The Daily Bucket-The Second Heron


I’d always felt there was more than one heron that’s been visiting my backyard ponds for the last ten years.  One would land and catch our fish while we gardened 30 feet away. Another one would watch from a neighbor’s roof for half an hour before coming in for lunch, but would bolt if you darkened a window.  

The mature Billy Heron, we now learn, would arrive and dance and stretch, as lithe and graceful as a bullfighter, and more lethal. (pictured above)

In contrast, this is a different heron, (interim name Harry)  probably younger. Note the yellow lightning bolt, in the “lores,” which is the space between Harry’s eye and beak, left profile.

 The daemon bullfrog Voldemort scarred Harry with a desperate swipe, leaving the lightning bolt marking behind, before Harry consumed him. The lightning bolt is the last vision that a bullfrog sees during its life cycle. Photo taken 6/6/20.

The likely Juvie Harry Heron has visited 3 times this week and it’s only Tuesday.  Harry seems clumsy and keeps hunting in a pond Harry’s already cleaned out.  Nothing but minnows left after Harry’s through.  

I am looking through my 30 photographic encounters with the Herons. But my older, clear shots of the left profiles do not spot any distinctive markings in the lores or elsewhere.  Two of the pictures only hint at a faint yellow. Lores and other markings are subject to seasonal variations.

My clearest evidence of two Herons is the sharp contrast between the full white cap on the putative Billy, and the half-tone cap on Harry.

Here’s another look at a maturing Heron’s white cap; it extends below the eyes, contrasting with Harry’s extended dark plumage.

Harry’s white cap is mostly grey, in contrast to Billy’s pure white in the first photo, and white with a touch of grey in the 2nd photo.

Archival photos reveal their visits seem to alternate; that Billy hunted in the backyard May and June, 2018, for instance, but Sparky showed up in September, 2018, in the backyard, and also in July, 2018, at the Lake, based on cap coverage. I’ve never seen two herons together at the nearby Lake, but other say so.

Sometimes in pictures from the side, the cap  looks pristine white but from straight down there’s some grey dusting even above the eyes, show in photo above. Those “dustings” can provide even a better ID. 

I read a 1976 study about heron researchers who lived inside plywood coffins for up to 4 day continuously, to watch herons from nearby.   They said that the “facial plumage idiosyncracies” enabled them to ID individual herons, backed by thousands of photographs, 300 meters of super-8 film, and scrutiny with a 60  spotting scope, with accompanying sketches.…

I must chuckle, since my heron research included sitting in a plush chair, sipping fine wine, and taking pictures out my backyard window, rather than living in a 2 x 2 x 2.5 meter plywood box in a godforsaken Texas bog on Hog Island, in Redfish Bay.

But  those researchers’ cleverness and dedication moved me to review my ten years of heron photos.

They had sussed out individual herons by markings I’ve characterized only as “touch of grey,” meaning the grey patch between and below the eyes.  I have only determined “white cap” or “not.”

Now that I’m confident there are at least two herons, I will tally their visits by differing behavior;  directions of approaches, methodology of pre-attack surveilances, human tolerance, belly flops, who hunts where at the Lake, and so on.

I think it is a privilege to know a heron well enough to name it, and it’s fun to look the pictures over for clues.  The heron, no doubt, considers me a world class chump, so we are both happy. 

I think there is nominal scientific worth in knowing that small suburban backyard ponds can help support at least two herons.  

Do we have a story of a poor widowed single mother heron, trying to install heron values while showing Harry the short cuts to survival, where habitat destruction requires them to forage in the suburbs?

Did Dad Billy Heron have to leave the rookery and Billie and Harry because of the blacklist?

Does Harry vow vengeance against the Chevron station proposed in their habitat, for blacklisting Dad? (True story  and upcoming Bucket.)

Are Billy and Harry recruiting me to fight the Chevron Station? Will I become a Superhero with superpowers to monkey wrench local land use permits?

I care about Billy and Harry so I must care about their habitat.

So I can’t stop worrying about the Chevron station proposed for 3 acres of actual and adjacent wetlands and huge trees, proposed right next to the nature trail I walk every day. It’s a crime the Park District didn’t buy it.

There’s an unpaved lot 30 feet beyond this pond where Chevron wants to build a gas station that will emit 6 tons per year of benzene, and ramp up light and noise 24/7. Billy and Harry fish in this and other nearby ponds, as do the two eagles nesting .5 miles away.

Thanks for reading the Daily Bucket.

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Now it’s your turn!  What have you noted in your area or travels? Any pretty bugs  in your yard? Please post your observations and general location in your comments. I’ll check back later.

/s/ Redwoodman