The Blue Hole Project is an ongoing personal project I began a few months ago to document the various wildlife that inhabits or utilizes one of the only freshwater sources in the Florida Keys.

A female Green Heron stands up in her nest, revealing three blue eggs.

Sunset from The Blue Hole viewing platform

Freshwater in the Florida Keys is scarce, and has been pumped in from the mainland since humans have set up establishment on the chain of islands.  The Biscayne Aquifer is the major source of freshwater, which is pumped through a 130-mile pipeline to Key West, delivering water to homes, and businesses. For wildlife, freshwater sources are nearly nonexistent. There is one source of freshwater on Big Pine Key known as the Blue Hole. This pool of water is the result of rainwater filling an abandoned rock quarry used by Henry Flagler to extract rock to build his famous overseas railroad. Today, a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and even the Florida Alligator us the Blue Hole for nesting, hunting, drinking, and cooling off. 

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are frequent visitors to the Blue Hole to fish and raise their young. When it comes to fishing, Green Herons are quite unique in that they fish more like humans than other wading birds. They create fishing lures with insects, worms, twigs, and feathers to entice fish into a deadly trap.  Behaviors like these leave the imagination to wonder why the term bird-brain is used as a negative connotation. As the breeding season begins in summer, Green Herons pair up with a single mate, performing courtship displays that include loud calling, snapping their bills, and stretching their necks. Before this courtship display the male will begin building the nest, but then passes the majority of the responsibility to his mate once courtship is completed. 

Courtship

Nesting Green Herons at the Blue Hole is a common occurrence, as many will nest at the same time around this small body of water. Many Green Herons, such as the pair I documented, use overhanging branches over the waters edge to provide a safe location for their nest.  I photographed this pair over the course of a few weeks until the one surviving hatchling fledged the nest.  This is the first of multiple short photographic stories I will be doing on the various wildlife that calls the Blue Hole its home.

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