Archives for April 2014

The Great Blue Heron (from “Growing Up and Other Stories”)

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— A TRUE STORY —

A glance at the clock told me it was 5:30 a.m. on a calm April morning.
I rolled to my right, and through our sliding glass door, a pink sky in the East met my eye. With a yawn and a stretch, the daily exercise ritual began: jumping jacks, pushups, knee-bends, and strength training.
After the usual morning routine, I reached for and filled my coffee cup by the kitchen window as the lake absorbed my attention.
The light sparkled off the peaceful water. Birds already chirped and fed at the outdoor feeder. A squirrel eyed the feeder, but skittered out of sight when our neighbor’s cat appeared.
A flash of subtle movement near the lake’s edge caught my attention. I studied the waterfront, the rip-rap wall, the flowering bushes of white Spirea, and, yes! Standing majestically at the shoreline was…
The Great Blue Heron.
He stood like a solid post near the water’s edge, waiting, waiting patiently for an unsuspecting fish or frog to saunter within reach. And then….
In a lightning move, the long beak dipped, caught, and swallowed it’s prey whole.
And the entire process began again.

We have at least two herons that visit our shoreline; one is young, eager, and quick…always in a hurry it seems, the other has what looks like the beard of an old man on the front of his long neck. He displays a methodical, stoic look, taking in his surroundings with leisure while he plays the waiting game for his meal.
Curious birds, these.

The great blue heron is long-legged. He has a sharp beak to aid in catching water animals. He stands about four feet tall, has an extremely long neck, and usually has a blue body, although some are tan or mottled. This one has a red-brown neck, and stripes of white near his eyes.
The blue heron lives in and around lakes, ponds, and marshy swamps. When he flies, his wings span about six feet. In flight, his wings move in graceful, slow, up-and-down movements as he glides effortlessly across the water. In flight, his neck is folded, unlike other egrets. He has an unforgettable squawk; hoarse and guttural. Not often do we hear that squawk since he is a quiet bird.
This old-timer has what might be called, camouflage. His blue-grey body is streaked with subtle black, and his tan neck and black-and-white head blend naturally with the surroundings. He is hard to see unless you know he’s there – which is exactly the way he wants it.
The great blue heron (Ardea herodias, his Greek name), is among the largest of the North American herons and egrets. His nest is a random pile of sticks in a bush or tree, usually high up. During the breeding season, the great blue heron’s plumage is quite elaborate, with longer feathers on its back, and shorter feathers on its neck.  The female lays 3 to 5 large blue eggs, and these hatch in about 28 days. The young herons take about two months before they fly. Herons live in small colonies.
A heron’s menu consists of turtles, frogs, snakes, crawfish, lizards, small rodents, and, of course, fish.
As I stand on my pier fly-casting in the shallow water, a dark shadow crosses me, and looking up, I see the graceful wide wings of the blue heron pass over me like a prehistoric pterodactyl. My eyes trace his slow wing beat, as he glides closer, closer to the water, and skims the surface with remarkable ease.
His morning breakfast hunt is over.