Sunday, September 25, 2016

Watching a Heron a small pond, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, U.S.A.:  

September 15, 2016

Autumn meadowhawks (dragonflies) flying in tandem
Fall is in the air.  The scuzz is gone from the pond and at midday shadows are fairly long.  The coolness of the night still hangs in the air.  Sunny spots are pleasantly warm.  Beautiful blue sky and a peaceful stillness.  Dragonflies hover over the pond surface.  Both autumn meadowhawks and California spreadwings fly in tandem.  No sign of the regular summer dragonflies, i.e. chalk-fronted corporals, white-faces, widow skimmers or baskettails.  We settle in for lunch before getting started on serious bugging.  Slam, bang!  I slam one car door after another -- stow cameras on the back seat; get lunch out of the back; spread it out on the dash and our laps.  It is ham sandwiches today, along with lots of veggies (green beans, lemon cucumbers, purple bell pepper, carrots and tomatoes), guacamole, a few chips, and Dale has pickle.  Cheese too if we want it. 

We are finally quiet. Dale parked in the shade and where we can see half the pond.  A great blue heron flies to a floating log across from us.  He looks about for a moment, preens a couple of feathers and then relaxes his wings down and out.  At first he turns his back to the sun.  Usually I see herons sunning with their breast to the sun.  I suspect that is coming soon.  He has probably been fishing and is wet.  The heron is just a little far from us for me to tell how wet his is. 

We munch away.  Sure enough.  The heron turns to face the sun.  Pretty sitting here enjoying the coolness of the shade, watching dragonflies, and watching the heron dry off. The heron log floats right in front of a dense edging of cattails.   The patch of cattails is about 30 feet deep along that part of the pond.  The cattails barely move in the quiet air, but then I notice a small patch cattails is being thrashed about. The heron notices too.  He pulls his wings in and cranes his neck.  I've got a suspicion of what is hidden in the long fronds, but I'll have to see it to be sure. 

The disturbance amongst the fronds works its way from the far side towards us, and is angling towards the heron.  The heron pops into the air, but swings around and lands on the log again, but ever so alert.  Now he is peering around looking at a little spot of open water behind him.  Off goes the heron and Dale sees a peek of the intruder, an otter. 

By now we are just finishing lunch.  Dale quietly retrieves his camera and walks a little closer to the cattail patch.  The otter comes out and dives a couple of times, but he is a shy fellow.  He heads to the far end of the pond. 
I'm curious what the great blue heron is doing.  To find him I walk the edge of the pond, looking back and to my right.  There he is -- belly deep in water.  Hummmm?  This doesn't look like an efficient way to fish.  Is he taking a bath?  I've only seen a heron bath once.  I caught sight of one doing a great splash right at the edge of some cattails.  When an eagle baths, he wades belly deep into water and thrashes about, slopping water all over with his great wings.  That is what that heron appeared to be doing. 

Could it possibly be that today's heron is bathing?  I know this pond well. If I duck into the path to my right I can get much closer to the heron without him seeing me.  I quickly trot along the trail.  I get to my spot and peer between cattail fronds, just in time to see one last dunk.  It definitely wasn't a clumsy fishing dunk, but rather, a get-really-wet dunk.  Now I wish I had stayed in the farther away spot.  I would have seen more of the bath, even it was farther away. 
I realize my heron is standing on a submerged log.  He walks the log until he is only ankle deep.  There he stands.  Drenched.  Time to shake the wetness from his feathers, preen a little, droop those wings a little and even grab a quick nibble on the fly.  Twice I see him grab a darner (a large dragonfly) in midair. 

The heron's log will soon be in shade.  No matter.  He continues walking the log until he is out of the water.  He soon flies to the original log, the one we watched during lunch.  That log is still in full sun.  If I may say so, the heron looks rather undignified standing there with droopy wings.  It takes a while to dry so I have a nice opportunity to sketch. 
The log is serving dual duty.  It's a good place to dry and it's a good fishing spot -- and a good perch for catching dragonflies.   Little fish have started jumping.  I think they are trying to catch mayflies.  One after another jumps out of the water. Suddenly the heron fixes his attention on the water near him.  He crouches low to the log and out zips his neck.  Good catch.  A little fish goes down his gullet ... and soon another.  I half hope he'll fall in so I can watch the drying process all over again.  I have seen a heron splash into deep water after a fish, but not this time. 

Shadows grow long early at this time of year.  Even though sunset is about three hours off, the pond has lost nearly all its sunshine.  Time for us to head home.  I know of at least one great blue heron that will sleep clean and well fed.