I have the great good fortune to live close to a heronry (a colony of breeding herons). They are beautiful and unusual birds. Although I am fond of quite a list of birds – crows, magpies, English robins, puffins, swans, and bullfinches in particular – herons have such a wonderfully unusual shape, and when they fly past for just a moment you think you are seeing some prehistoric flying creature.
Not long after I moved to where I am now, I became unemployed, so I had the luxury of spending as much time watching the herons as I wished. There is a Park and Ride adjacent to the protected area in which you can park and watch them. You need bins to really see what is going on, but all through the spring of my first year here I would stop by for at least a few minutes almost every day and watch them building and repairing their nests, jockeying for position, and occasionally making love. It was a delightful break in my comings and goings during a sun-filled spring season.
|One of about five trees with nests in the heronry. One of the trees has easily twice as many nests as this one does.|
Last year, still unemployed, I began my regular visits as soon as they arrived at the nests. I was lucky enough to see a great group of them arrive at the nests all together – an amazing sight of gangly legs and outspread wings settling down into the trees and nests.
Early one sunny Sunday morning I pulled into the near empty parking lot and realized immediately that something was very wrong.
We are blessed, near the shores of
Lake Washington, to have a healthy and happy group of bald eagles. Bald eagles like heron eggs. I watched helplessly as two eagles savaged the nests. One eagle moved from nest to nest and you didn’t need bins to imagine what was going on. The other eagle circled above the trees. Several large herons tried hopelessly to drive the eagle away, but even a full grown male heron is no match for a bald eagle. Most awful however, were the cries of the herons. They have a rather squawky sound normally with inserted clacking of beaks but now, at this moment, they were clearly cries of agony and despair. Not to anthropomorphize the situation more than necessary, but I swear I could hear the parental anguish in their cries. It was quite disturbing.
As sad as it was, I reminded myself that this was nature in action, this is what happens in the animal world. As a friend of mind reminded me recently, “nature kills”.
I really couldn’t bear to watch or listen any longer so I headed around the corner towards home. About five hundred yards from the heronry is a stand of trees normally unoccupied. Now, they were loaded with herons, well over a hundred – all the herons that are normally unseen in their deep nests, and probably every last member of the group sat there, looking towards the nesting trees. Waiting. It may have been the saddest thing I ever saw in my life.
|One of this years herons, looking for the perfect branch to add to the nest.|
So spring has come again this year, without sunshine for the most part, and I have resumed my watch at the heronry. But it is not the same for me as it was. I don't stay as long, and I am always scanning the skies above the trees. It is sort of like Christmas the first year after you discover there is no Santa Claus. The tree and the presents are still there, but some of the joy has gone.