I watched this Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) feeding in the Ria Ortigueira, Galicia, Spain,one evening this week. It suddenly picked up what looked like a ‘beakful’ of seaweed and algae from the shallow water.
After a series of deft manoeuvres, it managed to dislodge the vegetation, whilst still retaining its prey, which was probably a rock gunnel (Pholis gunnellus). Rock gunnels are an eel-like fish found in the intertidal zones such as this in the north Atlantic.
Herons have a very eclectic diet, feeding on a wide range of creatures (fish, frogs, reptiles, insects, small mammals such as voles and shrews, and juvenile birds). Gunnels however, can make up a large proportion of their diet, depending on availability. Rock gunnels can survive for a while out of water, above the waterline, underneath rocks and algae; but this one was covered by water; that did not prevent the heron from discovering it, alas.
The heron spent some time manoeuvring the fish into a position where it could be swallowed. The gunnel was presumably desperately trying to free itself from the grip of the heron, and at one point it succeeded and it fell into the water. The heron was very quick to pick it up again; it was not going to lose this hard-one prize (!) and the fish was quickly swallowed. The heron carried on feeding, but I could not help thinking about the elongated fish slowly dissolving in its stomach! If a God designed this world, He/She/It should have made it such that one creature did not have to die in order for another creature to have a full belly!
These images were taken with a compact camera, a Sony HX400V, which has a 50x optical zoom. The 1200mm zoom on this little camera is certainly great for capturing shots of distant birds, but the quality of the images is rather limited at the upper end. It is nevertheless, very light and easy to carry around, unlike an SLR with a quality long lens.