The heron returned again this morning; perched on the roof of the pagoda two doors down, it stood immobile but alert. The pagoda had been constructed in response to the heron’s earlier visits, when it had lifted fish from the neighbour’s ornamental pond. The loss of prize fish triggered the construction of what was, in effect, a wooden cage, a space within which the heron would not feel comfortable, hemmed in and prevented from quick escape. The pagoda has served its purpose and the heron now merely uses it as a perch from which to eye up the wildlife pond situated just over the low flint wall. Although lacking in fish, it is used by amphibians and these are viewed by the heron as an equally acceptable snack.
There is an unhurried sense of patience about the heron, the way in which it can stand immobile, poised ready to strike at some creature within the water in which it stands. Unlike the busy foraging behaviour of the Little Egret, which stirs up the sediment with its stunning yellow feet, the heron adopts a passive approach; ‘good things will come to those who wait’.
I do, however, sense a degree of nervousness about the heron when it visits. After all, these are urban gardens and there are many unfamiliar sights and sounds; is the movement glimpsed at a window a threat? Is there a cat lurking nearby? Even so, the response of the heron is measured, the head slowly rotating to direct its piercing stare towards the perceived threat. The gaze can appear almost reptilian, cold and harsh; a shared ancestry brought to the surface. The reptilian nature is even more apparent when these birds are seen close up. A few years ago I helped to ring a number of heron chicks; delightful creatures that would vomit up the remains of their most recent meal in order to discourage you from handling them! Lacking the graceful plumage of an adult bird, these chicks were disgustingly reptilian and primitive in form, so far removed from the elegant lines they would attain once attired in their grey and white plumage.
These visits tend to come early in the morning, before much of the neighbourhood is up and about. I often wonder whether it is the same bird returning, or whether a number of individuals make use of the ponds as they pass over the town between other feeding sites. It is very easy to think of the town centre as being truly urbanised but from the air the long narrow gardens that characterise the old part of town must seem like a single green entity, an oasis replete with well-stocked feeding opportunities.