The Great Blue Heron’s tall silhouette in the pond barely moves for hours. It waits patiently for its prey to swim in and out of the pond shadows. Looking for the shimmer of fish, then, it darts its dagger-like beak forward. Harpooning prey and swallowing it whole. Sometimes you can watch the unfortunate, slowly slide down the long sinuous neck, to its doom. The shimmer isn’t always a fish–possibly a can or piece of metal glistening in the sunlight under water.
The heron spends hours, continually hunting. Stepping carefully through reeds, under the water’s surface, it feels for the muddy path along the pond bottom. Long legs and flexible toes are its lifeline. They stabilize its body, while navigating through deep water and blind terrain under foot. Grasses and sedges aren’t all that could wrap around their feet–there could be discarded fishing line, string or plastic bags.
For years a Great Blue Heron visited several Portland wetlands, each thinking the heron was their own. At the Lan Su Chinese Garden, their heron stood on the roof overlooking the ponds and visitors. When hungry, it waded through their ponds, hunting for food. At Tanner Springs Park, our heron waded in the reeds and pond, walked the boardwalk and trails, as if a person visiting the park.
Visitors were in awe of our Great Blue Heron. They moved as close as they could to the big blue bird without scaring it off. They watched, photographed and whispered its secrets to their children. When it took off, it dwarfed anyone standing nearby, with a wingspan over six feet. Slow deep wing beats lifted it out of the pond with long legs trailing behind, off to another wetland–perhaps the Chinese Garden a stone’s throw away.
One morning our Great Blue Heron was found floating in the pond with its head under water. Visitors were distraught, signs and flowers were placed near the body, expressing their sadness. Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center who responds to injured native wildlife, examined the bird. They found no signs of mistreatment or broken bones, only fishing line around the neck and legs.
Please celebrate our wildlife by respecting their habitats. Keep them clean and healthy–leave no trace. Wildlife moves from one area to another. While there is little fishing at Tanner Springs Park other areas do have fishing. If you find wildlife in need of rescue please call the Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center to give them a second chance for survival. Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center: 503-292-0304.
Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron
Out of their loneliness for each other
two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
forward and become suddenly a life
lifted from dawn or the rain. It is
the wilderness come back again, a lagoon
with our city reflected in its eye.
We live by faith in such presences.
It is a test for us, that thin
but real, undulating figure that promises,
“If you keep faith I will exist
at the edge, where your vision joins
the sunlight and the rain: heads in the light,
feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”
–By William Stafford
© 1987 by the Estate of William Stafford