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Great Blue Herons

Great Blue Herons

I got to see a rare sight a few weeks ago: two Great Blue Herons fighting over territory. I wished I would have stopped now and let work be damned. I was in the left lane of a five-lane highway and there was another car to my right and another behind that one. So, to get back and film it with my iPhone, I would have had to turn around. I didn’t and I regret that now.

I have a very ambivalent relationship with herons. Growing up in Michigan, I wanted to see one SOOOO badly. But it just never happened. I think way back in the 1970s they may have been having some ecological trouble. Perhaps they were affected by DDT and it took a while for them to come back. Anyway, it wasn’t until I was about 14 when I finally saw one in real life. I had ridden my bicycle down to the train trestle over the river (now part of the Kal-Haven bicycle trail) and decided to climb a path up a hill next to it. As soon as I reached the top and came to an open area right over the river, a pterydactyl flew by. HA! HA! It was really my first thought since I wasn’t really thinking about large raptors at that particular moment. It definitely looked very prehistoric, and it is. Of course, after that split second I realized what it was. That image sticks in my brain to this day, however, and I can call it back better than nearly all the rest of my childhood.

When I lived in San Francisco there was a nest of Great Blue Herons right on the edge of Strawberry Lake (which is actually a small man-made pond in the middle of Golden Gate Park). They were right there…within 100 feet. I loved to just stand and watch them. During breeding season the male, female and then two chicks were all there squawking it up: not the prettiest sound, the heron squawk.

Up here in Oregon, they are an everyday – and I mean EVERYDAY – sight. If they aren’t flying overhead, they are hunting for mice in the fields. Near the river, of course, there are even more. Here in Oregon is where my ambivalence crept in.

There was, of course, Preston. I took Preston for a walk in a park that is dog-friendly and along the river. It was February and the Willamette River was at what was probably the highest volume of the year. I stopped to talk to a man who had a cute, young puppy. Actually, I stopped to talk to the puppy. After a brief encounter I moved on. It was then that a heron squawked loudly on the other side of the river. I suddenly heard a big splash in the water and looked down to see a black lab attempting to swim across the river to, I assumed, get to the heron. Labs are so stupid, I thought. I then looked around and did not see Preston. As if someone hit me on the back of the head with a 2x4, I suddenly realized that stupid black lab in the water was PRESTON! This all, of course, actually took place in a matter of seconds. I could see Preston really struggling against the current but the current was winning. He started flowing downstream with the somewhat slower side-current. I started running down the path toward where he was heading. I knew there was no way I was going to swim out and rescue him. I’m not a very strong swimmer in calm waters. So I ran downstream calling his name just in case he could hear me and know to head my way. About a ¼ mile from where he went in, there is a boat ramp with a dock alongside. The dock was mostly underwater at this time but it caused a nice eddy. I reached the boat ramp just in time to see Preston’s head floating toward the eddy. Then he was in it and swam along with it and right up to the landing where he walked out. He shook himself and ran up to me with his huge doggy smile; he thought it was great fun. I thought only of all the ways that I could have either lost him or got him back when he floated down the river into the next town. There had been a woman at the landing who watched the whole thing. “You were smart,” she said, “Many people try to swim out and rescue the dog but end up drowning themselves. The dog always ends up fine.”

Especially if it’s Preston, I thought to myself.

It’s not like that was the heron’s fault at all, still it all happened because of one.

Then there was my pond at my old house. The pond was right off the deck, right next to the house and under a pear tree (not the best idea under the tree, of course, but that was where it needed to be). It was very well hidden, or so I thought. One morning I was at the kitchen window when suddenly this huge bird landed in the middle of the yard – directly in front of me. It brought in its massive wings just as I realized what it was: a Great Blue Heron. WTF? Without a thought, I ran outside and chased it away. Later it occurred to me that I might have gotten some good pictures. A few weeks later I came home from work and found out that all of my fish were gone….ALL of them. So, I invested in a scarecrow (a motion-sensored device that shoots water out to chase pesky critters away) and bought a whole new gang of goldfish – vowing not to name them this time, and I haven’t since. I spent all the following years in that house battling the herons (and raccoons).

Then, I moved in with Paul and we built our own pond in pretty much the same location as mine had been at my other house. It took a few weeks to build it. I brought in the fish from my previous pond because Mary (the woman who is living in my old house) decided that she didn’t want a pond. In less than ONE week after we had the pond and the fish up and running, Paul and I were sitting in the bay window ‘breakfast nook’ when suddenly a big grey shadow descended on to the back lawn. Once again, my first instinct was to chase it away, so I ran out after it. Paul, of course, ran upstairs to get his camera but didn’t get it in time. That damn heron came back again and again. It even managed to get two of my fish. One day I chased it off of the pond and it flew up and over the house. I ran up to my bathroom where I had taken out the screen so I can actually stick my head out of it. So I stuck my head out of it and looked up. There was that beady-eyed heron on the roof looking down at me. It was cat-and-mouse for a while but Paul pieced together a “temporary” cover to leave over the pond. Of course, more than two and a half years later that “temporary” cover is still there. But it works! Although many have tried, no more fish have disappeared. And although the cover isn’t very attractive, one gets used to these things until you don’t even see them anymore.

Now it’s kind of sad because not as many herons stop by. Now and then we get a newbie that doesn’t know about the screen cover. But eventually even they learn it isn’t worth the stop.

So, I really regret not stopping to film those two herons in that fight. Actually, it was really one heron smacking down the other one…literally jumping on top of it. I wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t having sex, but it was the wrong place and season. It was quite obvious that the one on top was coming out victorious. I even looked the next few days for a dead heron smashed down in the field, but there was no sign of the struggle, the winner or the loser.

The only sign I saw was a real estate sign.

Sorry, guys. You BOTH lose.

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