When you live in Ontario Canada, you see lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons. I’ve seen so many individuals over the years I couldn’t begin to try giving you a number here. What I remember most about them is the bird next to it in my old Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (YCNH). Oh how I wanted to see that bird. I’ve spent my entire life wanting to find one. Then, this summer, a juvenile shows up near Toronto and I have to see it. This short story is about my first YCNH encounter.

I was shooting a commercial in Toronto. It was a couple days from me heading into the city to shoot when I saw a YCNH show up on our Ontario list serve. I’m actually shooting pretty near this bird. So I make my plan. It’ll be easy as 1, 2, 3. Or will it?

  1. I head into the city and do what’s called a tech scout. You go to the location where the commercial is shot and plan out the shots you’ll do to make the spot. The tech scout is scheduled to end at 2:30 pm. Plenty of time to rip out to the pond and get the bird afterward. BUT, the tech scout goes long – until 4:00 pm. No biggie, I’m still going to try. It should only take fifteen minutes to drive there. Over an hour later and I’m only one-third of the way there. Traffic. The kind of traffic that feels like you’re living in slow motion. It’s excruciating. I’m supposed to have another meeting at 6:00 pm so I abandon the effort.
  1. I head back to the city three days later to shoot the commercial. My plan is to see the bird, then head to the hotel and do the pre-production meeting. That’s the meeting where everyone (the agency, the client, and the director) go over all the details of the shoot. It typically happens the day before a shoot. So, I wake super early to beat the traffic out to the pond to find the bird. I get there with plenty of time to spare. I find a birder that says they saw it moments ago. I’m likely seconds from my lifer YCNH. Then, he looks at me with unease. “What…”, I ask. A person with a dog came buy and scared it off. Mildly upset, I head around the pond to try my luck anyway. I find what I think is the bird. I pull my bins up to look and it flies. I barely get a look at it before it’s into the trees — the frustratingly dense, thick, green, leafy trees. It’s gone. The bird seemed wrong for BCNH. But it’s not a tick-worthy view for sure. I search around for a half hour, trying to find it. No dice. Frustrated, I leave so I’m not late for my meeting.
  1. The next day is shoot day. No time for birds. Commercial shoots are generally 12+ hours long so nothing but that happens on that day. We shoot the spot. It goes according to plan. Everyone is happy with the outcome and we will edit it the following week. With that done, I go eat dinner with my producer and director. It’s a nice dinner. Good conversation, good food, good beer, but all I can think about is the YCNH. I retire early like a loser and they all know why. I missed my bird, I gotta’ go get it the next day. I wake up early again and arrive as the sun comes out. I find a birder who says he just saw it but a dog scared the bird up into the trees. It’s like Groundhog Day. I wander unhappily back to where he said he saw it fly into the trees. I search and search and search. Nothing. Then, there’s a bird. I get excited, put my scope to it aaaaand, BCNH… Crap! This seems like it’ll never happen. I sit a while, look at pics of the bird posted by birders of greater skill than me on Flickr. People that have actually seen this bird. Every shot is right out in the open, it’s feeding, posing just for them. What is wrong with me? I start to look again. I finally see a night heron! It’s poking out behind some leaves. It slowly comes out a little more. That’s what I’m looking for. I move my scope and get awesome footage of it. I spend a good hour with it, show it to a few other birders (one on her third try for it). We all fall hopelessly in love with the bird. Then, I pack up my stuff and go. Tick.

-Paul Riss



YCNH from Paul Riss on Vimeo.

To see more of Paul’s work, check out his website or connect with him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

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