I’ve been commissioned to paint a Great Blue Heron for someone, and yesterday I took my sketchbook to our excellent local wildlife rehabilitation center, Wildcare, and was allowed into an enclosure where a cattle egret and a one-winged Great Blue are regaining strength. I don’t think it will be released (you’ll note how through the magic of art I replaced the missing wing) but it was very handsome and healthy in every other respect.
The enclosure was large and had a bubbling water feature and a tray of fish and skinned rats. There were small trees, grasses and woody shrubs for the heron and egret to perch on, prowl and hide in. Getting a clear look wasn’t easy with the shy bird, and it became something of a comedy routine. While I sat quietly in the grass (ignoring the ticks and chiggers working their way into my clothes) the Great Blue did a Groucho Marx impression. Leaning forward it stalked back and forth, with its wide black “eyebrow”and a long cigar in the mouth (okay, it was a beak, not a cigar- tell it to Freud). Finally it went behind an enclosure wall and hid from view. A minute later long toes of one foot appeared, testing the waters of visibility. The tip of the bill came out, then the eyes, which stared at me before pulling back. We played peek-a-boo for awhile as I, who was sitting in full sun (right next to the dead fish and rat party platter), dripped big huge sweat drops and tried to hold perfectly still.
Finally, the heron stepped into view, facing me head on (does this narrow view of it decrease it’s own visibility to a predator?), and gingerly waited to see what I’d do. Rather than looking directly at it, I got busy sketching, looking up occasionally and then only with sidelong glances. I pretended to be totally uninterested in the heron, which seemed to increase its curiosity about ME. I ended up with a nice little sketch of a heron waffling between curiosity and apprehension, with curiosity winning in the end. Not sure what I’ll do with it, but I’m putting here as a reminder of my morning with Groucho.