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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Find peace with nature in local parks


Above / A great blue heron wades among the lily pads diving for fish along the shore in May Watts Pond at May Watts Park. Then…just as we got close…

Great blue heron takes flight with a click of our camera.

Appreciating our freedom and taking a break from electronic devices to experience the soft summertime drone of nature, we spotted another great blue heron wading along the banks of May Watts Pond, then flying to the other side when we ventured too close.

May Watts Pond is populated with lily pads that appear to float on top of the water. Right now, white flowers are in bloom. Floating lily pads are just one part of a larger pond plant with deep invasive roots that thrive in the shallow pond at May Watts Park.
The large great blue heron is amazingly quick…especially when diving for fish along the shoreline.
Imagine our thrill on a different day when we began to cross the footbridge in May Watts Park.

Why Penicks’ special connection with the great blue heron?

The great blue heron, Jeff Penick’s 4th-grade project, 1992, pictured here on the back deck, now has a permanent place in the Penick’s living room.

Back in the fall of 1992 when Jeff Penick was in fourth grade at Milton Avenue School in Chatham, New Jersey, his class had a parent/child assignment to create a “life-size” animal native to New Jersey.

Jeff thumbed through the encyclopedia and other nature books for ideas. With more than 1,000 species of wildlife in New Jersey and Jeff’s fondness for tree frogs and rabbits, I was surprised when he set his sights on the great blue heron, a species that breeds throughout New Jersey wetlands.

The great blue heron can stand 46 inches in height on long legs with a wingspan of 72 inches. Its upper body is blueish gray and its neck is grayish. Its large dagger-like bill is yellowish orange.  It’s tough to distinguish between males and females as they look similar.

Great blue heron typically lay 2 to 6 pale blue eggs. None of the birdwatchers we knew had ever seen a baby heron. We couldn’t find any photos, so building a baby heron was out of the picture.

We knew we could craft the body with chicken wire and cover it with plaster bandage wrap available at the art supply store.

We also knew we were challenged by the leg work to build a model to scale. How would it stand up to four feet?

After the wet plaster wrap dried, Jeff painted the model as per the description in our bird book. For the long legs, we found some Rebar at the lumber yard that we covered with masking tape. And a few days later our never-to-be-named great blue heron stood on exhibit in Mrs. Loftstrom’s 4th-grade classroom with a couple dozen other species native to New Jersey.

Wrapped carefully for the 800-mile-long ride in a moving van, the great blue heron sculpture made the move from Chatham to Naperville, Illinois, in early 1993.

Ever since, the big bird sculpture has had a prominent place in our living room.

That first spring in Naperville, we learned that the great blue heron also lives in Illinois, often perched high on rooftops in our neighborhood.

May Watts Park and Pond

For more than 27 years, our cameras have captured the large birds feeding regularly at May Watts Pond and we frequently see them with other waterfowl —egrets, Canada geese, Mallard ducks, seagulls and double-crested cormorants— along the DuPage River from the Riverwalk to Knoch Knolls Park.

Sometimes both an egret and a great blue heron have been caught wading for our camera in May Watts Pond.
This photo just might inspire a painting more than a sculpture. 

Early the other day, the sun was just right for some beautiful photos of the great blue heron, the largest heron in North America, as it flew, fished, fed and waded at May Watts Park.

The .89-mile trail around May Watts Park provides a peaceful path to observe precious nature every day of the year. And wildflowers, attracting busy bees and beetles, are just beginning to bloom in June.

Bees and beetles hover atop clover and wildflowers along the limestone path at May Watts Park.

FYI: Just as the elementary school adjacent to it in the West Wind subdivision, the park is named for May Theilgaard Watts (1893 – 1975), writer, teacher, founder of the Illinois Prairie Path and former Naperville resident.


The great blue heron is so North American

Photo by Mark Yustein 

Longtime friend Mark Yustein in Glen Ridge, NJ, sent the above photo with some of his wit after he saw one of the Illinois great blue herons posted by Positively Naperville.

“Took this shot a few years ago. I think it’s the same bird!” he wrote, referring to a photo PN posted.

PN File Photo Washington, D.C.

On September 3, 2016, while visiting Washington, D.C., the great blue heron greeted us at the National Mall as we headed toward the World War II Memorial to meet up with the Indy Honor Flight.

According to Wikipedia, the great blue heron is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands.

Related Post / Start with A B C and Find P E A C E in nature

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PN Editor
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