The Great Blue Heron and the Catfish

The last time I was in Kyoto, there was a flock of ‘cranes’ along the shore of the Kano River. I would have my coffee and pastry at Cafe Kano and walk down Gojodari every evening to the bridge to watch the beautiful birds catch their dinner. Ignoring the young couples sitting on the rocks, the birds waded along the rocky shore. If they eyed their dinner, the cranes would stand perfectly still. They would quietly extend their neck, spearing the fish with their long sharp beak in a single jab. Then, in a flash, the fish was consumed whole. This scene was repeated every evening. The cranes were used to the people and those enjoying the sunset on the river give the birds their space so as not to scare them away.

For the Japanese, cranes are very special. They represent good fortune and longevity, honour and loyalty. Since the end of World War II, cranes have also come to symbolize peace.

You may know the story of Sadako Sasaki who was a victim of the bombing of Hiroshima. She was two years old when the bombs were dropped on 6 August 1945. Her family lived about .6 km from the epicentre of the blast. She developed acute radiation poisoning in the form of leukemia when she was ten years old. She wanted to fold 1000 origami cranes and she wanted to do this before she was twelve years old. For the Japanese, cranes are believed to live for 1000 years. If a person folds one origami crane for each year of the crane’s life (1000 in total), their wish will be granted by the sacred bird. Sadako wanted to overcome the horrible disease.

“I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world. ~ Sadako Sasaki” by katerha is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sadako did not get her wish but she continued to make origami cranes to help her family – at least 1300 of them filled her hospital room.

In her memory and of all the innocent victims of all wars, a statue of Sadako Sasaki (bottom image) is on the grounds of Hiroshima’s Peace Park.

“Hiroshima Peace Park” by nathangibbs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Children’s Memorial – for Sadako Sasaki” by ohsarahrose is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In Asia, my friends call these beautiful long legged shore birds, ‘cranes’. Some of them are cranes but others are Great Blue Herons, Arden herodias. The difference doesn’t matter unless you are adding a bird to your life list – the people of Kyoto find sitting along the Kano River at the end of the day watching the graceful birds ‘peaceful’.

Cranes appear in the art of most countries and, in particular, the countries of Asia.

A detail of a crane embroidered in gold on textile (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, artist unknown).

Below is a wedding kimono (Shinto) made in Japan during the twentieth century. The cranes are symbols of longevity for life and for the marriage.

Great Blue Herons are freshwater birds standing as high as 1.4 metres. Their wing span is larger, up to 1.8 metres. . They weight from 1.6 to 3.8 kg. They have a long straight yellow bill for spearing fish, a very long curved neck so that they can swallow the fish whole, with a blue grey back and wing coverts. Their life expectancy is approximately seventeen to eighteen years.

Sometimes, on a Saturday, I will drop in to a live streaming of Ferris Akel’s Tour on YouTube. I do not know how long Ferris has been giving these driving tours but he generally starts off at Wildlife Drive continuing to Sapsucker Lake and then Ithaca to check on Big Red and Arthur. Yesterday, I arrived very late and didn’t stay long but long enough to watch a Great Blue Heron catch a catfish in the ponds on Wildlife Drive. For some reason – and no one knows why since they drained the water from the ponds recently – they are draining them again! As a result, the waters are going down and down rather quickly and the birds are having a banquet.

Spearing the fish with its long bill.

Lifting it up out of the water.

Wrestling with that catfish! Ferris said it was the biggest fish caught by a Great Blue Heron he had ever seen.

Here you can see that bright yellow bill and how big the fish is.

The Great Blue Heron had trouble holding on to the catfish it was so heavy.

Watching in the distance was a juvenile Bald Eagle ready to challenge the heron for the fish!

The Great Blue Heron works for about five minutes til it gets that catfish in its bill precisely the way it wanted it.

And, in a blink, that fish was gone down the long neck of the heron. Wow.

Some of the other birds around the Great Blue Heron and the Juvenile Bald eagle were a Glossy Ibis, a pair of male Ruddy Ducks, and lots of little goslings.

The Glossy Ibis is a medium sized shorebird compared to the Great Blue Heron that is large. It has a beautiful chestnut coloured head, neck and shoulders, and iridescent green and purple wings. In the image below it is probing around with his long beak for insects as well as crayfish and small fish – and there were lots and lots of small fish that it was finding yesterday.

The Ibis is searching for small fish in the little pools of very shallow water.

The Ruddy Duck is actually a diving duck that goes to the bottom of the water to find insects and plants but yesterday, it was acting like a Dabbling Duck! It was so funny to watch.

Canada Geese were plentiful and the goslings had a huge safe area to gather the grasses and eat. This is where the goslings and geese should be – where I live their habitat has been taken over by housing and industrial building sites. It is difficult to see them making nests on gravel and concrete and walking their goslings across highways!

Ferris Akel’s tours are on YouTube. Just Google his name. Past programmes are there. There is no charge. Many regulars join the chat but you can just pop in and out if you want to watch. One of the joys of Ferris taking similar routes is being able to see the changes in vegetation and birds from season to season.

It is hatch watch today for many of the Osprey Nests in Wales and Scotland. I will keep you posted. Sibling #2 has not returned to the Achieva Osprey Nest since it left yesterday morning – it is presumed safe and catching its own fish. Tiny Tot remains and is getting some nice fish. Its feathers are not long enough yet and it needs to continue to practice hovering. Still, it will be soon for a first flight and we hope Tiny hangs around the nest for a number of weeks as it gets more flying under its wings. The Ks on the nest of Big Red and Arthur are full to the brim and last time I checked it was a nice day in Ithaca.

Thanks for joining me. Have a fabulous day and take care.

Thank you to Ferris Akel for his streaming cam where I grabbed my screen shots.

The credit for the featured image is: “Great Blue Heron Reflected” by Charles Patrick Ewing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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