In early spring the melting snows of New England flow south along the Connecticut River through Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut on down to the mouth of the river in Long Island Sound. Many low lying areas along the river’s path endure seasonal flooding as the spring melt moves through them.
One such area is the Wangunk Meadows in Portland Connecticut which is home to one of natures spectacular spring time shows, the return of the Great Blue Herons to their mating grounds or rookery. Located along the edge of Wangunk Meadows the Herons have built their nests high up in the bare trees. In many cases the nests are left overs from previous years and the Herons will re-occupy them and reinforce them. The area is isolated, on one side it is all trees that seem to grow out of the flooded waters, on the other a land locked stretch of water that only grows larger when the floods come. On the far side of the “pond” is the only vantage point accessible by land to view the rookery. It is about a 1 mile hike from the closest road, Glastonbury Turnpike, and leaves you a few hundred yards shy of the nesting Herons. For those familiar with the area you can access it by kayak when the floods have come by starting out at the Portland Fairgrounds and working your way through the marsh and trees to the land locked stretch of water.
In either case, once you get there you are in for a treat. With over 140 nests in the rookery there is almost always activity going on. The male is usually the first to arrive back at the rookery and they settle on a nest where they will court the females when they arrive. Once a mate has been selected the female will lay between 3 and 6 eggs. Over the next 27 days they will take turns incubating the eggs with the male also working to gather twigs to reinforce the nest. The series of images below show common activity at the rookery from gathering twigs to incubating eggs to the ritual between a female and male who has brought a twig back to the nest for her to place in it.
Common Rookery Activities (click on images)
Once the young have hatched both the male and female will work together to feed the young. After 60 plus days the young will weigh in at about 75% of an adults weight. They will take their first flight at this time but will continue returning to the nest to be fed for three weeks. After this they will slowly disperse out onto their own.
A full grown Heron can be up to 4 feet tall with a wingspan stretching out to 6 feet. Because of their size they require a large territory for feeding, hence they tend not to be a social bird. In most instances you will see Herons in situations such as is depicted in the two images below. Alone and hunting.
Beginning in late March to mid April the nests will start filling up and provide bird watches and photographers with the rare opportunity to venture back in to prehistoric times and catch a glimpse of today’s Pterodactyl flying gracefully through the sky. Over the weeks and months that follow ever changing opportunities will present themselves to those who venture off to any of the numerous rookeries scattered though out New England, some as small as a handful of nests, others as large if not larger than the Portland Rookery.