Where have the Herons gone?
Through the month of May I wondered: isn’t the marsh looking and sounding kind of empty?
As I make my local rounds I’m often achingly aware that many bird species are in decline, across the continent and around the world. This year, there has been the added danger of avian flu reducing bird populations.
But from a limited perspective in one neighbourhood, it’s hard to know if yearly changes in activity amount to a trend.
In early May a good crowd of mergansers swam along the lakeshore each calm morning, but soon enough they departed for points north.
A Grackle cuts a striking figure on a piece of driftwood at the water’s edge, inflating to maximum girth and belting out a one-note croak.
From the marsh the songs of Marsh Wrens ring out from the hiding places in the reeds. In our yard we were treated to a similar huge call from a tiny House Wren.
A solo Trumpeter Swan made several appearances through May, though I’ve seen no sign of a mating pair recently.
Looking through a local lens, that’s what matters, really. Will this Trumpeter stay healthy, find a mate, eventually raise one or two or three healthy Trumpeter cygnets?
And will the pair of Killdeer on a nearby mudflat, and another pair on a rocky stretch of beach, keep their nestlings safe through the danger season, successfully luring potential predators with their beautiful diversionary tactics?
Will the Spotted Sandpiper, the Gallinule and the Sora and the Virginia Rail, the Green Heron and the Black-Crowned Night Heron, return to safe nesting sites in these marshes year after year?
(For many birds, of course, the “local” neighbourhood extends to the Gulf of Mexico coast, or the jungles of Central America, or Patagonia. If they don’t find safe places all the way along their annual migrations, they won’t be able to return here for another summer. And each time they do return, it’s a blessed miracle.)
Through most of May, the open waters of the marsh were home to very few ducks, and not many geese either. The minnows were jumping, though, frogs were singing, and carp were splashing.
Just when I thought the Herons had gone far away this season, a turtle offered a clue.
I looked up high, and to my surprise six Great Blue Herons circled far above the marsh.
Just a few days later Herons appeared on perches to the north in the marsh, and more often to the south along a lakeshore breakwater.
Where the marsh opens into the lake, gulls were constantly circling and diving. Finally I understood: this is a great place for a Heron to hang out just now.
A patient slow stride, a sudden strike into the water, a toss of the head; that meal is down the hatch.