As I’ve mentioned before in this column, one of the best things about writing it is being able to read the thoughtful comments, criticisms and discussions that result. Two weeks ago, I wrote about two, slow-motion videos of cheetahs running. In response, a reader let me know about a slow-motion film he had taken. I’m sharing it with you, below.
In this video, two great blue herons in the Rhone Valley in France get into a tussle. The film’s creator, Matt Bjerregaard, who is a marine conservation scientist and documentary filmmaker for broadcasters such as the BBC Natural History Unit and the National Geographic Channel, says he “accidentally” captured the birds on his high-speed Bio-Kam, a camera rig he built from scratch.
“I was filming dragonflies laying their eggs when I heard a commotion on the opposite bank in the reeds,” Matt explained to me. “I looked up and saw this amazing display of territorial behavior between two great blue herons. I was working with a highly specialized camera that I had built specifically for filming lengthy, dynamic, wildlife ethology sequences in slow motion. While the lens I was using was great for close-up, macro cinematography of the dragonflies, it was not ideal for the herons. But I managed to hold a zoom lens over the sensor and capture the entire sequence.”
A great blue heron is one of my favorite birds to spot while canoeing in Wisconsin rivers. Sometimes I find them standing motionless as they scan for prey near riverbanks or wading in the marshes with long, deliberate steps. Although they may walk slowly, a great blue heron can strike like lightning when spearing a fish or nabbing a mouse.
While great blue herons are extremely territorial during the nesting season, at other times, you may find them hunting for food within several yards of one another. Sex, age and time of year—as well as individual temperament—all play a role. They defend areas with threatening displays and by chasing other great blue herons away.
Matt Bjerregaard’s film is of two herons competing for feeding territory. In it, you’ll see an incoming heron attempting to push another heron from the edge of the reeds. The defender rises to the challenge, which results in an aerial battle with thrashing feet and interlocking bills. A leg thrust from above then forces the defender into the water. Now heavier for having been soaked, the defender flies upwards and tries to hold a standoff. The defender lunges forward but misses, and the attacker yet again pushes the defender under the water. The attacker wins and postures on the bank, as the defender flees.
I particularly enjoy the scene in the video that is at about the three-minute mark. The birds seem to levitate out of the water. It’s just part of the reason I love to watch them.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,