With no expectations of any kind, Won-ok and I headed to the University Boulevard retention ponds this New Year’s Day morning to celebrate the anniversary of meeting a majestic great blue heron — and launching our passion project here at EyeOnSligoCreek.com. We named her “Ana” in honor of the Anacostia River that Sligo Creek feeds.
Ana was with us in spirit today as we hiked through the woods and tall grasses by the ponds. We haven’t seen her since. Many other great blue herons have graced us with visits but not Ana. We can only hope she’s living a good life somewhere.
The unmistakable sound of giant wings launching into the sky broke the silence: A great blue heron ascended above our heads and into the tree line.
Could that be her?
Won-ok followed her flight path with her telephoto camera lens while I just stood there and tracked her with my naked eyes. She was so close that I could see her every detail.
It wasn’t Ana, but still a thrill to see. A second consecutive New Year’s Day with a great blue heron — awesome! Happy New Year? No. For us, it’s Happy Heron Year!
“Maybe this is our thing,” I said, half-serious, to Won-ok. “Maybe we can make seeing great blue herons our New Year’s Day tradition.” It was hard to imagine that we could find such luck every January 1 but there was no harm in dreaming.
There was also no harm in extending our day with Mother Nature so we drove to the Wheaton Branch Stormwater Management Pond (ponds) on Dennis Avenue. It’s a different landscape there, more wide open and filled with a slightly bigger body of water than our retention ponds. We’ve made some memories there, too, including yours truly nearly getting attacked by a Canada goose after accidentally wandering too close to her goslings, and not really thinking through another chance to film a blue heron. (Learning to become a better naturalist involves a steep learning curve.)
The temperature seemed to drop a few more degrees as rain dotted our binoculars and cameras. We know from experience that the worse the weather gets, the better the wildlife viewing opportunities can become.
Our hypothesis proved true again.
A sord of mallards snoozed away in one pond. I was struck by how much their colors had changed since summer. Colorful plumage out, dull brown in. Crows dropped in and out looking for something to eat. A belted kingfisher did laps around the second pond while a little brown dog chased after him with equal parts bravado and folly; I gave the pup an A for effort. We ventured forward to the third pond, looked up, and …
This can’t be happening.
But it was.
A great blue heron with scraggly, wet wings stood perched on a tree branch hanging over the opposite shore. He, too, appeared to be taking a nap. Won-ok captured good shots of him from a distance, then some exceptional photos when she eased her way around to his side of the water. I watched her inch closer and closer but the bird still didn’t fly away. We’ve become more skilled at finding just the right distance to keep from wildlife. I’ve also come to believe, whether this is true or not, that some creatures let us get a little closer to them than they might otherwise allow because we make our respect and admiration for them so clear.
Won-ok returned with a huge smile as she pointed excitedly at her Canon camera’s LCD screen. The up-and-coming photographer was able to capture the images because she increased the light exposure on the shots to guard against the hazy white clouds. Photos like that used to turn out as unfortunate silhouettes. Now we could see every detail on the great blue heron’s face, including the same deep yellow eyes Ana had.
Sufficiently soaked by the rain and hungry for lunch, it was time to go home and share this account of another extraordinary New Year’s Day. Happy Heron Year everybody!