Thursday, November 28, 2013

Great Blue Heron Aggression

In the salt marshes of Mustang Island, Great Blue Herons abound.  Here is one slowly trolling through the shallows along Wilson's Cut looking for prey.

Canon SX50 HS - ISO-400, f/8, 1/1600s
We almost always see these as lone individuals, though sometimes in the company of egrets or smaller herons. On a walk along the bay north of Fish Pass, we were to see why. We came across a pair of herons displaying to each other by holding their beaks straight up and clapping them. Apparently, this display is called the Stretch and is a mark of territorial aggression.

By the time I got my camera set up, the pair had progressed from the "stretch" to the "drown that bastard" display, as neither was backing down. The animation below captures a few key moments in the final action.

First, one of the herons climbed up on the other heron's shoulders and was pushing the latter into the water as the bottom heron strained to keep its neck up. It looked like they were trying to drown each other, and they both ended up struggling at the surface of the water. The weaker one finally broke out from under the other and made its escape to find a different marsh.

All the while, a group of Marbled Godwits and Long-Billed Curlews looked on, unconcerned by the drama.

Canon SX50 HS - ISO-400, f/6.3, 1/400s

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