At Ambleside Pond today, Gillian and I saw TEN Great Blue Herons! Two were sitting on the edge of the island, looking East over the pond, heads held high, in that silent, slightly sinister way that herons have. Rather like a pair of judges on the bench of an English high court, waiting to pass a death sentence on a felon in the dock. Up in the trees above them, eight more Great Blues perched on willow branches that bent and groaned under their weight. They were magnificent! A few saucy crows flew past, and pretended they were going to land beside them. But it was all a bluff. NOBODY dared intrude upon their space. Even the swans were nowhere to be seen! And, as usual, when something unique presents itself, I had left my camera at home.
“When I get home,” I thought to myself, ” I’ll get my camera, and Joe, and come back!”
The moment I returned, Joe and I, together with my trusty Fujifilm digital camera, went haring off to the pond in Squeaker. (Our vintage Ford Geo Prizm.) Just in case the herons had already flown the coop, I snatched up a handful of lettuce. It was always possible that the swans would put in a late appearance, though I knew we had reached the hour of their siesta.
When we arrived, the herons were still there, frozen in time and space. The swans had turned up. It was their nap-time, and they were eager to waddle up the log they use as a ladder to get from the water of the pond to the island where their nest lies hidden.
That was when I noticed a major problem. The Judges were sitting at the top of the log-ladder, and showed no inclination to move. The swans swam up a few times, bowing their heads, as if asking politely that the usurpers shift. Just enough to let them past. The Great Blues didn’t budge.
“They’re not going to let them up!” I said to Joe.
“Don’t be silly,” said Joe, who loves the swans, and admires their aggressive behavior to all intruders on their turf. “They’re bigger and tougher. They won’t put up with it.”
Not this time. The cob, who has grown into the bump on his nose and his full strength by now, finally tired of being a nice guy. He rushed the ladder, intending to get far enough up it to rout the herons. But the moment he stretched out his great neck to start the assault, one of the Judges attacked. With his strong, sharp bill he made one sharp, decisive stab at the cob’s head and drove him back. (He did, of course, have the higher ground.) Then he went back to his dignified pose, as if waiting to have his portrait painted. None of the other herons blinked an eye. Their calm confidence suggested that they had no doubt of the outcome.
How the mighty are fallen! Will the ducks, crows, seagulls and sparrows ever have the same fear and respect for the swans again? The king and queen of the pond were routed. They made one or two more defiant passes at the ladder, but each time drew back at the last moment. Perhaps they were alarmed at a steely glint in the eye of the defenders of the bridge, that I was too far away to detect? Sadly, they swam away from the scene of their defeat, looking for another place to nap.
I ran after them, my heart wrung with pity, and fed them the lettuce I had brought. It was poor consolation for their public humiliation, but a swan will never pass up a tasty lettuce leaf. It was better than nothing.
But I came home, worried for the first time, that the Great Blues may decide to colonize the island, and set up a permanent heronry right here in Ambleside! I LOVE Great Blue Herons! They are almost primeval beings. Distant cousins of the Pteradactyl, and other flying dinosaurs. But I do love the swans….
To make matters worse, when I came home and downloaded my photos of the herons, and of the scene when the swans met their Waterloo, I lost the entire kit and kaboodle. Double rats! You will just have to take my word for it. All I can offer now is a few photos of the Great Blue that I managed to find on the Internet. Some days, nothing goes right…