Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beautiful Elegant Honking Predator

No question that at first glance the Great Blue Heron seems an elegant bird, a graceful flapper, a stately stander. But when it opens its trap and emits a guttural honk as if its sinuses were plugged, you can’t help but be jarred.

This same thing of beauty is a relentless and ruthless hunter that will stand still until a fish, instinctively trying to hide, seeks the heron’s silhouette of shade. Then – whap – the bird strikes and, if successful, shakes the fight out its prey before gulping it down its gullet whole.

Put both these incongruities together – the beautiful elegant honking predator – and you gain a glimpse into the cove’s ongoing territorial squabble between two herons, one larger than the other, battling over feeding rights to the cove.

I’ve been noticing the smaller bird chased away on several occasions this summer, but, one late afternoon this week, the level of drama heightened when the smaller of the two floated in, landing on a clump of lilies in front of my cottage, giving me a front-row seat.

A minute later, the larger heron, starting its flight from the other side of the lake, gracefully flapped in, and began its dry-cough honking as it approached the intruder. The smaller heron flew away, and the larger heron, instead of staying to fish, returned on the same flight path across the lake, having successfully protected, from more than a quarter mile away, its feeding ground.