Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Great Blue Heron
A continuing story...

This afternoon Linda and I returned home from Atlanta after seeing the dermatologist in his Buckhead office. He froze, with liquid nitrogen numerous imperfections from my face, head and shoulders, there were many. He laughingly refers to them as barnacles, ha ha! Arriving home we started down the driveway when to our surprise a great blue heron flew up almost in front of the car. They are magnificent birds and awe inspiring to say the least. At the top of the driveway we have a smallish koi pond that we built when I was finally able to quit smoking many years ago, like thirty six. It was a reward for my kicking the smoking habit. It was supposed to be a trout pond but after several attempts to keep trout in it only to have strangers come and catch them all out when we were not here we gave up. Instead we put koi in and they established well and no problems because they are not so tasty to eat.  Our pond was built by a man living over off Aska Road and he did a pretty good job. The pond in no way resembles what the man built. It was about forty feet across, a basic circle and deep enough to come up to my clavicle when I fully immersed myself in it, which was rare because it was very cold. There were no plants around the site, only red clay, dirt and some gravel with very little vegetation. Since then, about thirty nine years ago it has grown up with many hemlock trees, poplars, sour woods and many smaller plants like mountain laurels and rhododendrons, ferns and much more all around the periphery of the water. It is thick with plants and the heron has only a few points of access to the pond. He pretty much has to enter from the driveway side as the rest of the area around the pond is too thick with vegetation for any aerial entry. He is, of course after the koi. The smaller ones are his target but if the larger koi get in his way he has no compunction about stabbing them in the back of the head to eliminate their traffic. I frequently find dead adult koi floating in the edges of the pond with a wound where their head connects with their body. It is extremely frustrating to find an adult, eight or ten pound koi dead from a puncture wound in the back of his head. Knowing full well the heron has no teeth and can only eat what he can swallow whole, he kills them with impunity. He is an opportunistic feeder and we frequently see him fishing down along the creek for suckers and small rainbow trout. He is a big problem that we can do little about. Damn it!
You might think that the simple solution is to just shoot the bird and be done with the problem. It is not that simple. First it is so illegal to interfere with a bird of prey, even herons. They are protected by the Game and Fish Department of the state. To kill, own, interfere with or have in your possession any part or portion of the bird, skull, beak, feather or any other part is a serious crime and with fines that are daunting. I don’t want to kill it anyway. It has been my experience that when you destroy one of the many pesky, troublesome creatures up here another one comes to take its place. Sometimes two or three come to take the place of the one you killed or trapped and carried off. One night I set the Have-a heart trap and caught an adult boar raccoon in it. We had been having problems with something eating the corn and trying to break into the hen house. The next morning I went down to the garden, found the huge raccoon and carried him off a few miles down the road. Just to be sure I again set the trap the following night. In it the next morning I found adolescent twin raccoons. Both had been trapped at the same time, in the same trap. The next night again I set the trap and once more caught another raccoon. I did not set it the fourth night because I was tired of carrying them off. Besides, an adult raccoon is a very scary thing to have in the back seat of your car even when he is in a cage. They hiss, growl and make all sorts of threatening noises that are difficult to ignore when they are on the seat behind you. They lunge at you when you least expect it and needless to say it is pretty frightening. Honestly they are very scary!  And, just how do you release a really pissed off adult raccoon from the cage you caught him in? The cage is actually pretty small and your fingers are in close proximity to the raging beast. When you try to release him you must be very careful and have an escape plan just in case he charges you. I always left the door of the car unlocked and open so I could run away, leap into the car, slam the dood and race away just in case he turned and ran towards me. They never did but a person can never be too careful when dealing with wild animals that are not in the best of moods. Frequently I left the cage and came back later to retrieve it when the angry coon was long gone. Living in the North Georgia Mountains has been quite an education for us to say the least!
The heron startled both of us despite the fact that so far this week it has happens several times. The freaking bird just will not take a hint.
Last summer in August I was weed eating the bank of Big Creek near our bridge that crosses to our neighbor’s small pasture and had to get into the creek for the best access to the weeds. Across the creek is a little grassy parking area but I do not usually trim on that side of the creek. It had to be August because I do not usually get into the creek till late in the summer. The weather needs to be very warm before I can tolerate the temperature of the water. It is always cold no matter what time of year it is but in August the weather is generally so warm it makes the frigid water easier to take. In order to trim the bank of the creek you have to get into the creek and cut the grass and weeds from that standpoint. It just makes it easier to trim up, not down. Usually I wear rubber boots or an old pair of sneakers. Trimming along the bank I came to the point where I had to go under the bridge in order to continue the trimming. As I bent over to pass under the structure I was startled to see something half in and half out of the creek. Walking under the bridge when you are in the creek wading can be treacherous as sometimes there under the bridge suspended from the underside is a hornet’s nest. I always proceed carefully. At first I could not make out what it was. On closer examination I discovered that it was the skeleton of a large bird. The feathers were still attached to the almost totally decomposed carcass. It looked like the remains of a great blue heron. When I tried to pick it up and remove it from the creek it fell apart in my hands and began to trail off into the chilly water. The feathers went one way while the bones and leftover dried sinew went another. I saved the skull and one of the upper wing bones just to examine it a bit closer before the water swept it away towards Aska Road and Lake Blue Ridge. The bones were as light as a proverbial feather, hollow which helps enables flight. The beak of the bird had a white bony understructure with a golden sheath like covering of transparent plastic like material that was already slipping off the bony under part, probably made of chitin. The skull was fascinating and looked like a piece of contemporary sculpture. The eye sockets were surprisingly large, like many birds of prey.  I saved the skull and thoroughly examined it for a few days but ultimately sent it to an ornithologist friend in Asheville, N.C. I thought he could put it to good use in his attempts to educate the community and the world on the beauty and importance of birds in today’s environment. Of course he might have just made it into a paper weight. I could not keep it because I knew it was illegal and I had at least gotten to enjoy it for a few days.
The Great Blue Heron is found throughout most of North America, as far north as Alaska and the southern Canadian provinces. The range extends south through FloridaMexico and the Caribbean to South America. Birds east of the Rocky Mountains in the northern part of their range are migratory and winter in Central America or northern South America. From the southern United States southwards, and on the Pacific coast, they are year-round residents. However their hardiness is such that individuals often remain through cold northern winters, as well.
The Great Blue Heron can adapt to almost any wetland habitat in its range. They may be found in numbers in fresh and saltwater marshesmangrove swamps, flooded meadows, lake edges, or shorelines. They are quite adaptable and may be seen in heavily developed areas as long as they hold bodies of water bearing fish. Great Blue Herons rarely venture far from bodies of water but are occasionally seen flying over upland areas. They usually nest in trees or bushes near water's edge, often on island (which minimizes the potential for predation) or partially isolated spots. It has been recorded as a vagrant in England, GreenlandHawaii and the Azores.  *

All said this bird really gets around. So, why the heck does it have to fly all the way to Big Creek to predate my koi to ensure the survival of the species? After almost forty years of owning property here at Big Creek I have long ago realized that we are under attack from all sides. From the sky, the air, the water, the earth and below the earth, Enemies lurk everywhere. Many things come to take what they want and need from our space with a strong will and great determination. From the sky come things like Blue Herons, hawks, wasps, hornets, flies, Japanese beetles and perhaps worst or all gnats. From the water come Alligator snapping turtles, beavers and Yellow belly water snakes. From the land come the deer, ground hogs, musk rats, copperheads, timber rattlers and wild hogs. From underground we have moles, voles that come unseen and silently to rob you of your vegetables and eat the roots of others causing their immediate demise. Honestly we are under attack from all sides, all directions and all the time. I believe it is the height of conceit and arrogance to think that as a human being one can overcome all these adversities and actually be able to grow even one tomato. It’s a good thing I love this place so much because if I didn't I would leave tomorrow and move someplace where living is not so difficult, like Atlanta? Ha!


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