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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 6:00 am | Fair 46º


Captain’s Log: Watching a Blue Heron Feed Outside the Box

The large predator nabs two gophers, just feet from a family picnic at Tucker's Grove Park

I’m in awe watching the food chain at work — survival requires death as critters feed, defend their space and their food source. It ain’t always pretty, but it is always real.

We were the best ever at it, which is how we climbed to the top of the food chain (well, as long as we stay aboard the boat!). Sometimes a critter really astounds us by adapting and feeding outside the box — differently than how we think of the critter foraging and feeding.

A great blue heron, for example, spends many hours up to its lofty shanks in shallow water, waiting for a fish to swim close enough for a quick lunge with its long neck and pointy beak to secure a snack. Over time the bird can nab enough fish to nourish itself sufficiently, which takes some doing considering how big a bird we are discussing. They are huge! When one casts its shadow while flying overhead and lets out that awe-inspiring squawk, it is enough to make a person duck for cover thinking perhaps pterodactyls have returned.

Recently, while eating lunch together at Tucker’s Grove Park, my daughter Heather and my grandkids Grace and Ava were treated to a scene that knocked their socks off. About 50 yards away, a great blue heron stealthily stepped across an open grassy area well away from playgrounds and other people-attracting structures. They watched it stop and focus on the ground a few feet ahead. Very slowly it lowered its body and brought its head into position, while maintaining intense focus on the ground ahead. Faster than the blink of an eye, the bird lashed forward, jammed its pointy beak into the ground and yanked a gopher right out of its hole. The gopher was obviously done, for and the bird easily swallowed it.

The girls were in disbelief. None of them knew that a blue heron fed outside the box like that. The stealth, precision, speed and skill were unbelievable. That bird certainly had this down pat! They kept watching the bird, and soon it stalked slowly across the grassy field again, scanning the ground ahead. It stopped again, and the whole scene played out just as before.

The big predator bird went stalking across the field a third time and again found a spot to stop and focus on the ground ahead. But as it was focusing and preparing to strike, a child 2 to 3 years old squealed with delight at seeing the bird, and the parents casually allowed their child to race off across the grassy field toward the big predator bird that towered over the kid.

My family caught their breath and watched in terror, fearing for the child and wondering why parents would think it was OK to let their kid do such a thing to a large wild predator. Fortunately for the child, the big bird had already eaten two gophers and didn’t feel like defending the third. The bird let the child live and flew off. Those parents apparently didn’t understand how close to disaster their child had come because of their ignorance.

They thought their kid’s actions were cutesy and funny. I just shake my head in disbelief over such parenting around wild critters.

By the way, I sure could use a couple of those gopher-hungry herons around my yard at this time of year.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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