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Field Notes: Portrait of a Heron

By Erik Hogan

Animals have an uncanny ability to detect movement, incongruous sounds, or even just sense when they are being watched. Even with a telephoto lens, clear and close photos of wildlife is a tough challenge.

Generally, there are two courses of action that can be taken to get them. The first is to sit and wait. By remaining still, sometimes for hours, one blends in with the surroundings and gives animals the opportunity to enter the area, unaware that they are already being watched. This is a common tactic of hunters, often aided by tree stands or blinds. The obvious downside to this method is a large commitment of time, with no guarantee that any creature will happen by.

A huge form, slowly wafting through the sky on langorously flapping wings, the Great Blue Heron never fails to draw attention. Audubon states that it is the largest variety of Heron in North America. Yet it is a very common bird, often found stalking the edges of lakes or other shallow waterways, hunting fish with its sharply tapered beak. It wades in the water on Jurassic feet, twisting its serpentine neck as it hunts.

I saw this particular Blue Heron on the edge of a lake on an overcast morning in December. He had not yet noticed me, so I had the opportunity to retrieve my camera, attach my 55-300mm telephoto lens, and switch camera settings to shutter speed priority, all while out of view.

I wanted at least 1/400 sec shutter speed, if not faster, to freeze the bird’s motion without blur. It was a tough request on the cloudy day.

Once fully prepared, I was ready for the creep. Fortunately, part of my approach was across noiseless grass. Once I entered the leaves, their dampness from recent rains helped quiet my movement. I controlled my breathing, locked focus on the bird, and reduced my motions to an agonizing, imperceptible progression.

This heron was too busy to be concerned with me. He continued a nonchalant stroll along the shore, searching for his lunch. After photographing him for several minutes I relaxed my movement and, come to find out, this bird did not care! I walked and watched and took more pictures. He and I became acquainted until, lunch break over, he stretched his massive wings to propel himself to the other side of the lake. Regardless, I still count this as a successful creep!

Erik Hogan is a photographer who primarily shoots landscape, wilderness, and nature scenes in the Athens area.

Follow on Instagram @erikhoganphotography Erik's sketchbook includes a look behind the scenes, with an option to purchase a limited number of prints through the link in his bio. htttps://erikhoganphotography.com.

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