Wildlife Diary: August 2011 - Heron

Masthead

Artist makes city trip to see beautiful wild resident

Artist makes city trip to see beautiful wild resident

Wolds wildlife artist Robert E Fuller reports on his local kestrels as featured in the Yorkshire Post August 13th 2011. Click here to see article on Yorkshire Post site

A GREY heron is a beautiful subject to paint. It strikes an elegant pose with its long graceful neck and fluid black, white and grey plumage. But this ancient bird's liking for fish has meant it has been persecuted over the years and it is consequently very wary. Only once in my life have I been close enough to get photographs good enough to paint from. But that's not for want of trying. My first attempt, back in 1993 during a trip to the western isles of Scotland, was, until this year, the closest I have ever got.

I was staying on the Isle of Uist and had spotted what I hoped was a heronry through my binoculars. The grey outlines of the birds were barely distinguishable against cliffs on the opposite side of a bay. But, worryingly, nobody locally knew whether there was a heronry there or not. Herons nest communally, using the same nest each year, and some heronries can date back 40 or 50 years and vary in size from just four or five nests to 200. I decided to investigate. The cliffs were some 10 miles away from the nearest road so I hitched a lift with a fisherman.
It was a relief, as the boat dropped me off at the remote cove, to see a heron perched on a small rocky island and then to pick out a large chick sitting on a nest in the cliffs.

I spent an hour there photographing chicks on up to 20 or so nests, but the adult birds stayed away throughout that time. I would have liked to put up a hide so that the adult birds could get used to me and attend to their young, but the site was too inaccessible. Most heronries in the countryside are difficult to photograph. The birds choose tall trees and it isn't easy to train a camera on them as they sway in the wind. Then this year I happened to watch an interesting episode of the BBC wildlife series, Springwatch in which presenter Simon King fed herons in London's Regent's Park. I decided I too would go urban. There are 27 pairs nesting on the heronry in Regent's Park and the heronry has been there since 1968. The tree that the herons originally nested in was damaged in the storms of 1987 and they have since moved to an island in the lake.

Less than a mile from Oxford Street, the heronry is the closest to a city centre in Europe. Consequently, the herons there are so uninhibited that I was able to get closer than I have ever been. I threw a few scraps down and within minutes up to 15 birds were queuing up for morsels. Although it felt a little like cheating, it was a whole lot easier than trying to get shots of these shy birds in the wild.

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