The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

August 31, 2012

The heron is the hunter you love to hate

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The Daily Star

---- — As I head up the on-ramp of Exit 13 to get on Interstate-88, I can see him most every day. There is a great blue heron that feeds in that backwater. Some days he’ll be resting on one of the low-hanging branches. On other occasions, he’ll stand perfectly still, just waiting with the water halfway to his knees.

I have a similar creature that likes to visit my pond on a regular basis. I occasionally see him, but I can see his tracks in the mud along the shore almost every day. That darn bird knows that there’s an abundance of small bass that feed in the shallows and they make a very easy meal.

The blue heron is really an amazing predator. It has the patience of a saint, the aim of a world-class archer and the appetite of a teen-aged boy with two hollow legs at a hotdog-eating contest.

These birds feed or hunt differently than other fish-eating birds. The osprey or eagle flies over open water and dives down to take fish that are near the surface of the river or lake. The blue heron is a wading bird and uses its long legs to work along the shores of ponds and streams.

When a heron feeds, it stands in the water like a statue in the park. He never moves the majority of his body as he waits. The unique thing about the heron is his middle toe. The bird stands there and wiggles his middle toe, making it look like a worm or other small, edible creature in the shallow water.

Small fish are attracted to the movement, thinking they have found an easy meal. It’s an easy meal all right, except they are the main course. The heron quickly jabs its long, sharp bill into the water and spears the unsuspecting fish, which is then swallowed whole.

Great blue herons make large, bulky nests of sticks in trees near lakes and wetlands. Many of these large birds gather in colonies to breed and rear their young. This area is called a rookery. During the breeding season, they are quite vocal. Their voices are a rather raspy croak and can be heard for quite a distance.

I really have no love for these birds because they consume so many fish. They’ll easily clean out a pond of fish if they get a chance. The one that feeds in my pond is lucky he’s protected. If he wasn’t, a few well-placed holes would definitely slow down his feeding habits.

I find just walking up to the pond for several mornings and evenings in a row really disturbs his feeding frenzy. I don’t have to yell or wave my arms or anything. All I have to do is show up and he flies off. After several days of being disturbed, I find the pond vacant of the feathered poacher for at least a week or two.

I guess there’s one positive thing about the heron: They keep ponds from getting over-populated. The fish that survive will grow big and make a good meal in the future — for me.

I guess that makes me no different than him. It’s just that he likes his raw and I prefer my fish filleted and fried to a golden brown.

What’s Happening?

— CANY, the Conservation Alliance of New York, is holding its 12th annual banquet at 5 p.m. Sept. 29th at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta. Cost is $30. Proceeds will help distribute venison to the needy. To date, CANY has contributed more than 60,000 pounds of nutritious, low-fat meat to those in need. Seating is limited to 300. For tickets or for more information, call Al Bowers at 607-432-6398, Rich Gravelin at 607-432-6212 or Ron Martini at 607-432-5945.

— The Gilbertsville Rod and Gun Club will hold a Youth Shoot from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 8, followed by a chicken barbeque and a trap shoot at 1 p.m. The club’s final 3-D archery shoot will run from 7-11 a.m. Sept. 16. For more information, call Dawn or Mike at 607-988-9535 or 607-859-2393 (day of shoot).

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.