SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Probably because we grew up on the paved streets of a big city, my wife and I now appreciate seeing animals from the surrounding woods wander across our property, especially in the morning while we eat breakfast. We never tire of watching the indigenous fauna cautiously scurry through, everything from chip monks to deer, most likely attracted by the seed that falls on the ground from our several bird feeders. We’re not actually bird watchers per se but we do put out seed and suet on a regular basis so cardinals, blue jays, gold finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and groups of wild turkeys pay random visits. The only unwelcome intruders are crows and starlings who scare away the others and devour all the food, but I guess they also have to make a living.
Rather than being just fans of backyard nature we frequently walk along some of the area trails at Sandra Pond in Westboro, Wachusett Reservoir in W. Boylston, Mt. Wachusett in Princeton, and even our own town’s Dean Park. If you’ve ever been to our park’s miniature lake you may have seen, besides the ever present geese and ducks, a Great Blue Heron that shows up from time to time, standing at the far end of the pond at the water’s edge near a partially submerged log with some skittish turtles who dive into the water as soon as people approach. The heron similarly takes flight when anyone comes near, so admiring its beauty from close up is impossible.
This past February while we vacationed in Florida, I was fishing off the side of a marina when a Great Blue Heron swooped down and landed no more than 10 feet from where I stood. Showing no fear, the thing remained motionless while I repeatedly casted without getting so much as a bite. The bird obviously was waiting for a free meal, but after about 15 minutes it gave up in disgust and flew away. I was sorry to lose its company, actually having felt flattered that it trusted me enough to come so close, but didn’t blame it for losing patience.
The next morning I was back at the familiar spot when my feathered friend paid another visit. I recognized it by its broken and twisted foot which caused the bird to stand in an awkward position, and I hoped to have better luck this time so as to repay the thing for its confidence in my angling ability. Sure enough its faith was rewarded for I shortly caught a nice sized catfish. The bird didn’t move but I could see it lick its chops in anticipation.
I had been warned that the whisker-like barbs of this variety of salt water catfish contain a toxin which causes hands to swell if jabbed, so I very carefully grabbed the fish’s lip with my pliers, cautiously removed the hook from its mouth, and tossed it on the ground near the bird. Watching my every move, the heron quickly scooped up the fish in its long beak and flew away with its juicy prize, but without so much as a goodbye wave or thank you.
Though I fished at that same location for another week I never saw my blue feathered companion again, making me feel not only scorned but rather offended at the bird’s lack of gratitude. After returning home and telling someone of this incident, the idea was proposed that perhaps the bird had been poisoned by the catfish’s venom and rather than doing the heron a favor I had killed it instead. I of course would rather believe that Great Blue Herons are too proud to accept cheap handouts and that the bird had befriended someone else who could catch a better brand of fish, perhaps a sea bass or snapper. I wouldn’t want birds to consider me their enemy, since they all “tweet” and “twitter” don’t you know.