My Fish, Damn You! A Hungry Heron’s Tale

It’s been one of those weekends filled with fortunate happenstances. B’s household emptied out for a camping trip, so we took the place over. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted, so when the weather suddenly cleared late Saturday afternoon, we buggered off to Juanita for a nice walk and some vitamin D production. It was far less crowded than expected. There was only one gentleman and his dog birdwatching at the first cul-de-sac in the wetland, and one mighty large heron hanging about on a log.

A great blue heron, standing upon a half-submerged log, surrounded by pads that will soon be full of lilies.

A great blue heron, standing upon a half-submerged log, surrounded by pads that will soon be full of lilies.

It really was a tall bird. Here’s some perspective:

A wider version of the above, showing the bit of Juanita Bay where the heron fishes.

A wider version of the above, showing the bit of Juanita Bay where the heron fishes.

And there were red-wing blackbirds, one of whom would later cause our hungry heron some grief.

A red-wing blackbird hanging about on the cattails.

A red-wing blackbird hanging about on the cattails.

The heron was being boring. It didn’t look like it would move for the next century or so, and I got occupied looking at some unusual wetlands plants, and the gentleman was speculating upon when the heron would go fish, while the dog chilled and B associated with a duck. So the gentleman was the only one ready to get the whole sequence of the fast-moving action that came next, alas. It began with the heron spotting a catfish and spearing it in a flash, followed by the blackbird deciding that, even though the heron is enormous compared to it, that catfish was worth trying to steal. I saw the blackbird swoop down and harry the heron, but didn’t have time to swing the camera about until it had given up and gone away. Drat.

But I’m pretty damned happy with the shot I got just after the heron had turned away in a huff.

The heron, catfish in beak, crouched in the lily pads with its wings out.

The heron, catfish in beak, crouched in the lily pads with its wings out.

That, my friends, is the most magnificent photo of a heron I’ve ever managed. I’m in love with it.

You can tell this heron’s had it rough. It’s been scrapping with more than red-wing blackbirds, judging from the raw spot on its wing. So I’m quite pleased for it, managing to catch such a tasty fat fishy.

Our heron, posing prettily with the fishy in its beak, standing tall in triumph, and also wondering where it's going to go to get this thing off its beak without losing it.

Our heron, posing prettily with the fishy in its beak, standing tall in triumph, and also wondering where it’s going to go to get this thing off its beak without losing it.

It stood on the log for a bit, with the turtles looking on in admiration (and probably pretty smug about the whole evolving-armor thing). Then it waded off into the water.

Our heron treading off toward the shore, looking for a likely spot for lunch. You just know it's headed for some place in the tall grass or the cattails where we won't be able to watch nature being nature.

Our heron treading off toward the shore, looking for a likely spot for lunch. You just know it’s headed for some place in the tall grass or the cattails where we won’t be able to watch nature being nature.

And I managed one last shot as it crouched and readied itself to possibly fly away…

Our heron, complete with fish dinner, crouched and ready to spring into action, as a turtle dives at its feet, having decided this obtaining supper scheme sounds like a darned good idea.

Our heron, complete with fish dinner, crouched and ready to spring into action, as a turtle dives at its feet, having decided this obtaining supper scheme sounds like a darned good idea.

…but it actually just ended up hopping into a tall clump of grass. The gentleman said this heron likes doing that, so apparently it’s a regular here, and so should I be, if I want to get even more awesomesauce heron dining shots.

I got you some other lovely photos of various and sundry, which I’ll have up soonish. Right now, though, I have to go cuddle my kitty by way of apologizing for ditching her for other kitties for a night. It’s no consolation to her that neither Kirby nor Luna slept with me, nor that Kirby walked all the way down the hall and trod all over his daddy rather than just nudging me to navigate the few steps from couch to door to let him out this morning. Cats. They always go for the person who’ll have to work the hardest to meet their needs, don’t they?

As for those of you who may be wondering what became of the red-wing blackbird after his ill-fated attempt to steal from a heron, he went chuckling off into the rushes and appeared quite content. The gentleman with the dog says he regularly harries the herons. Once I’m free of ye olde daye jobe, I may just have to head down to see if I can capture another chapter in this story.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    The heron was being boring. It didn’t look like it would move for the next century or so

    Herons are “hang around motionlessly and wait for a fish to wander by so it can get lunch” birds, more properly called “ambush predators”. It’s a useful hunting tactic when the prey is generally faster or more maneuverable than the predator.

  2. says

    I had a heron denude my pond of frogs. :(. He also ate my bullfrog, Winston.*

    The next spring I relocated frog eggs from another pond.

    (* all my bullfrogs are named Winston, they are a collective. I am not actually sure the heron ate Winston but Winston fell silent the rest of the year after the heron came, so I assign it the blame.)

  3. janeymack says

    Beautiful shots! I love to watch herons hunt, or fly, or just stand around looking impressive. I’ve never spotted any bonus turtles, though. I’m obviously hanging around in the wrong spots!

  4. Trebuchet says

    Great shots! I didn’t even know we had catfish here, but it clearly is one.

    Gonna disagree on the blackbird’s motivations, however. It’s probably trying to drive off a predator, protecting its nest.

  5. Trebuchet says

    Oh, and I just noticed that the fishy is actually speared by the heron’s lower bill. That’s something I believe they do routinely, but I don’t know how they manage to subsequently un-spear and it it!

  6. Lithified Detritus says

    Great pictures! I love watching great blue herons, but the ones around here tend to be kind of shy of people. There is a rookery not too far from here that is visible from the road, if you know where to look. Fortunately for the birds, it’s on private property, and not accessible to humans.

  7. says

    I have a friend with a coy pond and he says he has lost maybe 100 coy to a blue heron. And he can sell his fish for up to $120 apiece to other coy pond owners.

    He has tried strings to block the bird, talk radio to keep them at bay. He is now considering filling in the pond.

  8. petemoulton says

    You’re perched precariously atop a very slippery slope, Dana. The Great Blue is one of the two birds that turned me into a lifelong birder, more than 40 years ago.

  9. elspeth says

    Amazing photos, yes! I’m really looking forward to more of them.

    I haven’t seen a heron catch a fish, much less watch one eat it. Does it use a foot to take it off?

    Herons are a bad match for ponds full of fish we actually want, like koi. There used to be a somewhat funny list of methods that don’t work to discourage herons. A significantly raised pond edge does actually help; although obviously herons can fly and should be able to just land IN the pond, they seem to prefer to wade in and out. There’s also a device called I think, a Scarecrow, that is a high-pressure fast sprinkler triggered by a motion sensor. Again, not sure why wading birds wouldn’t want to get wet, but apparently they don’t like it.

    Other than enclosing or covering the pond with mesh, that’s all I’ve got for the koi breeder. :shrug: