Monday, October 3, 2016

Fish for Breakfast

The backyard fauna includes a variety of birds, including a white heron and what appears to be an immature blue; and on a number of occasions both have been observed stalking.  The stalk of a heron is surprisingly cat-like: there is something feline about the elegance with which the legs and neck move slowly, gracefully, gratuitously (was that bob needed? but surely nothing in nature is wasted) towards the perceived prey.  But never until this morning did we see a heron actually feeding.  There he was, however, the immature blue, standing on the edge of the nearest island, fully visible from the bedroom window, and trying, for some minutes without success, to persuade the increasingly floppy silver-colored fish to turn from perpendicular to parallel in the beak.  Herons, after all, like all birds, have no teeth; so swallowing Nemo whole was apparently the only option.  (Nemo was, in fact, the size of a good-aged catfish, and we felt not the least compunction for him.)

Meanwhile, out of stage right appears Captain Hook’s ancient nemesis, whose log-like flotations have disturbed these waters on three or four occasions before.  Like the heron, he has yet to catch anything during observation hours.  Generally he floats, lazily, apparently waiting for some ripple to stir his sensitive nostrils and alert him to the presence of prey.  This morning he moved with a rapidity that was simultaneously astonishing, alarming, and instructive (not that we were going to paddle in the marsh, anyway): his elbows (do alligators have elbows?) actually popped the surface as he sped towards the island.  Then, a few feet away, a pause.  Once again we see the log.

Meanwhile the immature blue heron is still wrestling with its fish.  It is more difficult when your beak is your only pair of hands, as well as your mouth.  (New idea for a rebuke to small future offspring: “What do you think you are, a heron?!”)  The beady reptilian eye of the heron shines with victory; the beady reptilian eye of the alligator with anticipation.  The alligator slides a tad closer, situating himself in some reeds.  Excellent camouflage, my friend; but you won’t be able to pass through those without the heron noticing.  Meanwhile, the immature blue has finally downed the fish and is taking sips of swamp water as a chaser.  Then, elegant as ever, he deliberately—at least it looks deliberate—turns his back on the alligator and stalks gracefully a step or two away.  Not running, not taking off.  Just a few steps.

The alligator decides that this particular immature blue is perhaps a little too mature already, or else too far away.  He turns and slides slowly a few yards back towards the center of the pond, and resumes his solitary station, awaiting further ripples.  The heron takes off.

All’s quiet on the northern front.

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