May 26th, 2019

A park, a wetlands and a wildlife sanctuary – Huntley Meadows park is one of those great surprises found in Fairfax County, Virginia.  A Peaceful, unusual and beautiful wildlife habitat in the midst of Alexandria Virginia’s busy streets and neighborhoods.

We found this beautiful gem of wildlife activity about 4 years ago while searching the northern Virginia area for a place to view wildlife.  Covering over 1,500 acres with over 10 miles of maintained and informal trails, multiple observation towers and several hundred yards of boardwalks, wildlife viewing possibilities are endless.

Dance of the Courting Great Blue Heron

On this particular morning at Huntley Meadows Park, the weather was beautiful and my fellow photographers were out in modest numbers.  The activity initially was on the slow side.  Having visited this park on a semi regular basis, I had noted in my last few visits that the topography has changed significantly in certain areas that surround the boardwalk.  The vast vegetation that embraced the boardwalk in areas has diminished due to beaver activity.  This activity has caused water levels to rise and the vegetation in certain areas to recede or disappear altogether.  This change has caused the reduction in the number of shore and wading birds that we would normally see in great numbers.  Additionally, what we do see tend to be much further away.  These birds include Green Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and various other shore and wading birds.

I was spending the morning chasing some Redheaded Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, a single Green Heron and the occasional Osprey when a mating pair of Great Blue Herons decided to show up.  I spent the next hour and a half capturing image after image of these two herons putting on a show of dancing courtship.  The male made many trips to the woods to retrieve a branch or stick to offer his mate, and then they would precede to enter a display of dance and courting activity that was amazing to see.  This courtship included bill snapping, neck stretching, preening, stick exchange, crest raising and bill play.

To this day, the Great Blue Heron is still one of my favorite birds to photograph.