The Many Looks of the Little Green Heron ~ Caught on camera from around the Lowcountry!

I spend many hours out in the field studying bird behavior and photographing them for possible painting subjects. Some birds can be more challenging than others to photograph!

The little Green Heron is a relatively small heron, which for the most part is very skittish and likes to hide along riverbanks or in bushes or trees. It is naturally camouflaged, sporting brown and green feathers, which blend in nicely with its surroundings. It is also very quick and will take off in a flash if it detects unwanted activity in the area.

Being skittish, fast, and naturally camouflaged turns birding for Green Herons into a challenging sport.

The fact that the Green Heron is a master of many looks also makes him fun to photograph.

I ask myself, if I were to paint a Green Heron, how would I like to portray him? The Green Heron is full of personality. One could create a large body of work just painting the many looks of the Green Heron.

I have been fortunate to have had a number of opportunities to zero in on the elusive little heron. I have a wide variety of images to choose from ranging from serious stalking-like poses to almost comical or amusing poses. I thought it might be interesting to show you some of the many looks of the Green Heron from images I’ve taken over the last couple of years around the Lowcountry.

My most recent sighting was in Mount Pleasant at a pond in the community of Charleston National. I came across a rookery where Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets were nesting. While photographing them I noticed a lot of activity from a pair of Green Herons in a bushy area near the water. Turned out the pair had four juveniles they were tending to.

The juvies had what looked like hair plugs on top of their heads (down feathers), where the adult head feathers will soon fill in. They were full of themselves, sometimes gathering 3 or 4 on a branch, waiting impatiently for Mom and Dad to come back with dinner.

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They let me get fairly close over time, as I returned four or five times to photograph them. It was the first time I’ve ever seen more than a pair together.

One of my favorite Green Herons was a bird I photographed in Huntington Beach State Park. It flew up onto the railing of a boardwalk over the marsh and put on quite a performance. He busted a move, he gave me his roadrunner-look with the spiked hairdo, and strutted his stuff like he was John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! He stuck his neck out when I was leaving to say goodbye. :-)

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I was walking Folly Beach one morning and had my first sighting of a Green Heron at the beach. He was off in the distance perched on top of a gnarly old dead tree. He had a primo view!

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One of the funniest poses I’ve ever seen a Green Heron make was right here in Carolina Park, Mount Pleasant, SC, where we live. Again, this one was stationed on a bare branch of a dead tree. His pose was cartoonish and made me laugh. :-)

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The most camouflaged Green Heron I’ve seen was at the Audubon Swamp in Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, SC. Bright green duckweed was all around covering the surface of the water, fallen trees rotting in the swamp. There he was, creeping along, looking for his next meal.

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One of my favorite birding locations is the Pitt Street Bridge, in Mount Pleasant, SC, because of the wide variety of birds that you can see on any given day. I like this shot of my Pitt Street Bridge Green Heron because it’s so colorful and the strong reflections of the broken reeds.

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I was just down in Kiawah and spotted this Green Heron along the edge of a creek. He had his head feathers flared and had just been flirting with his partner who happened to be hiding in the bushes on the other side of the creek.

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Here are a few other pics I’ve taken of this spunky little heron.

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I’m working on a portrait of a Great Egret at the moment, but I’m looking forward to painting the Green Heron sometime soon. I’m not sure yet how I will choose to portray him, but I’ve got some good ideas now.


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

My Guided Tour of Kiawah’s Birding Hotspots ~ A Three Hour Tour!

Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I wouldn’t mind being stranded on Kiawah Island. Yesterday morning I had the good fortune of having a three-hour guided tour of all the best birding spots in Kiawah. We didn’t go by boat. I was picked up by car at 6:15 am by a good friend and former Board Member of the Kiawah Conservancy (Allan Stewart), in order to be on the island for our tour departure time of 7:30 am. We arrived right on the dot!

Within seconds our guide met us in the driveway. Bob Hill is a long time friend of Allan’s and has become a serious birder, having traveled around the world photographing birds. He was prepared with bug spray to fend off the biting flies and the mosquitoes. He had water and Gatorade for us in the car. He had preplanned our excursion around the island to all of his favorite birding locations. This was an extraordinarily generous gesture from one birder to another. Many photographers do not want to disclose their favorite locations because of their competitive nature in getting the best shot.

Off we drove down streets lined with big oaks and palms. Magnificent homes with stunning architecture are all tucked back into the flora, blending in with the natural surroundings as planned out by the developer. One doesn’t get the feel that he/she is driving through residential neighborhoods, but rather through a nature’s paradise.

As we rounded a bend water was off to our right and I spotted dozens of birds all actively feeding in what appeared to be a large salt marsh. A photographer was already there with his giant zoom lens and tripod capturing the spectacle. Bob’s first stop on our tour turned out to be a sight I will always remember.

Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Black-skimmers, and I’m sure a few other species, were all actively feeding in the marshy pond. There were so many birds to focus on, some flying fast and others posing that it became a challenge to have my settings right. There was also strong backlighting, so choosing the right angle to shoot in relation to the sun was another consideration to factor in on each pic. I was torn between species! All the birds wanted my attention and I couldn’t give it to them! :-) Very stressful!

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Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I reluctantly got in the car, for this wasn’t our only stop and I could have stayed there all day. We had so much more to see. Next stop was by the Ocean Course along the beach (famous for hosting the Ryder Cup in 1991 and the PGA Championship in 2012). For this golfer, it was a treat to walk past the Ocean Course clubhouse, by the driving range and practice putting green. I was dressed more like a golfer because we had plans to go out to lunch afterwards and a collared shirt was required.

One of the birds I wanted to see most was a Black-necked Stilt. As we were walking down to the beach past the putting green I spotted one! It was all by itself in a shallow pool in the sand. I was too far away for a good shot at it, so like a rookie birder I took off on the run in order to get close before it flew away. As I was about to stop running and take a pic the lone Black-necked Stilt took off!!! Sorry, no picture. :-(

I did manage to get a few good shots of a Tricolored Heron, also known as a Louisiana Heron. It was actively feeding, acting almost like a Reddish Egret, chasing down small fish in a bit of a frenzy.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

We moved on to a number of Bob’s other favorite birding locations. As the morning became progressively hotter the birds became less active and less visible. At one location, which happened to be where my brother and his wife were recently married, we spotted a pair of Green Herons along a small river/stream. I took this picture of the male Green Heron showing off his head feathers and strutting his stuff along the bank of the stream.

Little Green Heron

Little Green Heron

We heard the distinctive call of the Osprey up high in the trees as we were driving along. Bob pulled over and we all admired and photographed a handsome bird as he proceeded to tear into his morning catch.

Osprey

Osprey

A Bluebird posed for us in Bluebird Meadow.

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A Snowy stood atop a craggily dead tree.

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And of course gators lurked everywhere!

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Thank you to Bob Hill of Kiawah Island for being so generous with his time and for disclosing all of his favorite birding spots to me. Thank you to Allan for introducing us and for suggesting that we meet up and experience Kiawah together.I enjoyed our three-hour tour thoroughly!!!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

Chasing the Elusive Belted Kingfisher ~ patience is a virtue!

For years now while I’ve been out photographing eagles, ospreys, herons, egrets, pelicans and other shorebirds, there has been one bird that has always kept its distance from me, the elusive Belted Kingfisher!

Many times I’ve been spotted running back and forth along marina docks, along coastal golf holes, through neighborhoods, along river banks and wetlands with my zoom pointed skyward chasing this little bird that has the speed and spunk of Mighty Mouse! All the while its rattling laughter would taunt me and let me know that I wasn’t even close.

People must have often wondered if Bill has lost it. :-) I would frequently be talking to the Kingfisher saying things like, “So we meet again!” Or, muttering to myself, “The elusive Kingfisher strikes again!”

The other day our paths crossed once again, but this time was different! I had just finished my latest pelican painting, The Bystander, and I decided the next morning would be a good time to go out birding, enjoy a nice sunny morning, and look for new subjects to paint. One of my favorite birding locations, the Pitt Street Bridge right here in Mount Pleasant, SC, was my first stop.

Upon arrival I spent quite a bit of time photographing some Hooded Mergansers. I then walked the length of the Pitt Street Bridge without seeing much birdlife of any kind. I was happy to get the merganser shots but disappointed there weren’t more birds around given that it was low tide and feeding time.

I was thinking it was about time to move on to Shem Creek in search of the Brown Pelican, when I glanced over the wooden railing of the old bridge along the water and saw a beautiful female Belted Kingfisher perched on part of the railing, less than 5 feet away from me!

I quickly aimed my camera, but it was actually too close and too quick to get a photograph. The stocky, little bird with its large head and pointed beak made a bee-line right into the water below, piercing the surface like an arrow. I thought I’d blown my chance.

In a split second it resurfaced and flew up onto a nearby tower with either a tadpole or small fish. It shook its head back and forth like a terrier and then devoured the first of about a five-course meal!

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Again I was chasing the kingfisher back and forth along the waterfront, but this time it didn’t seem to mind my presence. It was too busy feeding to be bothered by me.

For the next hour and a half I worked hard on getting my settings right considering the lighting conditions and the background, knowing that this was my big chance.

I love the spiked hairdo that kingfishers often display so I wanted to make sure I captured that. I also wanted to make sure I got the glint of light on the eye, the rufous/chestnut colored band around the breast of this female kingfisher, her short little legs and her tail raised.

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I know that was hoping for a lot, but my Pitt Street Bridge female Belted Kingfisher was generous with her time that morning.

Kingfishers hover in mid-air like ospreys. They dive straight into the water like Brown Pelicans. They are little, but I’ve seen one chase a Great Blue Heron right down into the middle of a pond (herons are wading birds and not swimmers). I’ve also seen a cormorant take off when the mighty little Kingfisher appears. I’ve seen male kingfishers in aerial combat over territory they wish to control.

Belted Kingfishers are fascinating birds!

I’ve always thought it would be fun to paint a Belted Kingfisher, but my previous photographs of them lacked enough detail to paint one up close. This series of images, however, has just the right amount of detail to inspire a painting, or two.

I hope you enjoy the images and reading about my quest to capture the Belted Kingfisher on camera. I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to comment below.Thanks for reading my journal and for your interest in my art!!!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

Painting the Blues ~ alone and feeling blue?

Most often the Great Blue Heron is seen standing alone dressed in gray and dark blue, or flying solo across the sky. No matter what the weather, nothing seems to bother them. I’ve seen them stand as if frozen in the snow for long lengths of time, out on a limb in inclement weather, sleeping on one leg in the pouring rain, baking on a rock in 100-degree sunshine. If the Great Blue Heron is moody and gets the blues one would never know it. They always appear quite content right where they are and would prefer to just be left alone! ☺

Occasionally you might spot a pair together, especially in the spring during mating season. This fall I’ve witnessed a number of them chasing each other around lake areas, eventually separating and going their own way.

The Great Blue Heron is such an interesting bird to watch, photograph, and paint. It is a sneaky predator and has a stealth-like manner in how it stalks its prey. It glides with grace traveling long distances with relative ease due to its huge wingspan. Takes-offs and landings can be somewhat awkward due to their long, stick-like legs and s-curved neck in flight. Herons will also stand still for long periods of time waiting patiently for fish to swim by, or will rest on one leg for hours.

No matter how they are posed, I always find them fascinating to watch and photograph. It’s always hard for me to choose how I want to portray them in my next Blue painting. Having just completed a close-up portrait of one, entitled The Great One, I thought it would be interesting to look back over my Great Blue Heron paintings, compare them, and write a little bit about each bird.

I’ll start with The Great One. This bird was striking. In one of my photographs I called him The Warrior because his feathers were a little fluffed up from a shake and it looked like he had a coat of armor on. He was a bird you wouldn’t want to mess with. ☺ He was alone, as I watched him groom himself to perfection. He rested-up on one leg for a while and, as if a switch was flicked, turned hunter off in pursuit of his prey.

The Great One    by William R. Beebe, 24 x 24, Oil on canvas, $5100

The Great One by William R. Beebe, 24 x 24, Oil on canvas, $5100

I stumbled upon another solitary Blue on my birthday, January 10th. I was getting skunked on my morning bird outing. I looked up to the sky and kindly said, “It’s my birthday”. I looked down and in front of me and there he was, the Two Rivers Heron, standing in ice-cold water up to his knobby knees. He blended in with the grays, browns, and lavenders of the water surrounding him. I left him where I found him after spending at least a half hour photographing him. He was in no hurry and was appearing to enjoy his lazy, cold, Sunday morning.

Two Rivers Heron    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Two Rivers Heron by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

This next heron, entitled Beach Blue, was standing in the warm, clear waters of Sanibel, Florida. It was living the good life with plenty of fish to nibble on. A fisherman was nearby and he kept looking for the fisherman to toss him the small ones. Island living!

Beach Blue    by William R. Beebe, 12 x 10, Oil on board, SOLD

Beach Blue by William R. Beebe, 12 x 10, Oil on board, SOLD

In The Dance, two Great Blue Herons are depicted performing a springtime mating ritual, dancing around each other with their heads pointed skyward. It was the first time I had seen two herons together enjoying each other’s company. It was as if the entire dance was choreographed.

The Dance    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

The Dance by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Unlike The Dance, this next painting captures the heron in a somewhat awkward moment, Taking Flight. Some birds are more skittish than others. A movement or noise can cause the bird to suddenly take flight. This particular bird loved to hang out on this fallen tree. The tree provided a nice vantage point looking out over the marsh below.

Taking Flight    by William R. Beebe, 10 x 12, Oil on board, $1200

Taking Flight by William R. Beebe, 10 x 12, Oil on board, $1200

I often spot Blues early in the morning or late in the day. This Blue was an early bird! I took an early morning walk down along the river and there he was already out standing in perfectly calm river water. Usually the river has a flow to it but on that particular morning it was glassy calm and the heron was in his happy place. Morning Calm on the James was inspired by that moment. No place to go, no hurry, no shirt and no shoes! ☺

Morning Calm    on the James by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Morning Calm on the James by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

If it wasn’t for seeing this next Blue flying in overhead and landing on the tree, I might never have spotted him among the Spanish Moss. I think the Lowcountry Heron thought he was undetectable, camouflaged by the hanging moss similar in color and shape. He found a sunny spot to take in the late day sun. What Blues don’t realize is that even though they blend into their surroundings nicely, their white face in the light always gives them away.

Lowcountry Heron    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 11, Oil on Canvas, $1800

Lowcountry Heron by William R. Beebe, 14 x 11, Oil on Canvas, $1800

Lastly, this heron flew by low and slow. Prehistoric looking, huge in size and was on a mission. There was a fog over the lake but the bird stayed below radar, wings almost touching the surface. The painting is entitled Blue Morning and captures an early morning serene moment where the only noise around was the swooshing sound of the heron’s wings cutting through the moisture-laden air.

Blue Morning   by William R. Beebe, 24 x 48, Oil on Canvas, Commissioned/SOLD

Blue Morning by William R. Beebe, 24 x 48, Oil on Canvas, Commissioned/SOLD

Painting the Great Blue Heron is something I hope to do many more times. I hope those of you who love the Great Blue Heron enjoyed seeing my compilation of work over the last few years and reading about each bird.

I never get the Blues when I’m painting a Blue! Quite on the contrary. It puts me in my happy place.

Thank you as always for reading my journal and for following my art. I would love to hear from you if you would like to comment below. Thank you!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe