2 Lucky Creatures, 1 Unlucky Fish

Frog eyes poking above the floats of algae, a hunched green heron on a log, a cardinal hopping in tree branches, all good things to see on a sunset walk.

But it was the great blue heron that delivered the You Won’t Believe What I Just Saw! moment of the night. I am not the most patient of people, but watching the statuesque heron for just 2 minutes yielded a fast strike and a flopping (unlucky) fish in the heron’s spear of a beak. The giant bird flew over to a nearby grassy island, where it dropped the roughly 8 inch fish onto the grass and pierced it a few additional times.

Waiting a few moments, the heron grabbed the fish and dunked it in the water. Was it washing the fish? I have never seen behavior like that.

The heron tried to swallow the fish, but either the fish’s size or the angle was working against the bird. The heron responded, dropping the fish back in the water and vigorously stabbing it again with its beak. Was it practicing hunting skills? Teaching the oversize fish a lesson? Trying to break it into more manageable chunks?

As the drama continued, my arms tired from holding binoculars. I had to take periodic breaks. Definitely a reminder to work out my upper body, in pursuit of more successful birdwatching.

I remember coming upon a great blue heron as an adolescent. I was fishing with my grandfather off a dock in Florida. We caught a catfish, which made the great blue heron very interested in our generosity and sense of obligation to a creature just trying to make it to tomorrow in the Anthropocene. We backed away from the catfish, me trying not to squeal with glee. I was unsure about whether the narrow beak could fit a giant fish without choking, but the heron stoically swallowed the catfish on the first try.

So, I remembered that as I mentally cheered on the heron. Finally, gauzy sunset clouds as a backdrop, the fish went down the hatch.

It was a good day for the heron, and a great evening surprise for me.

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