A young Great Blue Heron stalks the shadow cast by a skiff in search of Chignik Lake’s char. Although this bird stands three-and-a-half feet tall or perhaps somewhat taller, it probably weighs only five pounds or so. This is quite likely the first photographic documentation of this species on the Alaska Peninsula.
“A tiger – in Africa?!” The line is a favorite line from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, pointing out the improbability that it is a tiger that has bitten off the leg of Eric Idle (playing army officer Perkins) while he was sleeping. Nor is the Latin for tiger Felis horribilis as is proclaimed by Graham Chapman in his role as Dr. Livingstone. The film came to mind one cold November morning when in the predawn light beginning to illuminate the beach outside our window, I suddenly noticed the unmistakable silhouette of a heron.
(All) ” A heron?! At Chignik Lake?!”
Yes, Ardea herodias paid us a visit. In fact, as of this writing, I believe the bird is still here despite snow on the ground, freezing temperature and the imminent probability of the lake freezing in the next few days. I saw our new friend briefly perched on a utility pole near the lake last night, though this morning’s frigid 12° F temperature surely gave him pause. I use the pronoun “him” advisedly. Letting aside the fact that the English language’s “it” seems unduly impersonal in talking about living beings, it is generally young males of any given bird species that are the first to push the boundaries of range maps.
Two char in one grab! The overall dark, non-contrasting plumage indicates an immature bird. Despite its youth, this heron was nonetheless an efficient fisherman. We watched him work the shoreline taking one Dolly Varden after another. His best success came in the shadows of beached skiffs. The wary bird has been feeding in the twilight of dawn and dusk, which makes me grateful for a camera that will handle high ISO values.
As can be seen on the map below, Great Blue Herons normally range as far north as coastal Southeast and South Central Alaska. With the population of this species growing in the lower 48 and as the climate continues to warm it will be interesting to see if herons become a more common part of the Alaska Peninsula’s avian fauna.
Great Blue Heron Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Ardea: Latin = heron
herodias: Ancient Greek erōdios = heron
Status at Chignik Lake: Rare to perhaps occasional visitor. Unconfirmed sightings have been reported by local residents of Chignik Lake as well as at Chignik Bay and, further down the Peninsula, Perryville.
David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Not observed
Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Not observed
Table of Contents for the Complete List of Birds of Chignik Lake
© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.
Even more interesting!
Yes, every so often a really unexpected species shows up.
I don’t believe we ever saw a great blue until we moved to Florida despite their broad range. Perhaps we spent too much time in urban areas. We have seen them all over since then — and still point them out to each other.
Ray and Alie
Florida might well be the heron capital of the United States! In Pennsylvania, I used to see them on lakes and streams while fishing in my youth. They’ve been a favorite ever since. And apparently their numbers are healthy and perhaps growing.