The Ever Elusive Tiger Heron

Stephen F. Dennstedt

The ever elusive Tiger Heron. Some birds are just harder to find and photograph than others. The Tiger Heron certainly qualifies as one of those birds. They use their tiger camouflage to great advantage especially amongst branches.

This poses a real challenge to the wildlife photographer tasked with photographing them. The branches, twigs and roots all conspire to confuse the camera’s autofocus. Also, they are usually in deep shade (sometimes contrasty mottled light).

I’ve photographed two different species of Tiger Heron in my travels: the Bare-throated Tiger Heron (found from Mexico to northwestern Colombia) and the Rufescent Tiger Heron (found from Central America through most of South America). I saw my first Bare-throated Tiger Heron’s in Yucatan, Mexico in 2012 and returned to photograph them in 2016 and 2017. While spending time in the Amazon I saw my first Rufescent Tiger Heron and managed to get a quick shot of him in 2015. The Great Blue Heron is pretty commonplace and I’ve photographed them in both the USA and Mexico.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron – Yucatan, Mexico

In Celestun, Yucatan I had to hire a boat to get me into the mangrove swamps and then step up onto a rickety-ass boardwalk to search for my prey. Sometimes I was successful and at other times I was not—the one thing I could always count on were the ubiquitous mosquitoes and the huge Golden Silk Orb-weaver Spiders (aka Banana Spiders) that inhabit the swamp year round. Unfortunately, during my first foray into the swamp in 2012 I was bitten by one of these large creatures and got pretty sick for 48-hours: a severe headache, nausea, pain and swelling (my finger turned purple and looked like a thumb).

Their venom has a neurotoxic effect similar to the bite of a Black Widow Spider but not so potent. Click HERE to read more about my experience with the Golden Silk Orb-weaver Spider in the mangrove swamps of Yucatan. While visiting Cuyabeno, Ecuador in the Northern Amazon River Basin in 2015 I had single quick glimpse of a Rufescent Tiger Heron along the banks of the river (nestled amongst a pile of dead branches) and managed one clear shot before our small river canoe passed him by. If it hadn’t been for my guide I would never have seen him.

Great Blue Heron – Yucatan, Mexico

Field Notes: My early shots in Yucatan (2012) and the Amazon (2015) were captured with my older Canon EOS 5D Mark II full-frame DSLR and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L (non-IS) USM super-telephoto prime lens. My later trips to Yucatan were photographed with my previously mentioned equipment (2016) and my Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM super-telephoto zoom lens (2017). I also shoot with my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV when I can get close enough to my subject. I love shooting (with a camera) all wildlife but especially large birds. SFD

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