Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stalking the Great Blue Heron

At first glance, Back Creek is pretty unimpressive.

Back Creek is a meandering little stream that seems to be of small consequence.  Its headwaters are on the other side of Mbrook Road and it flows through town with little attention from the public. If you drive through town, you cross it…but, I’m guessing no one ever gives it much thought.  It passes through the lower end of the farm…winding back and forth between the willow trees.  Then, it winds its way out toward the mountains where it joins the Middle River. The Middle River meets the North and South Rivers forming into the South Fork of the Shenandoah at Port Republic.  Then the South Fork and the North Fork join near Front Royal becoming simply the Shenandoah ….and flow into the Potomac at Harpers Ferry…which flows into the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic Ocean… wow!

Sorry…I lost focus. 

Back Creek...

One of the things we rejoiced over when finding this piece of property all those years ago was “live water”.  When buying/building a homestead, you want a dependable source of water.  When you find a stream, particularly a spring-fed stream, you are almost certainly guaranteed water…no matter what the circumstances. (or so that is the theory)  Back Creek has a reputation for NEVER having run dry.  While I honestly can’t attest to NEVER (we’ve only been here for a short period by community standards) I can say that while we have seen it low…oh so very low…we have not seen it dry. We have also seen it flood its banks in no uncertain terms…but, that is a story for some other time.

Back Creek provides a home to a great number of animal species, and life-giving hydration to far more.  Out toward the mountains it seems a little wilder, and the current generally runs a little faster.  It was out toward the mountains where I first heard “….oooooh….what is THAT?”  from a small person sitting  in the back seat, oh so many years ago.  When I looked out the window, I too said “oooh…what is THAT?”

THAT was a great blue heron…standing on one leg…fishing in Back Creek.  I didn’t know this at first glance; we had to do a little research in our trusty Readers’ Digest Animals of North America book when we got home. We still have the much used volume, although today’s searches generally involve the internet and not our family library.

The herons seem to favor Back Creek.  I cannot imagine the fishing is all that good, but maybe they like the rural setting.  Maybe the winding path of the creek makes for an interesting flight. Perhaps they like cows and sheep…and the occasional goat. Maybe they find life in M’brook as pleasant as all the residents do.

Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen the herons repeatedly.  They’ve frightened the sheep...hung out with the neighbors goats, and been spotted under the willows. We’ve seen them in the distance, gliding along like some odd leftover pterodactyl from some prehistoric era.

However, recently we have seen a heron numerous times down front.  We could get closer and closer. It didn’t appear to be frightened at all.  I got a couple of good shots and then I got a little overly zealous and crept closer.  I hacked a path through the weeds all the way to the creek. I think this annoyed him, because I haven’t seen him there in quite a while. 

One day, I tracked him down the creek under the willows until he finally disappeared into the weeds and brambles. I really…REALLY…wanted to get a shot of this bird in flight.

No luck. Good shot of his feet…and water droplets…

Then, as I was walking down the lane to the mailbox, I heard an odd noise. “CR-O-NNN-K!”   I was startled as I then heard sweeping wings and the heron flew from UNDER the bridge. It went swooping down the creek…all too sudden for me to take a picture.  I nearly fell off the bridge in my surprise. But, it was an awesome sight nonetheless.

The quarter-mile walk to the mailbox generally yields some kind of interest. Yesterday was no exception.  Again I heard the “CR-O-NNN-K!”… This time I was rewarded with TWO blue herons flying right at me. I started talking to myself.  “camera, camera….QUICKLY!...”  One veered off and went downstream while the other flew overhead…his long legs stick-straight behind him. He/she landed by the creek where it flows through the front of the farm.

Now, THAT was cool!

Oddly enough, this may be the same heron we saw all those years ago. They live for quite a long time.  This may be the great blue heron couple of M’brook. There are definitely two. Maybe they will take up residence under the willows. I don't think the farm will benefit from the herons living by the creek, but, I don't suppose we will have to worry about being attacked by minnows. 

It looks like I will be spending some time along Back Creek this winter...stalking the great blue herons.

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