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The Bird of Nightmares

Garth Brown |

Yesterday I saw a blue heron out stalking through a hay field, which reminded me of last year, when we had one haunting our pastures into October. When I think about it I’m not too surprised that they’re as happy to munch on voles and mice as on fish, but I still find the prospect vaguely unsettling; I have mentally categorized these particular birds as aquatic, and seeing one skulking through the grass rather than a stream strikes me as deviant.

Or maybe I have an easier time relating to rodents than to fish, and the idea of being eaten by a heron is somehow worse than being eaten by a hawk, though neither would be pleasant. Herons are disturbingly snakelike. They patiently wait with near perfect stillness until the moment prey comes within range, and then they strike with preternatural speed. They also swallow their prey whole, though they don’t make as much of a production of it as snakes often do. The combination of a spear-like beak and a voluminous gizzard is more nightmarish than run of the mill death from above in the form of an owl or a northern harrier.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry I’ve had to once again resort to a dramatic reenactment. Lately I’ve been taking most of the pictures that are posted to the farm’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and if you’ve been keeping an eye on them you’ve probably realized that I can get good pictures of domestic animals, as well as salamanders, toads, bugs, plants, and clouds. Even if cell phone cameras get optical zoom capabilities in the future, I doubt I’ll ever be quick enough to routinely snap photos of the more exciting fauna I sometimes glimpse around the farm. So for the foreseeable future you’ll just have to trust that I’ll disclose the fact when an image is staged (believe it or not, that’s not a real Blue Heron pictured above).


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