Yesterday I went to Hendrie Valley for a few hours, arriving just before noon. This isn’t typically a good time of day for birding, but my ‘little voice’ kept telling me to go. Since it is nearing the end of the birding season here in Southern Ontario I wasn’t sure if there would be much to photograph. As it turned out I was able to a capture some images of a Great Blue Heron catching a very large catfish. Eventually the heron’s patience was rewarded with a meal.
Since this action happened at a fair distance, the photographs in this article were all subject to some aggressive cropping.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I had noticed the heron out of the corner of my eye, seeming to struggle with something large in the shallows, so I headed over towards the bridge to investigate.
My first thought when I saw the size of the catfish that the heron had caught, was that the bird would not be able to swallow such a large fish.
The catfish was so large that the heron repeatedly dunked the fish back in the water to remove it from its bill. Then with some gusto it continued to spear the catfish numerous times as you will see in the selection of images below.
This went on for about 20 minutes or so as the heron kept on attacking the wounded fish in order to make sure it was dead before trying to swallow it. On occasion large fish have been known to extend their dorsal fins in an attempt to avoid being swallowed. When this happens the fish can sometimes get stuck in the gullet of a bird. This can cause the bird to suffocate and die.
During the heron’s repeated attacks on the catfish a large egret flew over to investigate. It wisely did not challenge the heron for its prize.
The heron would periodically hold up the catfish to check for any nervous twitches or signs of life. Once satisfied that its catch was dead, the bird set about to swallow it.
This ended up to be quite a difficult task as the heron had trouble getting the large fish properly aligned in a head-first position. After repeated attempts, and continued dunkings of the fish to lubricate it, the heron was able to swallow it whole as you can see in the images that follow.
After getting the catfish into its gullet, the heron had to extend its neck to help the fish continue its journey into the bird’s stomach.
The entire process of catching, killing and swallowing the catfish was quite time consuming for the heron. I checked the times on my photographs and from the time of the first image I captured of this heron with the catfish, through to the last image above, a total of 32 minutes had elapsed.
Luckily I had changed the battery in my Nikon 1 V3 a little while before all of this action happened. What did concern me was how much room was left on my memory card. The last thing I wanted to risk was to be in the middle of changing a memory card in my V3, and have the heron swallow the catfish. After quickly checking on the number of images on my card, I decided not to shoot any AF-C runs towards the end of this event, taking individual frames instead. This helped to ensure I could capture the critical moments at the end of this example of nature playing out before my eyes.
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro or PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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