I tried to document life in a Great Blue Heron nest last year and it ended abruptly when all three babies vanished in early July, most likely as dinner for a bald eagle or great horned owl family. I had somewhat better luck this year.
April 29, 2013 – I checked the heron nest I’d been watching in 2012 – the pond, still with some ice, appeared empty, no herons around. There was snow in sheltered places along the trail. According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab web site “Heron FAQ’s” page, their herons laid eggs between March 28 and April 6 in 2012. I tend to think that the northern Adirondacks are about 3 weeks ahead of the Ithaca area for fall colors – so perhaps three weeks or more behind for laying eggs – probably dependent upon weather conditions as well.
May 8 – Sneaking in to view the nest from my hiding spot, there was a single adult heron standing on it. Was this the male hoping to attract a female?
May 13 – This time there was a heron down on the nest – all I could see was the head and beak. This is a pretty good sign that there are eggs.
May 14 – Heron on the nest. Heard from friends that the eggs had hatched at the nest in Ithaca – I went online and watched live as the adults fed the chicks on the Cornell Ornithology Lab “Heron Cam”!
May 17 – Sneaked in late in the day to check the nest and encountered a bear! Never got a look at the nest as I quietly retreated.
May 19 – All is well and a heron is down on the nest.
May 21 – same
May 24 – Did not get out to check the nest. This was Memorial Day weekend – it was in the low 30’s with wind and rain all weekend.
May 26 – There was no bird on the nest, but an adult heron in a nearby white pine tree. The summit of Whiteface Mountain got 30 inches of snow on May 25-26.
May 28 – The nest was empty – no herons in sight. I watched for an hour. According to the Cornell site, it usually takes 30-35 days for the eggs to hatch. I speculated that the weekend weather had had an impact. Maybe the eggs didn’t survive or perhaps had hatched and the very young chicks had not survived the days of cold temperatures and rain. Or a predator got them.
June 4 – I switched over to another pond – a small beaver pond near the AuSable River and the Wilmington Flume trails. There were actually four herons nests in the stand of dead trees at the far end of the pond. I saw two adult herons on one of the nests and clearly saw the head of one chick. Both parents were providing food at the same time.
June 12 – Did not have a lot of time but witnessed three chicks in one of the nests. There is a lot of poison ivy at this location, so not advisable to sneak around in the bushes!
June 26 – It was now easy to see heron chicks in all four of the Wilmington Flume nests. There was a single adult standing on one of the nests – made me wonder if this was the “babysitter”?
July 13 – I watched the “teenagers” test their wings – jump out on nearby limbs on the dead trees and then hop-fly back to the nest. There was a lot of wing-flapping going on. The young birds appeared to be practically the same size as an adult, until I watched an adult fly in and still regurgitate food for two young ones. The adult stood much taller and clearly had longer feathers. Of the four nests, a single bird stood on one of the nests; there were 2 youngsters in the nest the adult flew to; in the nest that appeared empty on July 11 I could now see the head of a bird; and the fourth nest now appeared empty. Then I noticed three awkward looking herons standing on limbs of other white pine trees along the shore – they had to have flown the nest. Finally, with much preliminary flapping, I witnessed a young bird take off out of the nest and glide over to a nearby tree. Now they just need to learn to feed themselves!
This heron rookery is easily accessible. It’s just off route 86 between Lake Placid and Wilmington, right where the AuSable River is crossed by the highway. Park in the lot on the upstream side of the river, for the Wilmington Flume hiking/biking trails, and walk about 50 yards down the wide trail to a handicapped-accessible viewing area overlooking a beaver pond. The river will be to your left. The nests are in the dead trees at the far end of the pond.