Friday, July 13, 2012

On Friday the 13th of July, the 24th day of summer, you are the recipient of seventy days of summer yet to come. It is the day of the Great Blue Heron.

I had waited for a week to declare a day for the Great Blue Heron. I wanted to see a heron up close. For two nights in a row, I watched the herons fly over the marsh of Hidden Cove, passing over at 300 feet above the cattails. Tuesday night, I saw a pair flying in unison, the smaller heron tracking the larger. I assumed a female heron was flying close to her partner, and I assume maleness based on larger size. Wednesday night, I saw a large heron fly over the marsh, approaching from the south. It flew alone and I was disappointed. I had a few seconds with that disappointment before a smaller heron flew onto the scene from the east, flying on a path to meet with the larger heron. I guess the two split up for daytime fishing and were going home with dinner in their stomachs. Herons swallow catches of fish, frogs and rodents whole, risking choking if the animal jams on the way down. When feeding young, the herons can regurgitate the day's catch for the young to enjoy. I believe the time for incubating and raising young takes place in the rookery, better heronry, during spring months.
Back in 2003 and 2004, My daughter and I would walk the West Bloomfield Rails to Trails path to a heronry above a pond in thick woods near Orchard Lake. She will turn 16 in 2012, so in the spring of 2004, I was walking with my daughter at seven years of age. I was supporting shipping at a string of plants in the south, and we had to stop several times for me to return a call and talk the materials manager through paperwork printing or shipper creation. I silenced the pager when we reached the observation deck built by the township of West Bloomfield, who had cordoned off a buffer of silent woods around the pond with its tall, dead trees. The woven stick nests in the limbs of dead trees remind one of a home for pterodactyls. A man who loved bird watching had set up his telescope, allowing visitors to view the heron action through a perfect telescope. We're talking a telescope with Swarovski lenses and filled with a rare gas to allow more light to pass. My daughter could look through the lens standing on a crate. I enjoyed a good long look, but I didn't want to gaze too long through another man's telescope. Thus, I didn't look long enough for my vision to become on with the telescope's power. When I allowed the next person to look through the lens, my daughter demanded to be picked up and hugged. And I did. I think I was off the platform, but still, the man with the telescope began breaking down his equipment, carefully placing the scope into its carrying case. I explained quietly to my daughter later. Some people are a sensitive as birds. A little disturbance and they'll fly off. She listened, with full attention, as she always listens. She didn't say anything in return. More than eight years later, I have a chance to read this to her and ask what was she thinking and feeling?
I have a saying I repeat to myself as I pursue animals in the wild. If the bird flies off, I am a bad naturalist. I walked over to the reach of Cress Creek that emerges from under a concrete bridge I cross twice daily. I almost live on an island. I heard a bird chirping in a mass of untrimmed bush, and I was hoping to see the tiny yellow bird with the bee like flight. I had witnessed one emerging from these bushes more than once, but last year. I was thinking I would have an American Goldfinch siting to report. I drew close but the bird kept chirping, and I couldn't see the bird through the bush. I wasn't going to throw a rock to flush the bird because that would make me a bad naturalist. So I left it alone and followed the creek. I turned the corner of the apartment building clumsily, and I surprised a Blue Heron wading in the shallow, sandy bottom reach, with a grassy banks on one side and a cattail thick shore on the other. The heron seemed to leap into the air, then slowly twist and float slowly away from me, flapping lightly. I enjoyed ten seconds of its wings almost fully extended. I knew it hadn't flown far. I slowly moved down the creek along the grassy shore, and I saw the heron standing almost concealed in the cattails, looking for fish to spear with its beak. I didn't draw any closer.
I smiled to myself Thursday night as my Indian Trails bus drove north of Rockford towards Howard City. Through a break in the trees, east side of the highway,  I gazed over a pond with dozens of tall dead trees, and I couldn't count all the nests waiting for next year's Blue Heron families. I was pretty sure the local bird photographer, Stacy Niedzwiecki had documented that heronry for posterity. It takes at least, my guess, fifty acres of land to maintain a good heronry, and Niedzwiecki's photography will make it easy to talk about the resource to people with money far away. Some developers have started to build housing with boating amenities. Some have added equestrian features to their site plans. I have learned of several developers who have preserved heronries as a park within their properties, and I salute them. I have not yet learned the location of my local heronry, but I am glad I live in a place where Great Blue Herons fly, feed and breed. Luckily, my home shares woods and waters with the homes of Eagles too.

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