Great Blue Herons On Their Nests At Oxtongue Lake

Great Blue Herons On Their Nests At Oxtongue Lake

great blue heron - standing on nest gives me a look - oxtongue lake - ontario

During the third week of May one spring, Bob and I found ourselves in the community of Oxtongue Lake, in Ontario, Canada.  One of our objectives was to visit the Rookery where Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) have nested in past years.  When we first broke through the forest that surrounds the beaver pond, we saw only vacant nests.  It wasn’t long before one of the majestic herons flew in and landed on its nest.

beetle lake trail - spring - oxtongue lake - ontario

Bob and I set out early on a very damp morning.  It had been raining for most of the previous 3 days, so the ground was saturated as we entered the woods on the Beetle Lake Trail, which begins near the Algonquin Outfitters store on Oxtongue Lake.  With dim sunlight illuminating the forest, the understory literally glowed with new vibrant green spring growth.

beetle lake trail - springtime trail - oxtongue lake - ontario

We hiked along the trail for about 2 kilometers before branching off towards the beaver pond where the herons had built their aeries.  Our footsteps were silenced by the thick layer of wet leaves covering the trail, remnants from last autumn’s wonderful display of fall colour, so our movements drew no attention from wildlife.

swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario - canada

When Bob and I caught our first sight of the remote pond, it seemed very desolate, and it appeared that no herons had yet returned to the rookery.  While I waited for something to happen, the wind was whistling through the trees, and I heard in the distance the screech of a lone Blue Jay.

hooded merganser ducks - in swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario

Even as Bob spotted a beaver just before it dipped below the surface of the pond, I caught sight of some bird life at the far end of the swamp.  It was the flash of white in otherwise grey surroundings that drew my attention.

hooded merganser ducks in swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario

It turned out that the beaver pond was host to two Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus).  We had actually seen a pair on Oxtongue Lake a couple of weeks earlier and wondered if these two could be the same ducks.  The adult male, seen on the right, is in full breeding plumage; the adult female stayed close to her mate.

swamp with heron nest near oxtongue lake - ontario - canada

As I occupied myself trying to determine what species of ducks I was looking at, Bob scanned the swamp and dead trees for any sign of the herons.

swamp near oxtongue lake - ontario - canada

There are actually 3 nests on 3 separate snags in the center of the beaver pond, representing a fairly small colony of herons. Despite the nests being so large, it was not easy to pick them out on such a dull day.

great blue heron stands in nest - oxtongue lake - ontario

At long last, Bob caught sight of some movement in one of the nests and promptly alerted me to the development.  A Great Blue Heron had stood up to have a look around.

great blue heron - sits in nest - oxtongue lake - ontario

The Great Blue Heron then settled back down into its nest leaving only the head for us to see.  These, the largest herons in Canada, build a flattish structure of sticks for their nests, usually in the upper strata of tall trees.  The nests are repaired and used in successive years.

great blue heron - sits atop tree - oxtongue lake - ontario

It was at about that time that Bob and I realized there was more than one Great Blue Heron on the scene.  Perched on the uppermost branch of a tree on the far side of the swamp was a stately heron that remained in the treetop for an interminable length of time.  We thought it would never move.

great blue heron - in flight -- oxtongue lake - ontario

Bob and I patiently watched and waited, hoping for more activity to unfold.  Finally, that heron launched itself into the air and swept along the treetops.  We had our cameras poised and ready in the event that it came in for a landing.

great blue heron - in flight to nest 1 - oxtongue lake - ontario

I focused my camera on the largest nest thinking that the heron was targeting it for a landing,

great blue heron - in flight to nest 2 - oxtongue lake - ontario

but had to quickly locate a second nest on which the heron apparently intended to land.

great blue heron - in flight to nest 3 -- oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - in flight to nest 4 - oxtongue lake - ontario

I was thrilled with the resulting photographs.  The gangly legs seemed so ungainly, but the heron had no problem settling amongst the trunks protruding from the top of the nest.

two great blue herons - sit on tree limbs - oxtongue lake - ontario

Over the course of 2 hours, Bob and I saw numerous herons circulate in the area.  We actually were unable to determine how many individual herons there were.  At one point, three of the birds were seen perched in trees on the shoreline.  Great Blue Herons nest in either deciduous, coniferous, or mixed woodland, and there, around the beaver pond, was a good mix of deciduous and evergreen trees.

great blue heron - sits on pine tree -- - oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - sits on tree limb - oxtongue lake - ontario

It was getting close to midday so we wondered if the increased activity meant that the herons were preparing to go in search of something to eat.  Or perhaps they were returning to their aeries from an earlier foray.

rusty blackbird - in swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario

As Bob and I waited for the herons to get on the move again, we took the time to watch other bird species inhabiting the area.  When a Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) decided to rest for awhile on one bare branch, I couldn’t believe our luck.  These birds are quite uncommon.  Because the location was perfect…they prefer wet woods where pools of water stand on the ground, like in bogs and beaver ponds…it was no wonder that this blackbird had found the location ideal.

eastern kingbird - swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario

Not to be outdone, an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) assumed position on the blunt end of another long-dead tree trunk.

great blue heron - takes flight 1 - oxtongue lake - ontario

By that time, Bob and I had circled around the pond for a different perspective on the herons.  When one of them moved onto the upper branch of the nest tree, we readied ourselves for the ensuing action.

great blue heron - takes flight 2 - oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - takes flight 3 - oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - takes flight 4 - oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - takes flight 5 - oxtongue lake - ontario

great blue heron - takes flight 6 - oxtongue lake - ontario

We were in awe when the Great Blue Heron performed a major contortion in order to launch itself into the air.  It seemed unnatural for the heron to twist its body and cross its legs simply to take flight.

great blue heron - sits on tree branch - oxtongue lake - ontario

The heron didn’t go far, instead choosing to seek a vantage point from the edge of the forest.

great blue heron - sits on tree -- - oxtongue lake - ontario

Again, the heron remained stationary for an awfully long time.  Bob and I were chilled to the bone, and it was almost lunch time.  On the heels of 30-degree weather a week earlier, the 5-degree Celsius temperature seemed downright wintry.  Thankfully, owing to the cold temperatures and gusty wind, no blackflies or mosquitoes hassled us.

great blue heron - sits on tree limb in swamp - oxtongue lake - ontario

With one last glance at the elegant heron in repose, we hastened to return home.  As cold rain drizzled down through the wind-whipped leaves, Bob and I loped along the forest trails, careful to avoid any missteps in the slippery, squishy mud.  It had been a very worthwhile outing.

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