The attack was so swift and unexpected that it took me a whole second to understand what just happened. At the time, after handholding the 1Ds Mark II, the 500mm f4 IS lens, and the 2x extender for a good 35 minutes, my arms were inert and the muscles so overstrained that my reaction to the green heron attack was sluggish, to say the least; not only I missed the plunging moment, it took me a good second to catch him coming out of the water. The next click on the shutter was simply a reflex reaction, which included the clumsy attempt to reposition the lens to get the whole bird in the frame.
To understand my perplexion, here’s the sequence of full-frame photographs with the exact elapsed time:
Frame 1: 12:38:53PM – getting in position
Frame 2: 12:38:56PM (3 seconds elapsed) – motionless, eyeing the prey, preparing to strike
Frame 3: 12:39:06PM (10 seconds elapsed) – motionless, waiting to strike, neck inclination adjustment
Frame 4: 12:39:06PM (less than a second elapsed) – motionless, waiting to strike, almost invisible adjustment to the neck inclination
>>> STRIKE <<< (while scratching my head for a fraction of a second)
Frame 5: 12:39:08PM (2 seconds elapsed) – coming out of the water
Frame 6: 12:39:10PM (2 seconds elapsed) – drying out
A cropped close-up to better observe the crest in comparison to the dry version of the bird. Also, note the small algae at the base of the bill.
From the above photo sequence we can note, it took the green heron, 1-1.5 seconds to plunge in the water for prey and come out on the same perch. This particular individual is an adult male green heron. Photographed from an artificial blind in the middle of the day.
Note: The green heron is one of the few birds using “tools” to catch its prey. They regularly use bait such as crusts of bread, insects, and feathers to attract small fish at the surface.