A Glimpse of Nature -- A Carnivore in Action

Guess what!  More rain is forecast for this weekend.

If you are tempted to stay indoors on gray, gloomy days, I urge you to reconsider.  I often feel this way until I actually get outside.  On one recent Sunday, I donned my rain gear in low spirits, anticipating a dull outing.  Then, as usual, I found beauty, interest, and even some excitement.  

Finding beauty was easy.


 Reclaimed Bog in Mist, Halifax, September 24, 2023


Nodding Ladies Tresses, Halifax, September 24, 2023

Just look at this dazzling autumn scene.


 Swamp Loosestrife, Halifax, September 24, 2023

As I paused to admire the swamp loosestrife, something interesting caught my attention:  a great blue heron stalking prey.


 Stalking, Halifax, September 24, 2023

These shallow ponds offer fine habitat for wading birds.   I usually see herons at this location, birds poised like statues, waiting to strike at the right moment.  Less frequently, I observe one actually catching its prey.


 The Plunge, Halifax, September 24, 2023

And rarer still are the moments when the bird, the prey, my attention, and my point-and-shoot camera are in sync.  Perhaps the clouds and mist provided the quiet conditions necessary for this to happen.


 Success, Halifax, September 24, 2023

The bird soon flew away with its fish.  I hope it dined well. Watching this successful hunt capped off a delightful, albeit soggy, walk.

My heron caught a fish – perhaps a brown bullhead – which is a common meal for this species, but hardly the only item on the menu.  According to The American Bird Conservancy, “The Great Blue Heron will eat whatever it can catch with its formidable bill: fish, crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds — especially ducklings.”  Some of these prey live on land, which is where a friend recently saw a great blue at the Governor Ames Estate.  As he walked along a narrow trail, he came upon a heron walking ahead of him.  The bird hardly had enough room to spread its wings.   What was it doing so far from the water?  While we can’t know for certain, the heron left a revealing clue.  Before it flew off, the bird expelled a pellet, much like owls and hawks do.

When he reached the pellet, my fellow naturalist expected to see fish bones.  Instead, the pellet contained compressed fur. This bird had been hunting and eating mice, which is a normal, if uncommonly observed, behavior.  National Geographic says that ”mice constitute a large part of their diet.”  This got me wondering what’s in a typical great blue heron pellet. After some digging, I found this comment from a Cornell Lab Bird Cam video:  ”Herons have very acidic stomach secretions that help them digest nearly all of the prey that they swallow, even the bones! However, herons are unable to digest mammal fur, which is removed when the bird regurgitates or "casts" a pellet of indigestible material.”  This implies that fish bones get digested rather than “pelletized.”

If you haven’t witnessed this type of hunting, you might check out “Great Blue Heron versus Voles”, a set of high-quality images on the photography site, fredmiranda.com.  Then, most importantly, get outside and enjoy your world! 

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