Herons are such big birds that you’d think they should always be easy to see. however, they are really good at hiding in plain sight. That long thin neck is well-camouflaged against a background of reeds and other tall grasses.
And what about when they are nesting? Surely a big bird needs a big nest? Well, yes, but can you see the nests in the photo below?
This is Westfield Pill, near Neyland. It is one of the easiest places to look at a colony of herons, There can be a dozen nests here, and because they are on the opposite side of the Pill to the footpath, they are not disturbed by people walking dogs, or stopping to look through binoculars.
Herons can be seen around the county all through the year, but nesting colonies are few and far between. Westfield Pill is probably the largest colony in Pembrokeshire, but there are others – near Velindre Farchog, Millin Pill, Cwm Cych, Sealyham, Priskilly and Upton, for example, but these are all on private land, and not used to there being people around. Nesting herons are notoriously susceptible to disturbance, so please don’t go looking too closely for them. There are usually one or two nests at Bosherston Lily Ponds, but they aren’t easy to see even though they are just across the water from the footpaths.
When the leaves are out, the nests virtually disappear, and the only evidence of nesting is the coming and goings of the adults, and the calls of the chicks. So, if you want to see them nesting, March is the best time.
If you see a lot of heron activity way from the areas mentioned above, (and away from places were they are just fishing), then please report it here so the site can be checked and if appropriate, added to the national database.
The above pictures show a juvenile heron (left) – he’s generally greyish, with no really distinct head and neck markings. At a year old, the young heron is still greyish, but paler, and the colour patterns begin to show. however, they are not fully developed until at least two years old when they first attempt to breed.
Herons are amazing birds to watch. This one is delicately inspecting and preening the underside of a wing, while standing on one leg! It looked like the slightest gust of wind would have blown it over. But they do also spend a lot of time standing around doing nothing.
Of course, while you are looking for herons, don’t forget to look around for other species to record. Heronries are often in woodland, so there could be primroses, lesser celandine, and other woodland flowers, as well as birds and even a few insects at this time of year.