"Ah, gentlemen, you know why we are here."
This photo does bear an disconcerting resemblance to a scafolding set piece housing the Council of Priests from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar but it wasn’t constructed by a scenery crew and it isn’t the result of central casting. It is the Great Blue Heron rookery, an ambitious neighborhood renovation project tucked into a corner of the Berksdale Golf Course in beautiful Bella Vista Arkansas. The herons who populate this rookery have been hard at work rebuilding nests damaged by this seasons storms that blew through the Ozarks in early 2020.
Herons are solitary birds much of the time. They hunt alone but they breed in colonies. There is safety in numbers. There is always a bird around the rookery keeping watch to protect the group. Great Blue Herons, the largest of all herons found in the United States, can be seen in Bella Vista year round. In late winter and early spring they diligently rebuild and expand their breeding and nesting habitat. Rookery improvements continue year after year-every year, not just those years when wind and rain blow things around. Nest building is part of the mating ritual. The twig nests grow larger and more sound every year growing to 3-4′ in diameter providing these big birds and their brood space and security while they raise their families.
Males arrive first and choose a nest with which to woo a mate. Heron’s are are not monogamous for life but are within a breeding season. Once a pair has committed to stay together and raise a family, they continue to work on the nest together eventually incubating 3-5 eggs. During the mating season, you can observe fragments of the elaborate heron mating ritual which includes bill snapping, neck stretching, preening, circular flights, twig shaking, bill duels. Twig shaking? Is this where the “more than you can shake a stick at…” phrase originated. In the spirit of community, herons share twigs between partners and neighboring nest builders.
By spring, the chicks have hatched and the view is sweetly domestic. Quin caught the rambunctious teens just about ready to take off on their own.
The great blue herons of Bella Vista and their human neighbors have the kind of relationship that allows both communities to live side by side in harmony. If you do decide to visit Bella Vista and see this nature drama play out yourself, observe this neighborhood from a respectful distance.
These photographs were taken by Quin Warsaw and John Huse, both members of the Bella Vista Photography Club
Quin Warsaw aka “Snappy” is a prolific and talented photographer and videographer. His primary interest and subject are the wide variety of birds residing in and migrating through Bella Vista and the surrounding Ozark region. He and his family also have turned their backyard into a bird sanctuary, where Snappy documents many different species and their habits.
This year, Snappy watched over a bluebird box and documented a bluebird pair as they successfully hatched and fledged five chicks. His photographs can be seen on his Facebook page Snappy’s View.