  13. janet says:

    Thanks for teaching me a new word. I hadn’t heard of a heronry! The have always been one of my favorite birds.

    We have an observatory on the bike trail near my house, so I’ve been viewing them too. But the nests here mostly disintegrated by the end of summer. They also have (unfortunately) competition from cormorants who have moved into the lower peninsula and are displacing herons.

    The other thing we noticed was that after the herons finished nesting, a couple of ospreys decided they might as well borrow the already built nests rather than make their own.

    I would like to point out that you looked very happy lying on the snow. Even if it was not a fall, you have made friends with the ground. 😀

    • Kathy says:

      We both learned a new word, Janet. Now to remember it… 🙂 That is so interesting that the cormorants and osprey take over the heron nests. Also that the nests deteriorated so much since summer. As for making friends with the ground, we might as well. Some of us snowshoers spend a bit of time down on it.

  14. Dawn says:

    Kathy, if you’re looking for someone who might be lonely and alone during the long winter, you might volunteer with Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly. I was on their board when I lived up there and was a volunteer as well. They are in Houghton. They do holiday meals, visits, transportation to medical and grocery stores, “make” wood and deliver it to isolated elderly. They always welcome help even if it’s a one time thing. See their web at http://houghton.littlebrothers.org/

    They are probably doing Easter dinners in April.


    • Kathy says:

      Dawn, that is a great idea. I have often thought of volunteering for Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly. Usually I put it off because it seems too far to travel up to Houghton to do so. (Probably just another mental block.) Often we’re doing other things on Easter, as well, but will keep this in mind. One of my favorite elders to visit is 87 years old and she’s got a sharper memory than I do! It’s time to call her for another visit. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Dawn says:

        No problem Kathy! I am always recruiting for them! I think they do work in Baraga Co as well, which would be closer. They also do monthly birthday parties and other outings, particularly in the summer. You can volunteer for any of it. OR, if your elderly friend is isolated, you can see if they want to be enrolled in the program. Isolated just means that they have no family around to support them…

  15. p.j. grath says:

    Looking up that tall tree is GREAT! I’ll try to capture a great blue heron image for you. There are some around Aripeka, cold though it is here.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh please do, Pamela! That would be wonderful to see a great blue heron up close again. Every time I hear about the cold in Florida I think about you and your husband…and my mom and dad (who are farther south.) My daughter and I are headed thatta way next month; hope it’s warmer by then!

  16. Elisa says:

    Oh how wonderful!! You know that at any moment the blue sky, just that shade is my favorite present, and THEN, I see a nest!! Uhmmm…I guess I thought heron’s nested on the ground near water! Now I know what all of those bushy clumps are in the trees for!! I won’t tell you what I thought made them…giggles. Thanks for bringing the outside to me.

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Elisa (you are the Elisa I know right?) It made me so happy to see you here. Thank you for joining us on our little snowshoe to the heronry. I think I used to imagine herons nested on the ground, too. Now we know all about them!

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  18. Thanks for the visit to the herons nests, Kathy. I had a dream last week about nests high in the sky, on poles. These were osprey nests, and they were each eating a very big fish. I love great blue herons. I think they nest here too, they certainly stand around in the ponds all summer. I have not seen a Maine heronry though. Good time!

    • Kathy says:

      Carla, I am glad you enjoyed the visit to our herons nests. Love your dream of the osprey eating fish. Perhaps this will be your year to find a Maine heronry. Perhaps if you ask around you’ll find an old-timer who can point you in the right direction.

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