Heron Food II

Heron with fish
Heron with fish

Retirement is having enough time to sit and watch herons feeding! I watched this Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) feeding in a rock pool, at low tide, at Scalby Mills, which is located at the north end of North Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire. It had just discovered and picked up a fish – maybe a grey gurnard? It then spent about ten minutes trying to swallow it.

Heron with fish
Heron with fish

First of all it tried to align it length-ways – head first along the beak – and had a first attempt at swallowing it. For some reason this did not work, so it gripped the fish by its head and placed in down on the seaweed.

Heron with fish
Heron with fish

Placing the fish on the seaweed (below). It then picked it up very quickly, and performed this operation of trying to swallow it, followed by putting it down again, about three times.

Heron with fish
Heron with fish

It did not wait long before picking it up again each time (below).

Heron looking at the fish on the seaweed
Heron looking at the fish on the seaweed

The heron almost seemed to be saying to itself “I can swallow this, I can!”

Heron with fish
Heron with fish

Eventually, it picked up the fish for the last time – was it waiting for it to die and stop moving? – and aligned it headfirst. But once again it moved the fish about until it was content to have a go at swallowing it. Was this fish approaching the upper size limit for prey items?

Heron grappling with a fish
Heron grappling with a fish

Eventually, the heron swallowed the fish. It did this quite quickly and I only just managed to get the money shot of the fish going down!

Heron swallowing fish
Heron swallowing fish

The heron then stood up and I imagined it gulping the fish down into its stomach.

Heron, seconds after swallowing a large fish
Heron, seconds after swallowing a large fish

When I look at herons now, I will always have the unsavory thought of what hapless creature – fish, duckling, crab etc. – has just disappeared down into its belly!

Heron food

 

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

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.

Heron with gunnel
Heron with gunnel

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.

Heron with gunnel
Heron with gunnel

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.

Heron with rock gunnel
Heron with rock gunnel

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.