Some Great Blue Heron adventures…

How is it possible for any wild creature to live without adventure?…. it is only the human who is sheltered by trees and expectations who will not have the opportunity to see them…..  What I am able to share is meager in some ways yet shows us that wild life is wild with patterns not so different than our own…  Because I ‘visited’ the heron so often, some of the curtain was lifted….

One day after off-loading my photos to my computer, I was able to see a long string of something hanging from the heron’s beak. juvenileheronmouth Was it interfering with his hunting or eating?  I sent the photos to Ellen Mass (FAR) who sent them to a bird expert who identified the something as plastic debris (pollution) adhered to the side of the heron’s beak.  Likely, he said, the heron would rub it off… but if not… it could become a problem…   Bird meets human world… bird at risk.   So we gathered Animal Control plans and waited….  He was unfindable for a couple of days(ill from hunger, weak and hiding, or a better place to hunt??)….but reappeared minus plastic….  we would not have to attempt the undoable act of catching a heron.  Such relief!…Bird conquers civilization… finally it comes out right….

By now this young bird has decided that Yates Pond is his territory.  Herons (or many other birds) don’t always need to be territorial about feeding areas…..yet I believe his connection could have been his origins…. the two herons who I had seen in this area earlier were perhaps his parents?…. could they have nested on this edge of the Reservation?… Perhaps his territory was his safe place as parents were long gone (or were they?)…. and survival was only in his control (or was it?)….. So much burden for such a young creature…..  Many geese and ducks liked Yates Pond as well… and they did not bother him (plant eaters mostly) unless the geese became to loud or decided to tease him … he would rasp out his complaint … and they would back off…. he had become King and he liked it….comorantbrownonbranchcomorontcomingup

Until…. the day some new birds arrived…a new species in fact… double-breasted cormorants….. two landed on the heron’s favorite dead tree branch… he was not happy.. and so began the fight for Yates Pond… perhaps the heron’s avian rite of passage… or one of them…    Cormorants look relatively small but have a 6-8 foot wing span…. fish lovers, they hunt differently, diving completely below water for several seconds and emerging with or without lunch…..they keep swimming and diving until they are full… but if their feathers get too wet they will go to land, spread their wings to dry so they may continue…   To the heron, they are competition for the fish… and he was not going to let that happen…. their presence in the pond was not acceptable….comorantblackwingsextended copy

Early on, it was clear to the brown and black cormorants…..likely a pair… that they were upsetting the heron…. he darted, he complained… he took to the trees where he rarely stands…. the geese and ducks were gathering for this exciting event…. and the cormorants continued to swim, dive, eat and spread their wings on his favorite branch…..  This played out for several hours every afternoon for a few days…. the brown cormorant left soon… but the black liked to fly over Yates Pond, circling 4 or 5 times indicating his intent to return…..  and what could the heron do?…..   he stood his ground….he fished….and looked miserable….but dedicated…

I noticed something peculiar that perhaps was a coincidence…. about 2 blocks away the second heron I had been able to photograph in the spring suddenly appeared again…. sitting on the sandbar in the Little River…. puffed and unmoving…..always I will wonder if this was “Dad” who would if needed be nearby to help his young son…. fatherheronnearby

Every afternoon, the black cormorant would fish, approach the heron in a teasing way, dive, sun himself…. and eventually leave, circling the pond several times…. clearly planning to come back…   this became an event… and an audience of people joined the geese and ducks….

One afternoon the heron was not there…. just not there… the black cormorant ( the other had since left this battle) sat on the dead branch looking all around….. he fished, he ate, he sunned his wings….. and then he looked….  finally he just looked…. it was startling… no one could predict this determined heron would just leave suddenly….  eventually the cormorant left, too, and Yates Pond was empty of bird life…. and so it went for a couple of afternoons…. no heron seen… the cormorant was reduced to a permanent watch as he sat there…. had he won so easily?… was the heron somewhere watching?….  were some of my thoughts….

So the cormorant stopped coming too…. and Yates Pond was visited by some geese and ducks only….

The heron returned one day… he took his favorite position on the tree branch… looking taller and proud as ever…. he stalked fish, complained to the geese when they got too loud, and took naps in the late summer sun…. there were no more cormorants…. the King of Yates Pond was back on his throne…. in the distance you could hear the sound of one hand clapping….

So we think we know something about bird ways…. but perhaps not so much….   Sometimes a heron will sit with his bent legs spread, feet close….it’s called the Buddha pose…. and no one really knows why they do it…. but …  they do it……



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