It’s the heat of summer now, but when I close my eyes I can remember, it was a very cold morning. I had been feeding my latest obsession with photos of song birds from the front yard and the local trails. But I was interested in getting out, seeing some new terrain, and finding some different subjects—something bigger, something new, something exciting. It was my first time to Orilla Verde, so I stopped at the first opportunity along the river. It was early in the morning, and the sky was just showing light. But the cold night air clung to the bottom of the canyon, numbing my cheeks and fingers as I readied my gear and tried to shake the hour in the truck from my brain and the cold from my arms and legs. I was expecting to hike along the canyon bottom, along the river, and take some time simply to get a sense of the place. I scanned the steep canyon walls: dark, ruddy, cracked basalt; falling from an unblemished, tranquil blue sky; down into the silvery steel gray water snaking its way south. I scanned the brush along the river, which had long since given up turned leaves that now littered the ground in a dry, crunchy, brown coating. The cold water reflected the naked cottonwoods and reddish willow branches on its silvery sheen. And as I took my first steps, the crunch of my boots into the frozen leaves covering the ground broke the silence of the canyon with startling volume. But I was alone—and I relished the solitude.
I hadn’t take ten steps before I sensed the slightest movement in the willows, just upstream, and on my side of the river. To my great surprise, a Great Blue Heron had been wading in the cold water, likely hunting for a morning meal. The whole birding game was quite new to me, and coming from the mountains, far from water, in a desert state, I hadn’t even been aware there were herons this close to home. I really didn’t know what to expect from the heron, or how to react, or what to do with the camera, as the light was not great at that early hour, in the bottom of deep canyon. I did my best to get an open shot through the willows, and took a few photos, but I had to try to get closer. As I moved in, the heron took off, and I was completely unprepared for the situation: difficult lighting and a moving subject. But I now had only seconds before the heron would be gone. I simply aimed and pressed the shutter button, and noted the all-too familiar click, click, click, as the heron flew to the other side of the river. But I got lucky with the capture, and the fact that the heron was gliding with its five-foot wing span stretched out, which allowed me to get a fairly crisp image at the lower shutter speed I had intended for a still subject. This was my first great blue heron, and my first bird-in-flight photo. I like the graceful pose of this large bird in flight, along with the liquid-silver appearance of the water, and the subtle, broken reflection of the heron on the surface of the river. Water is life, and gives life, and on this day, enriched my life.
Great Blue Heron; Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico
NatureWildlifeWading BirdsHeronGreat Blue HeronRio Grande del Norte National MonumentNew Mexico