This is For the Birds! Nesting Great Blue Herons mimic Newlyweds at IKEA…

Enid craned her neck to see what George was bringing over, from the bedding section, for her inspection. It was in the color palette she’d been considering, on trend with the décor she’d seen around the neighborhood, but she feared it was 2020’s overstock. She took it from him, held it high in the air, considering its dimensions, turning it this way and that, closely inspecting the most minute design elements.

She glanced over at George, watching her closely, and tried to read him. He seemed exceptionally proud of himself, chest puffed up, giving his head (and that striking “do” of his) a toss. His eyes sparkled, playfully. This was serious stuff; he knew it! She knew it too! But George was ready to finish up all this “nesting” and get on with the fun part of being “Newlyweds.” Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome was quite striking – he was tall, unabashedly handsome, and darkly mysterious.

The whole scene reminded Enid of when she and George were selecting their new digs, uptown from his bachelor pad. George was onsite first and was willing to accept the first place he found. There was no doubt the utilitarian living quarters were sturdy and traditional, could weather a storm and would still be around for years to come.

But Enid wanted something breezy and speckled with sunlight. She wanted to live somewhere pretty and safe, something that met the highest safety regulations, for when they started a family (one day), but had romantic charm and teemed with character. She also wanted space, with some privacy from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors. That first locale looked like something her father, a master builder himself, would have constructed. It wasn’t enough. She wanted a high-rise, decked out in this season’s décor.

The relationship was still young, and the couple was learning their way around one another, in something that resembled a courtship dance. George was up for it! Not willing to lose Enid’s affection, going out on a limb, George showed Enid a room with a view, two stories higher. It wasn’t the penthouse, but there was room to spread their wings. Enid was taken by it, so now they were accessorizing, fine tuning, and putting the finishing touches on their new place.

Enid accepted George’s offering, figuring she’d make it work – somehow. George would watch intently, as she worked her magic. He knew better than to start “mansplaining” or suggesting how things should be arranged. She was the interior designer, decorator, and director in this relationship. . . . he could always shift things around, make small tweaks, when she ran out to grab a bite to eat.

But this was no time for either of them to settle in. Enid sent George back out, on the hunt for just the right pieces to complete this joint project, something to . . . . pull everything together. They would be starting a family soon, but that didn’t mean they had to throw all fashion to the wind, in the name of functionality.

But George was ready to finish up all this “nesting” and get on with the fun part of being “Newlyweds.” Mister Tall, Dark, and Handsome was quite striking – he was tall, unabashedly handsome, and darkly mysterious.

George and Enid, newly acquainted
Enid and George take a break from their work, but there is still a lot to do!

Whew! I’m glad I’m not the only one who narrates animal behavior while I observe it from afar, anthropomorphizing, even speaking for the animals, putting words into their mouths and thoughts into their heads.

Enid and George were named by friendly strangers clustered nearby, observing nesting pairs of Great Blue Herons at the Bath Road Haronry, part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, in northeast Ohio. These fellow photographers were a safe 6 – 8 feet away, with their own cameras, watching the herons put on a show, less than 100 yards away.

They behaved like a newlywed couple shopping at IKEA, setting up house, setting expectations, establishing roles, and figuring out how the next several months were going to work. I’d learned, from reading the helpful sign posted nearby, that Great Blue Herons return to this spot every year, pairing up for the season. The male, who arrives in February or early March, has the job of selecting a location and beginning to build a nest.

A bachelor on the other side of the river waits patiently for the rest of the ladies to arrive. He’s established a prime spot, with his nest already in place, prepared to woo the ladies.

The ladies arrive a month or so later, ready to be impressed by what the males have prepared, ready to select a mate. A crowd has gathered at the side of the road, as it does every spring, with camera lenses that need to be supported by tripods and monopods, the weight of the glass being too much to support for long. Others are there just to watch the funny little display going on.

I notice that we are the youngest observers there, by at least 20 years. Birding and wildlife photography do tend to attract an older crowd. The equipment can be pricy, with interchangeable lenses, heavy glass, and other specialized equipment. One photographer is covered head to toe in cameo, including his camera setup. His lens is pointed in the same direction as mine, but there are easily 50 – 100 subjects to photograph.

It’s difficult to keep track of the number, for a novice birder, as males fly in and out of the area, putting on their display and bringing their prospective mate twigs and branches. There are several trees on either side of the busy road, in a marshy wetland, near the Cuyahoga River.

My zoom lens (150 – 600 mm) gives me an intimate look at the interactions of coupled pairs – but not that intimate! Things are still getting started; spring has sprung, but these relationships are still in the building phase. Enid has George working hard on this sunny day. This gives me plenty of time to shoot. Shadows are harsh, so I take my chances shooting both into and with my back to the sun.

I switch lenses on my Canon, to a 35 mm, to capture the whole landscape, and the whole nested tree. I’ve never seen anything like it! These birds stand 4-foot tall and have a wingspan upwards of 6 feet, yet the maneuver gracefully in and out of the tree’s branches. I could watch them for hours. I lose track of time, until my stomach growls, letting me me know it is time to move on. Next time I’ll bring snacks!

“According to North American Native tradition, the Blue Heron brings messages of self-determination and self-reliance. they represent an ability to progress and evolve. The long thin legs of the heron reflect that an individual doesn’t need great massive pillars to remain stable, but must be able to stand on one’s own.”

~ Being Breath
George looks over Enid’s work, but doesn’t interfere until she is distracted.
George works quickly, while Edin looks away. Eventually Enid flew off to locate some additional branches that she thought would spruce up the place.

These herons might be independent and self-reliant most of the time, but it’s the season for coupling, as many of us do. I’m reminded again of young couples navigating the massive layout of IKEA, where expectations aren’t always clear, where it’s easy to get lost, where there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. . . . and I wish them well, while the bachelors wait for the rest of the ladies to arrive!

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

Great Blue Heron Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Great Blue Heron | Audubon Field Guide

The Message of the Blue Heron — Being Breath

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Bath Road Heronry (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Northeast Ohio’s fascination and love affair with the Great Blue Heron continues at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (news5cleveland.com)

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