After another tremendous winter of snowy owl photography I’ve been staying relatively close to home and following the progress of two pairs of nesting sandhill cranes and, more recently, a single blue heron.
This heron fishes almost daily on a pond outside Cambridge, Ontario and is fascinating to watch as it wanders about the shallow water looking for prey.
They are methodical predators, these herons, and over the years I have photographed them eating toads, fish and once, in Killbear Provincial Park, a garter snake! Herons stand about four feet tall and can normally be found all along rivers, ponds and marshes so I was very surprised to see this one in the woods.
That was a memorable battle. The snake wound itself around an exposed tree root and fought to avoid being eaten by the heron. But the bird was persistent. Ultimately, after a ‘tug of war’, it devoured the snake.
Three or four times last week my timing was impeccable as I arrived to see the heron catch a fish then spend several minutes attempting to control its catch.
While egrets and other wading birds target smaller fish the blue herons have an incredible appetite for larger ones. The bigger the better it seems.
Typically, the heron will choose a good fishing spot then fly over the water towards it before settling on this chosen place. They have a wingspan of about seven feet or two metres. The sound of cars passing the pond – or the presence of a photographer – might influence their decision making.
A couple of times, while intending to photograph the sandhill cranes, I have unintentionally spooked the heron which had been hidden near the shore causing it to fly away. Now I am far more cautious and survey that area of the pond carefully before I approach.
There are many Canada geese on this pond as well as a pair of very noisy belted kingfishers not that this heron seems bothered by other birds.
The heron will stand in place waiting for a fish to come near. Its legs and feet are dark and must look like plant stems beneath the water. Once the prey comes close it will lean forward, legs perfectly still, and suddenly attack with its long beak.
This one stabbed the fish then dropped it on the mud patch beneath its feet. Getting it into its mouth proved challenging since it was still alive. Repeating the violence a couple of times with its extremely sharp beak allowed it to finally swallow the meal whole.
I could actually see the fish passing through the heron’s digestive tract towards the stomach.
Once the meal was settled the heron then took several drinks of water before flying to another spot in the pond.
Although I have experienced herons fishing many, many times, I always find it remarkable. Like all species they have evolved to survive in the wild.
Spring is the perfect time to get outside and experience the many species with which we share the planet. Many bird species are nesting at present so the coming weeks will see much activity. I hope good fortune smiles on you.
A big shout out to the folks at Idea Exchange – especially Shannon Markle – for hosting me for ‘Predators: Life in the Wild’ last Thursday night. A full house of enthusiastic people made for a wonderful opportunity for me to share my wildlife experiences. Thanks to all for making it a memorable occasion!