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Heron Fishing Time

Great Blue Heron

When I think about "time" I think about observing great blue herons fishing. The grace of their long legs and long bill silhouetted along our rivers or lake lends dignity to this bird. I watched a great blue heron try several times to catch a rock bass near Rocky River Nature Center. After several futile attempts the heron walked slowly farther down the river.

Once down the river, the heron finally caught a small fish in its beak, gave it a toss in the air and swallowed it head first. Later, this same heron caught a larger fish by piercing it with its beak, carrying it to the shore, and then beating the fish several times before swallowing it. I began to wonder … once caught, do fish ever win? I found an essay written by John James Audubon in 1840 giving an account of a heron piercing a fish so large that it endangered the heron’s own life. The fish pulled the heron beneath the water and the heron was dragged along for several yards before finally disengaging itself from the fish.

The great blue heron is also an opportunist! One of my friends, walking along the Rocky River, observed a fisherman knee deep in water calling out, "Stop it!" She did not realize until she rounded the bend in the river’s bank that the fisherman was calling to her to stop a great blue heron from eating fish from his bait bucket on the shore. After eating all the fish and moments before the angry fisherman arrived in his waders, the heron flew up with its signature prehistoric "squawk." (A sound one would think would come from an animal much less elegant looking.) My friend started laughing and pretty soon the fisherman, exasperated and admitting defeat, joined in the laughter. Time is the heron’s signature squawk, flying quite full; not wanting more. Time is a fisherman’s futile pursuit, followed by laughter on the shore.

Time, for me, is a great blue heron - one of Cleveland Metroparks grandest birds, fishing, squawking, and gracefully lifting into the air like a ballet dancer. I love this bird and hope you too may observe our regal fish stalker, creating memories of your own heron time.

—Joni H. Norris, Naturalist, Rocky River Nature Center