An article in the prestigious journal Science recently revealed that the bird population in this country has dropped 29% since 1970. The reasons given for this loss include reduced habitat and increased use of pesticides that diminish the food sources. This loss was pretty much across the board and included such common birds as Robins and Starlings. But why should any of this matter to us?
The other day I was feeding our lone survivor duck at the stock tank near our house. The morning was clear and the temperature had not yet risen to an uncomfortable range. The lone male Rouen duck (looks like a Mallard duck but larger breasted see example below) waddled up to me, awaiting my throwing of his food.
There standing before me within my own shadow stood this survivor bird. He is the last of a group of twelve we raised and put on the tank, the others having become food for local predators (fox and raccoon we think). He is a wily little duck that greets me each morning. I’ve wondered many times what sets this duck up for survival whereas the others made early exits.
I lifted my eyes toward the opposite side of the tank and noticed among the catails a beautiful Snowy Egret. This long legged white heron has been residing with us for the last several weeks. Also nearby on the top limb of the tallest tree sat our resident Great Blue Heron. I’ve written several blog pieces about this marvelous Great Blue heron, its beauty and its mythology.
A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative
I must admit to a moment of profound awe. There in front of me were three beautiful birds. Each has its story and its own beauty. Later on I blithered on about this magical moment to friends; the profound impact it had on me, and the beauty of the birds. Admittedly my friends did not fully understand the magic of my bird sighting. Perhaps you had to be there to appreciate the moment.
Moments of wonderment like this are a major reason why we must reverse the loss of our bird population. The thrumming of their calls first thing in the morning, the beauty of their synchronized flight, and their contributions to thinning out noxious insects are practical and important reasons to protect them. Think how sad it would be if our skies were cleared of birds and our ears failed to hear their melodious calls.
Animals and animal behaviors fascinate me. Even though on the back porch of my years, I’m so glad to still experience awe and wonderment of nature. Yes, Trudy and I will continue to spend countless dollars filling our multiple bird feeders and enjoying their beauty, song, and flight. We hope you will too.
I’ve written about Great Blue Herons in this blog previously and have been especially impressed with their legends and natural beauty. Pleasingly our ranch has again been graced by several Great Blue Herons that create in me a sense of awe both by their size and striking beauty.
Each morning I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron in the top of a tall tree on the other side of our stock tank, watching me. My procedure has been to throw out feed for the duck and fish. I always throw some feed near the shore to attract fish for the heron that I know will soon arrive. The feed attracts fish and the Great Blue Heron arrives as soon as my back is turned. I’ve written of this previously in a blog post “Chumming for Heron”.
A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative
The heron’s technique in the past has been to make himself small by curling itself up, hiding in the weeds, and at the right instance, launching itself at an unsuspecting fish. Lately the fish seem to have caught onto the heron’s fishing ways and avoid swimming close to the bank of the pond. Nevertheless, many fish surface for the food just out of the heron’s reach.
Successful fishing. This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.
I’ve witnessed the heron missing meals of late due to this adaptability by the fish. To my surprise and in response to the change in fish behavior, I’ve also noticed a change in the heron’s fishing tactics. The heron has begun landing on the surface of the water and swimming around like a duck. Upon spotting a fish in the shallow water, the heron suddenly turns tail to heaven. Soon it surfaces with a fish in its beak.
Also I’ve witnessed a second change of tactics. The heron flies across the tank at low altitude obviously searching for fish and then suddenly plunges into the water head first. The heron submerges itself, but sure enough on regaining the surface it has a fish in its beak. It then swims to the bank where it enjoys its breakfast.
Such adaptability in herons as well as fish, I find interesting and surprising. I assume in the game of life for herons and fish, adaptability benefits both just as adaptability has great value for us humans.
I trust the heron will enjoy a nice meal for Thanksgiving, as I hope readers of this blog will as well. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m overdue for a blog post, although I’ve lately put more words down on paper than is typical for me. This is because Little Jack Kerouac, our Texas Brown Dog, has been dictating his memoir of his first year and a half before adopting us. Acting as Jack’s scribe has taken more time than I anticipated, but answers many questions such as where he came from, why he hates panel trucks, squirrels, and armadillos, and why he feels so at home at Medicine Spirit Ranch.
Jack reclining on his chair, dictating his backstory
I will post Jack’s story in the near future and do so as a series of posts. In the meantime I offer my readers inspiring pictures of nature’s wonders at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Such sights give me a feeling of awe and wonderment. Below are some of my favorites that I hope you too will enjoy.
View of Medicine Spirit Ranch on a misty morn
A large buck standing as if posing in front of our barn
Dandy, our roan gelding
Painted Buntings have been prevalent this year. Their beauty never fails to stop me in my tracks
Ground feeding Cardinals are daily visitors to our bird feeders
Great Blue Herons according to folklore predict good luck. The ducks have proven less successful because of predators
Wildflowers such as the Bluebonnet grace our ranch in the Spring
The waterfall that gives Hidden Falls Ranch its name
The ranch just wouldn’t be the same without Border collies. From bottom to top: Bandit, Molly, and Buddy
Sunset at the ranch
Nature has a healing effect and of this I am certain. I hope these glimpses of life at Medicine Spirit Ranch provide you with a measure of pleasure and awe that I regularly experience.
Oh, and Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers!
I recently viewed a dozen or so cattle egrets within and perched upon our cow herd. These white, long necked, and long legged birds have been absent from our ranch for about a year. Our cattle tolerate them well. I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture of them but have some images taken from the internet.
The relationship between the egrets and cattle is a symbiotic one, as the egrets eat flies and ticks off the cattle. Both egret and cow have mutual benefit from their relationship.
What I discovered yesterday was that the egrets also provide entertainment for our friskier Spring calves. The calves playfully run at them, scattering the birds for a short fly around. The egrets soon after land in the herd and the chase is on again. The calves appeared to be enjoying themselves, but I can’t speak for the egrets.
Several times recently I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the pool below the waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch (our ranch across the county road). I can’t say for sure that it’s the same one about which I wrote the blog series last winter, but it looks the same. It’s dramatic to view it taking off from the pool, gaining altitude, and flying by me at eye level and not more than 20 feet away. According to Native American legend Great Blue Herons bring good luck. Bring it on!
Bulletin: Just viewed a Great Blue Heron in our stock tank below the house. It’s back! What wonderful news. Life is good in the Texas Hill Country.
I’ve written several blog pieces lately on a Great Blue Heron that has daily visited our stock tank. The heron and I have developed a predictable morning routine. Initially I find it perched atop a tree on the opposite bank. Then I throw fish food into the pond. I backtrack to my pickup from where I watch the heron glide gracefully across the stock tank (what a sight with its immense six foot wing span), land, and creep to its protected spot alongside the water. There it stealthily awaits a fish meal to swim by. When this occurs and with lightning like reflexes, it dives into the water to retrieve a fish. Our routine has become part of my morning ritual and, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy and expect it.
This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.
Imagine my disappointment the past two weeks when the heron has failed to show up. Initially I shrugged it off as happenstance, as the heron had at times missed a single day. Now it seems all too clear that the heron has left our ranch for another lofty perch.
Spring has sprung in the Texas Hill Country. The Red Bud trees have blossomed and the Bluebonnets are up. The Live Oak trees are changing over their leaves. Perhaps with the changing of the season, the heron has taken on new territory to fish. Alternatively, my heron may have fallen for a mate and been lured away by surging hormones- Spring is known to do that after all. I can only hope my heron has not befallen some worse fate, a consideration I’m loathe to even consider.
I’ll keep my eyes peeled each morning for the Great Blue Heron but fear it has departed the area or at least left my stock tank. If so,it leaves behind both good memories and hopefully good luck. To be sure, I shall miss its gorgeous flight, its prowess at fishing, its gorgeous appearance, its curious waddling gait, and the way it folds itself into a small package just at the edge of the water.
Come to think of it, The Great Blue Heron may just have tired of my bluegill! Why not for a change dine on Guadalupe bass or fat head minnows?
Farewell Great Blue Heron. You will be missed.
Great Blue Heron in flight
I recall the shiver of excitement coming over me like a blanket of wonderment the first time a Great Blue Heron flew just over me and landed nearby. Given its majesty, not too surprisingly a mythology has grown up around these impressive birds. Several weeks ago I posted “Chumming for Heron,” a piece describing daily visits to our ranch by a Great Blue Heron. Unwittingly I was aiding the heron by luring fish near to the bank and improving its prospects for fishing. This experience with the heron got me to wondering what myths might exist about these striking birds that are such incredibly good fish hunters, so I did a little research.
The Greeks believed the heron was a messenger from the gods. The heron was thought to have been sent by Athena and Aphrodite, the goddesses of wisdom and love. Athena, for example, once sent a heron to Odysseus during his odyssey as a sign that she was watching him. Celtic mythology had herons as messengers of the gods as well and thought the herons were imbued with superior intelligence.
Our ranch is named Medicine Spirit Ranch in honor of the original Native American inhabitants and their belief the land was “strong medicine.” One myth from Native Americans is about the heron and the hummingbird who raced for possession of all the fish in the rivers and lakes. The birds had a long race with the heron flying slowly but never stopping while the hummingbird zipped ahead but slept each night. Because of this, the hummingbird lost the race and now has to eat nectar while the heron dines on fish.
Wolves and herons are the subject of another Native American myth. The story goes that a Blue Heron helped two weasels cross a river because they had asked it nicely. Along comes a rude wolf, demanding to be taken like the weasels across the river. The heron proceeded to fly the wolf halfway across the river and then dumped the wolf into the river to drown.
The symbolism of the heron varies by culture. It represents strength, purity and long life in China. In Native American tradition the heron symbolizes wisdom and good judgment. In ancient Egypt the heron was a symbol of creation while in Africa and Greece the heron was a messenger of the gods.
Watching a heron fish also instructs us in patience. This is particularly a good lesson for our busy, rushed lifestyles these days. They watch and wait for long periods of time, remaining alert to the presence of fish. Ultimately the heron strikes with lightning like speed and precision.
Herons are also believed to be symbols of good luck, particularly when they land on your home or even shed a feather on your property. Not a bad way at all to start out a new year!
Almost every morning lately I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron majestically fly in to our stock tank while I’m feeding our ducks.
Great Blue Heron in flight
With its long wings beating slowly and deeply and its legs trailing behind, it swoops in and lands 50 yards or so away from me. There it watches my actions closely. It’s a magnificent bird and the largest of the North American herons. The images here were taken from the internet, as our heron appears to be camera shy.
The Great Blue Heron is highly adaptive and lives throughout North America. It is abundant throughout Texas, especially along the coastline.
After completing my feeding tasks and retreating back to the pickup, I see the heron on its long, stork-like legs stride to where I’d stood only minutes before. I’d initially assumed the heron was competing with the ducks for the food I’d left on the bank. Later I realized the heron’s real intent.
The Great Blue Heron slowly stalks to the edge of the water, crouches its four and a half foot tall, lanky body down into a compact position with its belly touching the ground. At this point it stands no more than a foot high. It folds its neck back onto its body and waits, and waits, and waits…. It reminds me of a coiled spring. It crouches obscured in part behind tufts of tall native grasses and next to the pond. As I observe its hunting pose, I feel the tension steadily rise within me. After watching motionless and with only a rare flickering of a feather, the Great Blue Heron, like lightning, unleashes itself forward. In less than a blink of the eye, it snatches a fish from our stock tank.
The heron then struts away from the water, drops the fish on the bank, rearranges it, grabs it up and downs the fish in one big, satisfied gulp. It seemed to give a nod in my direction, though I might have imagined this.
Imagine my surprise. I’d never dreamed I was chumming for the benefit of a Great Blue Heron!