For over a decade, Great Blue Herons have visited my backyard ponds in NW Oregon. They’ve eaten some of my goldfish, driven away all of the hated bullfrogs, and provided many viewing hours of their heart pounding beauty as they strut between the grapes and lavender.
My house is in the middle of densely treed suburbs so the Heron must wend its way to my three backyard ponds. It’s tried different aerial routes, following dead end streets and dodging between 60 foot tall firs and redwoods. I’ve also seen it at a nearby lake, a half mile away.
It often landed on my roof or my neighbor’s roof.
The Heron would almost always approach the yard from this roof to the east.
It would usually land, walk to the larger pond and stab a fish or several.
In theory, this could still be the same Great Blue Heron that first visited 14 years ago. Their average lifespan is 15 years.
But their markings are so uniform you cannot tell one from another. If four different Herons visited in one day, or 10 in the last 15 years, I could not tell the difference. The females are smaller but I’ve never seen two together to compare.
This Spring, the visiting Heron abruptly began approaching from the South, rather than the east.
I lay in bed one morning, half awake, watching a dot far away in the sky. It got bigger and bigger and closer, as fast as a huge arrow. Now I could see its wings pump and I made eye contact from about 100 feet. But the Heron flew even faster right at my face, before heaving to and landing on the fence 20 feet from where I had slept.
I woke up quick and found a camera.
The heron froze on the fence and turned invisible. I could hear people walking by on the street, behind the heron on the other side of the fence, less than 10 feet away. No one, or their dogs, noticed the 3 foot bird with the stiletto, sitting on the fence. They were probably all looking at their phones. Trucks rumbled by. Helicopters rattled overhead.
I mentally urged the heron to hop down into the yard, which was more secluded. It did, after 10-15 minutes. Then It rapidly strode to my fish pond on its gangling legs, settled at water’s edge, and gave a little jump. It belly-flopped onto the water, while snaking its neck out and stabbing a fish.
Usually the heron sits on the bank, or wades into shallow water, and strikes with a quick head jab. But this heron jumped into the water while jabbing, maybe to reach deeper depths. It got fish every strike.
The Heron could have visited my ponds thirty times during May. I’ve seen it 4 times on some days; at 5 am, 8 am, the afternoon, and dusk. In the past I have rarely seen it 4 times in a whole year.
I’ve seen it “pouch” fish and carry the meal away, so it is probably a hard-working parent heron with hungry chicks nearby.
Sometimes I won’t see the Heron, but I’ll find other evidence it visited; the oil slicks, tipped over pots, stabbed pond equipment, and skittish fish.
This is the first year I’ve seen the Heron pouch fish. approach from the South, tolerate hooman presence daily, and execute the rare belly flop. Usually they just jab.
Is it a new Heron or two? Many Herons? I’m a lucky man.
I often see a Heron in a lake a half mile away. Where art thou?
Now it’s your turn.
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