Monday, September 19, 2011

The Heron

Many years ago I ended a blog post with "what a strange species we are."  I was reminded once again.

Let me start with my pond.  It is not a large pond, just a small garden pond with a waterfall, lots of decorative rocks, some lily pads, of course too much algae and seven beautiful fish.  Well, make that three beautiful fish!!!   Actually,  now--  three bigger, older fish and three new small additions.  I'm sure you can goes the scenario.  But this is a very difficult situation for a biologist, naturalist, nature lover and garden pond aficionado.
Journal sketch of a pond I built long ago.
 I am not a new-comer to garden ponds. I created a small pond behind my garage back in 1994.  It was small, colorful and very peaceful.  I kept a few goldfish in it during the nice weather and brought them into my classroom in the winter.  When I moved I left it behind.  I'm sure it is a just a memory now, but for a few years it was my personal reflection spot.  I wanted to replicate the experience at my current house.  Six or seven years ago I had a little pond build next to our deck in a former herb garden.  Once again it was relatively small very peaceful and colorful.  A new place to enjoy nature and my own "entangled bank."  You might remember Darwin's 'entangled bank'.
"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Sitting on my Leopold Bench, naturalist hat on  waiting for a complex nature thought to come passing by.
A place to watch and to contemplate the "big questions."  I even added a Leopold bench this past year.  I wasn't taking any chances that a 'nature thought' might come and go and not be captured!!

"Big Guy"
So why are we a strange species?  I keep saying my pond, not the pond.  I created it so it is mine.  I bought the fish.  They are mine.  Before the pond it was an overgrown herb garden.  Now it is MY pond. But more than that.  I grew attached to the fish.  I was a bit reluctant to name them (except that I called the biggest one "Big Guy." )  That is him in the picture above.  A handsome, rather large, very colorful goldfish.  I suppose I grew attached because he was the last remaining fish from the original fish I stocked in the pond when it was new.  The others disappeared about three years ago, the last time I had a Great Blue Heron visit the pond.  That time it ate 6 fish and "Big Guy" (thought he was much smaller then,) was the only one that escaped.  He was in the filter box and stayed hidden.

One of the last photos of some of MY fish. 
He was the only one that survived a power outage a year latter when the power went out  and the water heated up in mid-summer while we were away.  He was a survivor!!   He grew and actually became pretty used to coming to the surface to get food.  (I think that might have been the reason for his demise two weeks ago.)  I had a total of seven fish.  Five goldfish of various sizes and two rather large koi.    That was then.  That was the population three weeks ago.  Now only three of the original seven remain.  ( I added three more small goldfish yesterday so the current population is up to five.)  How did this predator get the four big fish.  MY big fish?  I had taken evasive action after the last encounter three years ago.  I deepened the pond.  I built a rock cave house so the fish could hide.  I put nylon string around the pond and installed a motion-activated water sprayer called a "scarecrow."   This seemed to do the trick.  Well it did the trick for three years.  Then three weeks ago we saw another Great Blue Heron in the yard.  It was stalking the pond.  MY pond!  He (or she since it was a bit on the small size,) saw the fish.  They were huge.  They were colorful.  They were on the surface feeding.  They were MINE!   I chased him away, but he roosted on the roof of my neighbor's house. Waiting.  that is what BG Herons do most of the time. they wait.  Eventually he flew East.  two days later he was back.  By my garden.  Is the time right???  No, I made the noise of the water spraying 'scarecrow' and he flew away. What was I to do.  I put up more string.  What I did not do was put netting over the pond.  Big Mistake!  I never did see him again, but two weeks after the first sighting I didn't see my fish either.  I mean MY fish.  None.  Nada. Zero.  Here we go again.  How can I get so depressed at nature.  My house was not blown down by a tornado.  I did not get flooded out lie the folks in Vermont.  No huge storm surges like in New Jersey.  Just no fish.  It was because they were MY fish.  Taken from MY pond.  Three days later I caught a glimpse of first one fish then another.  They had been hiding.  Three were eventually spotted.  Not seven, three.  Four were missing.  How did the Heron do it?   I protected them  String.  Nylon line. Deeper pond.  Water sprayer.  But there it was.  Four missing, handsome, colorful, healthy fish.  There were still there.  One koi, and two of the smaller goldfish.  Scared, jittery, and often hidden, but still swimming in MY pond.  Boy was I depressed!  It is hard to reconcile with Mother Nature.  You know "Red In Tooth and Claw" and everything.  "It is all part of Nature."  "The Cycle Of Life!"  But they were MY fish!!  Taken from MY pond........  

Yesterday I bought three new fish.  One small koi.  Two small, cheap, feeder goldfish.  They have brought the population in the pond to 5 fish and lots of frogs.  Not MY frogs, just frogs.  Not MY fish, just fish.

I did not name the new fish!

Here's To You 'Big Guy'
Maybe if I started calling him MY Blue Heron.............

A strange species INDEED !!!


Stewart M said...

Hi there - splendid post! Used to have "my tree" to sit in as a kid!

We also have our Magpies in the back garden - if truth be told there are probably heaps of them, but they all morph into one that we call our own.

Are you starting to lay in food stocks for the winter yet? We had a spring day yesterday - so it will be snowing with you soon!

Cheers SM

Stewart M said...

Hi there - you win a prize for the longest comment ever posted on my blog!

Pop over to photo-blog for some tempting reasons to visit!

Cheers SM