Feb. 21, 2018

The blue herons have returned to the rookery (the place where they breed and raise their young). Upon my first visit, I counted ten in total. Some were in or near the nests, others were perched at the tops of trees.

2P9A9590 edit - Tall Tree Stories

At present, there are four nests. Only three of them were occupied throughout the entire season last year. There was a heron in one of the nests for awhile, but one day she flew away never to return. There was also a heron couple constructing a new nest, but they abandoned it before it was completed. Originally there were seven nests, but last year's winter storm tore icy limbs from the trees and sent several of them tumbling to the ground. Only two of those seven nests remain.

I watched two new nests being created last year, an exquisite cooperation between the heron couple. The male flies off in search of twigs that he brings back to the female, which she weaves together to create the nest. Each season new twigs are added to the previous years nest for extra fortification, and likely as an essential part of the courtship ritual, given affection (and sometimes mating) occurs when a twig is given, a sort of celebration, it would seem.

A few days ago I watched one of the male herons fly away five times, returning a few moments later with a twig.

2P9A8218 edit - Tall Tree Stories

He handed it off to his mate who enthusiastically retrieved it and began working it into the nest, while he playfully nudged her back with his beak. A few moments later, off he flew again, in search of another twig. Each time she greeted him with brand new enthusiasm, with outstretched neck as he neared the nest.

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When I saw them working on their nest again a few days later, I watched as the twigs were being appropriated from a nearby nest that was vacant at the moment. I've witnessed this crafty phenomenon before, though it is not an easy theft given how tightly the twigs are woven together. I am not sure if it's done for 'convenience' sake, or there is some hierarchical behavior involved.

There also seems to be some territorial behavior going on, with herons being chased from nests. As the mid-February sun was setting over the rookery, I watched a heron (who I am assuming was male) alight from a branch, and fly overhead making a complete circle back to where it had been perched.

2P9A0200 edit - Tall Tree Stories

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He repeated this over and over while the heron in the nest directly below (who I'm guessing was female) was making overtures, stretching skyward to where he sat.

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He appeared to take no notice of her multiple displays, maybe because of the two other herons that were sitting in close proximity in the same tree. Perhaps all three were vying for her attention, a determination of who would make the best mate, who be best suited for the task of raising young.

The cottonwood trees at the rookery have many stories to tell.

March 6, 2017

I was afraid they may not return, with little to return to. The ice storm in December tore limbs from the trees, and with them, the nests of blue herons. When I went to survey the area about six weeks ago, I found two of the nests. One of them was completely intact as if it had been plucked from the branch and placed onto the ground. The other had been a bit flattened by the fall, looking like a messy pile of twigs.

The intact nest was like an intricate woven piece of art that I tried photographing, but, even from several different angles, the photos failed to show the depth of it. I picked it up to try and get a sense of its weight. It was densely heavy. On the very top of the nest, tangled within the twigs, was a few feet of fishing line that some careless person had left behind, a nesting material some birds use that can be injurious or even deadly to them.

IMG 4526 edit 1024x748 - Weaving the Future
I placed the nest in the crook of the tree to photograph it but it does not show it to scale: approximately a foot wide, two feet in length and 6-8 inches high.

Upon my return to the rookery a few days ago I was elated to see cottonwood trees alive with herons. The two nests that survived the storm were occupied, another was being created. I counted four mated pairs. Standing beneath the towering, bare-leafed trees on the muddy, branch-scattered terrain, I felt as if I had been transported to a different world. Herons alighting from branches floated through the late day blue sky. In the nests were herons sitting silently atop eggs. And the most delightful sight, one of the bonded pairs was building their nest together.

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The male heron is in charge of collecting the twigs for the nest. I watched as he flew off several times in search of the next sprig, diligently tugging at the tree until it let go.

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He'd fly back to his waiting mate, squawking as he neared the nest. She would sometimes squawk too, as if to say 'hurry', maybe due to the setting sun and the approaching nightfall. He'd give her the twig; she at once began weaving it into the nest while he stood for a brief period, looking off in several directions before going off in search of another.

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The cooperative dance between the pair was joyful to watch. I wish I could hang out with the herons everyday to witness the evolution of the nest, to see how long it takes to create a suitable home for their young. One brief mating interlude occurred between twig fetching and nest weaving; baby blue herons are in the near future!

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October 10, 2016

Some of you who are subscribed to my blog did so to receive updates on the Daughters of India book project. Although I continue to research and collect relevant material for the book, as well as keep the blog on Mitu Khurana updated (please check out the blog for the latest updates in Mitu's situation, which unfortunately are not favorable),  I needed a break from the intensity of the subject matter which I have been involved in for a number of years.

The break - which came about organically and serendipitously - is a photography project at Delta Ponds where i have been wandering, observing and photographing the inhabitants that occupy those ponds. It has been a sort of meditation, a rich and rewarding experience where I have also been able to learn about the habits and rituals of birds. With my adoration of the great blue heron, my initial idea was to focus on them. But the more time I spent at the ponds, the more wildlife I began to see, which prompted the idea to photograph whatever I saw, which it turns out, is a lot!

This year-long project - moving through the seasons - will soon be coming to an end. When complete, I will begin the process of creating the book, which will be both exciting and challenging, to comb through over sixty thousand (and counting) photos. Some of my favorite photos will be available as prints (I'll post information about this to my blog when that happens). In the meantime, don't forget to check out the Photo of the Day, which I generally  update every few days, depending on how occupied I am at the Ponds.

Happy Fall where the skies are alive with migrating birds!

IMG 9176 edit 1024x789 - Breaking with Birds

May 4, 2016IMG 1757 2edit crop - Backyard Birds

Imagine standing in your backyard and seeing this in the near distance high up in a cottonwood tree, a mother heron with her three young children. I was standing (quite a distance away) in the street in front of the house when an occupant came out. I told her she was lucky to have them there - she said "No, they squawk a lot". Maybe it's because I adore blue herons, but I love when they 'squawk'. It's wild and raw! And look how cute those youngins' are.

February 11, 2016

High up in the topmost branches of a Cottonwood tree  situated next to a pond is a great blue heron rookery, where herons can be seen perching, interacting, sitting atop nests, and flying to and fro. The most I've counted in the tree is 13, but the number likely increases when they are all in for the night.

Yesterday, I witnessed a mating ritual between the couple who occupy the tallest part of the tree. It was an extraordinary interaction to observe and photograph.

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Courtship Interlude

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Afterwards, the male heron flies off in search of a gift

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He roots around in an evergreen not far from the cottonwood until he finds the perfect twig . . .

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. . . to take back to his waiting partner

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He gives her the twig to help augment the previous years nest

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A few moments after presenting her with the twig, a token of his acceptance of her, mating occurs


January 26, 2016

I've long neglected my blog in favor of spending time out in the field, on freelance assignment photographing birds at Delta Ponds, which I will be crafting into a book. If you've not visited my site in awhile you will notice the addition of many new photos taken at the ponds. The Blue Heron is my primary and favorite subject, though I am intrigued by and photographing all that I encounter. And with great passion. I love being there. It is a sort of meditation.

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A few weeks ago Bald Eagles began arriving which has been a true joy since I've not seen them so up close and personal before - I was a witness to one of their mating rituals! I feel in awe being in the presence of these creatures, excited to share their portraits with you.

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bumblebee extract  - Life without Bees . . .

June 27, 2014

Despite Eugene, Oregon's recent victory over the ban of neonicotinoid pesticides - a nicotine type poison implicated in the decline of bees - another massive bee dieoff killed an estimated 5000 bees last week. Blossoming Linden trees were doused with a neonicotinoid pesticide to kill the aphids that drop a sticky substance onto the cars below. Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, writes: How ironic to celebrate National Pollinator Week in Eugene, America’s Most Bee-Friendly City (the city has banned the use of neonicotinoids on city property) while witnessing the suffering of the bees who fell prey to the pesticide spray. 'National Pollinator Week was designated by the U.S. Senate seven years ago to raise awareness that bees, butterflies and bats are necessary for 90 percent of flowering plants to reproduce'.1

The culpable party, The Glass Tree Care and Spray Service, has had their license revoked pending further education in safe practices; however, the use of any pesticides are harmful. They were also ordered to completely cover the foliage of the linden trees, a futile measure given neonicotinoids are systemic and will continue to do damage to the bees and other insects that visit the trees once the netting is removed.

IMG 3669 edit2 - Life without Bees . . .

I photographed the (above) bee at the Owen Rose Garden last week. As i was leaving the garden I saw a sign posted at the entrance warning that on the following day Roundup was going to be sprayed on the invasive weeds in some of the flower beds. While not a neonicotinoid, glysophate pesticides like Roundup are also implicated in the demise of bees.2

It looks like Eugene's victory for the bees cannot yet be claimed, not until these unsafe and deadly pesticides are completely and permanently banned from use.

Bees are essential to the pollination of one-third (some estimate two-thirds) of the food supply. Without bees, they'll be none of these . . .

IMG 3717 pear bee - Life without Bees . . .

IMG 3729 edit - Life without Bees . . .

1. Bumblebee die-off in Eugene under investigation

2. Yet Another Suspect in CCD/Dwindling?

Related article - Essential Bees

apr. 11, 2014
It's been quite awhile since I've posted anything new to my blog, though i've been feverishly busy. In February i decided to change to a self-hosted website which has proved to be a project of untold proportions. I've basically rebuilt everything from the ground up, and in the process know a little more about html and css coding necessary to tweak my website beyond the parameters of the template.

As I near completion of the renovation, I will be blowing the dust off my long-neglected book project and get back to my writing. I'll continue my photography and photojournalism projects as well, hopefully juggling and balancing all of them harmoniously.

Due to the server move, the automatic subscription alert needs to be renewed, which can be done by subscribing at the bottom of the blog page. Thank you for your continued interest and support.


sept. 28, 2013

My piece published in the 2013 We'Moon journal is the poem this week. Unfortunately, their excerpted version eliminates the gritty essence of it, but I've included it here.

wemoon2 - The Beauty of a Body Growing Old

The Beauty of a Body Growing Old

 It's been called ugly
the shape a woman's body takes
when her leaves change color
silvery hues
golden sallow
pigment returning to the earth
rooting her firmly
into herself

breasts, belly and buttocks
fullness of ripened fruits
hanging heavy and low
seduced by the earth
calling her back

creases of joy
of pain
etchings of life lived
herself she shows the world

skin sagging
pulled down by the weight
of the seasons through the years
towards the earth
grounding her
into her power
into her wisdom
with the firmness of stone

This rush
the urgency with fervor
to cover it up
chemical colors
staining silver strands
obliterating their scintillation
bacterial injections
freezing furrowed brows
forcing expressions to cease
a smile perceived as hideous

lotions, potions, serums
to extract, to conceal, to plump
razors searing through skin
invading the dermis
interrupting the process
disrespecting the beauty
of a body growing old.