Here's a similar shot, taken just a few minutes after the blue heron. Comments?
John, you're asking for critiques in a tough crowd here! You've seen that the expectations from such bird shots are: extremely sharp focus on the eyes, frozen motion, good feather detail and some isolation from the background. Tough to get it all and I'm not saying that I've done it.
You can probably, rightly blame some of the softness on the focus technique and the lens. Might have to stop down a bit next time - of course, that won't help with isolating the background.
For the images that you have, since they were shot in RAW, there are probably some improvements that can be made. I certainly wouldn't toss them until I had something better!
I'd like to think that some "capture sharpening" with software like Pixel Genius's PhotoKit Sharpener would help; follow that up with some high pass sharpening or edge sharpening to try to bring out the feather detail.
In fact, typing as I think about it, it is said by some that the sharpening tools in ACR and the PS "Smart Sharpen" are supposed to help with lens or motion problems. I'd sure try those as well before giving up on the picture. (Watch now, several people will jump all over me for saying those words about ACR sharpen, smart sharpen, lens correction, etc -- and they're probably right but by the time I read the replies you'll know for yourself.)
These being nature shots, you don't want to tinker with blurring the background, etc. in Photoshop. (Well, I would do it except that I can't do a very good job of it.) You might have more success with getting two RAW developments, "underexposing" one of them and blending the two.
Seems like you've increased the contrast. Be careful to use "curves" for contrast and do that carefully because contrast tends to wipe out feather detail.
I hope you make a large print, at least 8x10 or so, and show your pictures to family and friends. The prints might come out better if printed on matte paper as that might hide the softness. Remember that sharpening for matte paper is different from glossy paper and both are different from sharpening for a web display.