Great blue heron dazzles at Keystone State Park
Sightings of a pair of bald eagles have created the latest sensation among admirers of wildlife at Keystone State Park.
An equally impressive and more frequently seen member of the Derry Township park’s winged denizens is a great blue heron that plucks daily meals from the stocked Keystone Lake.
Regular park visitors fondly call the heron “Harry,” but park naturalist Jean Keene has been unable to determine the flashy bird’s gender.
”It appears to be relatively used to people being around, a rarity for the majority of the birds that inhabit the park,” Keene said. “It will stay relatively close to a visitor that is enjoying the lake’s shore as long as the person doesn’t show it attention. If someone approaches it, however, it will fly off, giving a grumping call in the process, typically moving just a tad further along the shoreline to continue its hunting.”
Recently, the bird was seen joining human anglers along the lake shore near the causeway. Several times it retreated to the top of a nearby treeline, especially when visitors with leashed dogs approached.
The largest of Pennsylvania’s native heron species, the great blue heron uses its long legs to wade along the shoreline of a body of water, spears its prey with a long, pointed bill and then gulps it down whole, Keene said.
Its variable diet — including fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, insects, rodents and smaller birds — allows it to spend the winter farther north than most herons, according to the National Audubon Society. Keene has seen Keystone’s heron at the park during winter months.
Great blue herons are a common, but spectacular, sight in the area, Keene said. They can measure 38 inches long with a 70-inch wingspread, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Loyalhanna Creek, located in the same watershed as Keystone Lake, has several rookeries — clusters of heron nests — along its banks, Keene said.
One of those rookeries is about a mile upstream of the Gray Wing Park kayak launch in New Alexandria, the destination of the annual Loyalhanna Sojourn paddling excursion along the creek beginning in Latrobe.
“Participants in the Loyalhanna Sojourn often hear this rookery before reaching it as the young herons in the nest can be a bit noisy, squawking at passersby on the stream,” Keene said.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .