Honoured by a heron fly-past

In the Countryside: Why the sight of a heron made it a red-letter day for Rex Hancy.

Something made me glance upwards. Perhaps a movement on the periphery of my vision had triggered an automatic response. How glad I was to have been at the right place at the right time. Sailing majestically over the garden was a heron. Naturally out of courtesy to our family totem bird, I gave him a respectful nod as he lifted over the oak trees and disappeared from view.

Why do we think of a heron in the masculine gender? There obviously are females or the species would disappear completely. Is it something in the appearance of a bird which has evolved so perfectly to make full use of its mode of life? Those long legs carry the body clear of the surface of the water he steps through so daintily. The large feet provide perfect balance for him to release the spring in his long neck to grasp a struggling fish with his sword-like bill.

A heron flying overhead is a sight to see. I don’t know how directly a crow actually flies. I do know a heron has his objective and steers a direct course, his long broad wings beating slowly but regularly and carrying him at a steady speed.

Time was when this was a common sight over our garden. There happened to be a small rookery not too far away. As often as not when a heron passed by, a small delegation of rooks would suggest to him that he should take himself off elsewhere. They swooped and dived in a menacing way but carefully kept clear of that massive bill. When Grace Corne described the mobbing behaviour of rooks she had seen, there were suggestions that her rooks were actually crows. My observations would support her identification, especially as she has spent her life observing the creatures of field and furrow.

Occasionally in the past I was able to examine the contents of a heron pellet, the mass of indigestible material coughed up in a solid mass. Owl pellets have the publicity, but heron pellets are also useful indicators of local small mammal life from shrew, to mice and voles and even moles. What they do not tell us is the number and species of fish taken.