Saturday, December 5, 2020
Home News Notes from the sticks: Herons, scourge of our stream

Notes from the sticks: Herons, scourge of our stream

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THE stream outside our house has a small waterfall with a pool beneath it. It is one of the few deep places on the watercourse, so it is a refuge for young trout on their way from the upper reaches to the main river. They vary from three or four inches long to a foot or so at a guess. I am very fond of our trout and unfortunately so are the herons.

I really do not care for herons. I wrote here about their distressing taste for mallard ducklings. I know it is nature’s way but I don’t have to like it.

The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is widespread throughout Europe and Asia as well as much of Africa. They are large birds, up to 3ft tall and with a wingspan of 6ft. In flight they look prehistoric to me with their heads tucked back and their legs trailing as they flap their wings slowly.

For such large birds they are surprisingly agile – I disturbed one the other day on our stream and it took off vertically, like this:

They roost and nest colonially in trees, where I think they look most awkward. There can be dozens of nests in heronries. I must say I was rather taken with this film of the Rod Stewart lookalike chicks. I thought the third and smallest chick was going to miss out on the meal but he gets plenty in the end.

Herons are supreme hunters. They stand motionless for ages, or stalk their prey slowly and stealthily, before striking at the speed of light.

They can effortlessly eat fish which seem far too big for them.

Of course fish in ponds must be like a takeway buffet, as many keepers know.

I wondered if those plastic/stone/brass herons sold as deterrents work. I found the website of Jacobi Jayne which sells bird feeders and food. It says that fake herons are more likely to lure the birds than to deter them. The only certain method of protecting pond fish is netting.

Herons are not fussy eaters and will go for frogs, worms, small mammals such as mice, rats and weasels, snakes and lizards and other birds. I often see one in the field across our stream – it seems to spend more time there than fishing – but what it finds I don’t know.

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I was pleased to find some daffodil bulbs on sale a couple of weeks ago in a nursery at £1.90 for 10 – equivalent price in the nearby garden centre £5.98. I bought several varieties (I plant afresh every year as they never seem to come back so well after the first time – I throw the old ones into a wild bit of our garden where they do very well, even if upside down on the surface) and got them into pots, planted at the standard depth of twice the height of the bulb. I was surprised to see today (Friday) that some shoots are already peeping above the surface. (They will soon stop growing when it turns cold). It sometimes is hard to keep in mind that autumn is not the end of the year for vegetation but the beginning. My daffodils have obviously read the book.  

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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