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May 02, 2005

Ba ba ba ooh-mau mau, ba ba ooh mau mau...

I figger it's time for me to bird blog. What the heck, everybody in this neighborhood is doing it.

Admittedly, my bird tales aren't as exotic as the rest of the folks around here. The birds I see regularly aren't returning from combat tours in Iraq. (What's up with that? I served in GW I and all I saw were some lousy seagulls while I was picking up a truck and a conex from some Saudi port). Nor are they unidentifiable rarities or exotic species thought extinct. But I think they're cool.

Take this fellow, the Great Blue Heron:

I was taking my little boy for a walk last Friday, and we stopped at a pond behind the house to feed the ducks and the couple of resident geese. I noticed the Heron partly around the side of the pond. He walked over to us with this very funky "trying to sneak up on you with Shaquille O'Neill's legs" gait and stood basically between my feet, looking outward at the residual bread crumbs in the water. Seriously, he was about a foot away from me, and I could have petted him, if his beak didn't look so lethal.

Then I noticed that little perch were feeding on the tiny bread crumbs floating in the water. The heron was getting lined up on them.

He suddenly sat down in the water, with his legs folding like a gas powered automatic scaffold. Then he swam forward a little bit, then suddenly shot forward, ducking his head under the water for a second.

When he came up, he had two small perch speared on his lower bill. He spit off the one closest to his lips (do birds have lips? If so, they must be hard and not useful for whistling) and then threw the other one up into the air, catching it, and chewing once or twice gulped it down. He then gulped down the other fish, now dead and floating like the victim in some Raymond Chandler novel.

My little boy, who is about a year and a half old, was freaked out. Not crying, but just a bit shocked at this bird, which must have stood 36" at the eyeballs. I'd be shocked about this prehistoric looking creature too if I weighed thirty pounds. So I took the boy back to the house, and being a glutton for punishment, came back with the digital camera. (Kodak DX-4530, in case you're reading this, Glenn). When I returned to pond's edge, sure enough, the heron walked over and posed, which is when I shot this photo.

The weird thing is that the first time, when I was feeding the other birds, Big Blue just ambled on over and stood very close to me. Obviously, this is a wild animal and not tame - yet he had no worries about me. He's not stupid - the shaggy feathers and the fully developed black "tail" hanging off the back of his head tell you that he is a mature adult, and there's no way he could have lived this long if he was foolhardy around humans. (5' - 6' wingspan, if you were wondering). In spite of the fact that humans definitely pose a threat, this big fella seemed to know I wouldn't hurt him, and it's not like he was hurting for food in the estuary/saltwater marsh area in which we live. So it was his choice.

Back in a past life when I practiced law in a different legal specialty than I do now, I knew that three of the four top environmental prosecutors on the West Coast had endangered raptors perching on their office window ledges in skyscrapers. Those odds are too high to be coincidental, and I'm starting to think that some birds may enjoy a kind of intelligence or instinct that we humans really don't get or haven't had to use in a long time thanks to our evolution.

My wife and I have seen Big Blue hanging around the pond for a couple years, and we always consider it a good omen if we see him alighting on the pond as we commute out to work in the morning. That will be even more true for me after this really special encounter, although I'm going to be careful about feeding the ducks/fish when he's around. I understand they can clean out a good sized pond in a couple days.

Posted by Blackavar at May 2, 2005 10:55 PM | TrackBack
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I've always considered the Big Blue Heron a good omen as well. I specifically remember one perched on a jetty by the Neuse River when I was being married.

And my marriage happily ended after three years. So it was a good omen.

Posted by: Kehaar at May 3, 2005 10:40 AM

It actually sounds like a happy encounter compared to what Bigwig told me in an email about his encounter with a Great Blue - he said it was "like a knife fight." Sheesh. I feel lucky the one in the picture didn't try to kill me and eat my giblets.

Posted by: Blackavar at May 3, 2005 12:54 PM

A knife fight in which the other guy was the only one with the knife, but where I would be safe just as soon as I grabbed the knife.

Though upon futher reflection, berhaps a foil would serve the entire metaphor better than a knife.

Posted by: Bigwig at May 3, 2005 01:42 PM

Beautiful picture. I've always loved the heron, except for one spring in '91. I was working at a trout hatchery and these guys were the enemy. We called 'em pterodactyls, 'cuz that's exactly what they look like in flight. And man they can eat a lot of baby trout.

Posted by: rick at May 3, 2005 02:17 PM
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