Fall Farewell to the Herons

Summer 2016 is over.  What we used to call Indian Summer has arrived and in full force last week as temps were in the 90s just before a major rain and coolness reappeared.  But the changes to fall are visible and the feeling of fall has arrived.  When the rains have come they have flooded over the dock, suspending the wrought iron chairs and table on the water; eerily bucolic with a dense background of early morning fog and green foliage bent down into the water.

fall-pond
My vantage point on the dock at dusk, early fall.

I half expected some heron to appear in this silent scene; peering over edge of the dock, but none did…the Greenbacks and Night Herons gorging themselves on the small aquatic creatures in early September have now vanished to the South- heading for their winter homes.  It is always bittersweet to realize I have not seen them for a few days and then understand they have truly flown…long journeys ahead…I hope they have had their fill here- enough to last them until they find a weary traveler’s pond for respite along the way.

I haven’t written much about my beloved Greenbacks over the summer as there has not been much to tell except for the occasional visit they have made to fish.  They had the nest across the pond early in the summer season but it was raided by some predator…not sure what happened after that except a good view of the cockeyed, dangling twigs- all that was left- made an unsound habitat for any newly hatched or fledgling Greenbacks (and if you are at all familiar with these heron’s nests this is saying a lot as their nests are notorious for being messy mishmashes of twigs).

We had heard such an uproar of Greenback alarm calls one evening that we got in the car to drive around the pond (as we could not have walked there quickly enough) only to find the sad scene of what was left of the nest and one baby Greenback- precariously perched in an area of the pond and trees where we could not maneuver.  Whether this small fuzzy Green Heron made it was never visible to us.  In my eight summers here this is only the 2nd time we have not observed fledgling herons learn to fly and head South with their parents for the winter.

Which brings up our next visitors… Black Crested Night Herons, who have spent a great deal of time on the pond this summer. (I have often wondered if they might have been the predators of the Greenback nest but it may have been the random raccoon making its rounds too.) The Black Crested have been on the pond relentlessly after the fish kills as there have been tiny Bluegills and myriad tadpoles survive instead of being big fish food.  Tiny frogs dark, slickly brown, perch on the rocks waiting for an occasional winged insect, waiting to be speared by the herons; the small perch gullible, unsuspecting, swimming in the shallows near the shore. I am sure the Black Crested Night Herons, stocky built as they are were almost overfilled/overfed for lift-off this fall.

What a sight to watch them patiently fish, motionless with their stunning black cap sporting narrow white plumage, that stocky gray and white body, those mesmerizing red eyes. One morning one flew in and plopped down on the lawn, walking near the house…me no camera in hand… with cocked head it turned, giving me a no nonsense, stern glance- with those piercing red eyes- then headed in a calm stride down to the shoreline.  Avian fisherman undeterred by woman behind window glass…

Now the pond sits dark brownish green from the rains and detritus of neighborhood lawns.  There is the Kansas breeze blowing lazy waves across this watery sight and fall migrants will soon replace those just vanished.  Who will it be to land here this fall, when will they appear?  I await the change of the season and the change of avian friends at water’s edge. Welcome to fall on Green Heron Pond.