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The Daily Bucket–The Belly Flopping Heron

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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 will watch my yard for half an hour before dropping in from the 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. 

The coiled neck foreshadows attack.

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 snuck in from the south, between the pines.  The frog mitigation area and tadpole pond is just below him.  The heron is 3 feet tall in this pose.

In the pond below the Heron, the frogs stifled their mating calls, and ducked into the frog caves.

But the guileless tadpoles clustered to see the Heron and called out, “Hi Big Bird!”

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. 

After a belly flop, oily slicks of Essence of Heron color the water with Heron grey.  The Heron’s belly flopping washes oil from its feathers. 

One heron seems much larger

And one heron seems so small, and the heron that mother gave you, won’t catch any fish at all.

Just ask Billie, when he’s 10 feet tall.

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.

You’ve been reading The Daily Bucket,

a nature refuge.

We amicably discuss frogs, animals, weather, climate, soil, plants, waters,  and life’s patterns.

 Phenology is how we take earth’s pulse.

We discuss what we see in each Bucket.

We value all observations.  Please comment  about your own natural area, and include photos if possible.  We love photos!

To have the Daily Bucket in your Activity Stream, visit Backyard Science’s profile page and click on Follow, and join to write a Bucket of your own observations.

Thanks for reading;

What have you noted in your area or travels? Any pretty flowers poking up? Please post your observations and general location in your comments. I’ll check back by lunchtime.

/s/ Redwoodman

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