Flight of the Night Heron


We got off the ferry at Jack London Square last night and followed a recent routine: First checking the water around the dock for the presence of a big run of little silver fish–maybe some sort of Oakland Estuary smelt–then looking for the black-crowned night herons who show up here to dine of a Friday night (and unencumbered by calendars no doubt every night). The fish–they were there. A constant silver flashing in the water around the dock, looking like a roiling school of fish that must be finding something down there to feed on. The night herons: present, too. Like last week, I tried to get a picture of one by docklight, but the best I could do was a long-exposed smudge of an image. What I need to do with my point-and-shoot, in the absence of a tripod, is set it up to shoot with a delay and then find a place to set it down before I trip the shutter. That way I can take the shot without the inevitable movement that shows up when you need to take a long exposure. But to make that work, the improvised platform needs to have a good angle in reference to the subject. Last night, I spotted a couple of short planks the tide appeared to have stranded on the rocks, maybe 40 feet from the heron. They looked like they would work as a camera platform. I started down the rocks, with Kate cautioning me that I’d already had a beer (and was in her view a pratfall candidate). I got to the planks without the bird flying away. I put the camera down, pressed the shutter, and stood back while the picture was taken. Just as the shutter released, the heron flew up–annoyed, I’m sure, by the interruption of its evening dietary pursuits. The image above was what I got. Sort of a ghost heron.

Friday Night Ferry: Night Heron


A slightly blurry, low-light, hand-held shot of a black-crowned night heron at the Clay Street ferry dock in Oakland. We’ve been seeing a couple of night herons hanging around the dock for the last several months. Lots of fish in the water right now–anchovies or some kind of bay smelt, we think–but we haven’t seen them go for fish. (What do they eat? Just about anything, according to one account: “The diet of the Black-crowned Night Heron depends on what is available, and may include algae, fishes, leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, mussels, squid, amphibians, small rodents, plant materials, garbage and organic refuse at landfills. They have been seen taking baby ducklings and other baby water birds. The night heron prefers shallow water when fishing and catches its prey within its bill instead of stabbing it. Herons will sometimes attract prey by the rapidly opening and closing the beak in the water to create a disturbance that attracts its prey. This technique is known as bill vibrating.”)