Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 59: Good... or evil?

The Qu'Appelle River. Good... or evil? Is it a good river suffering from human indifference, or is it primarily an evil river bent to seduce the unwary? Shall we spend time and money to save the river, or is it best put down? I don't know. Let's talk about herons.

Good... or evil? Undeniably good. Even a lousy day float can be saved by a heron sighting, because they are shy, graceful birds rarely seen outside the river. I have seen a number of great blue heron on the lower Qu'Appelle. Their territory does not have much overlap with pelicans, or strangely enough, great horned owls. They are only blue in flight. Standing on the bank they are thin and grey, like a large stick.

Unlike pelicans, it is unusual to see more than one heron at a time. I suppose they areas shy around others as they are around humans. It seems to be motion that sets them flying more than anything else. They don't seem to actually hear my approach before I round the bend. I have made some sad conclusions from this, which I hope prove to be false. Birds don't have visible ears; surely their hearing is not as good as ours. If the heron doesn't hear me what else might birds not hear? I have a terrible fear that the rich melodies of songbirds are not fully appreciated by their mates, but only by us.

If it's motion that scares them, I imagine that staying still I must resemble a log floating through the river. If you think that's silly, maybe you haven't spent enough time on the river. Certain ducks will lay low and still to mask themselves as logs. I thought this was silly at first -- clearly, it's a duck. However, I have now seen actual, bona fide logs that look like that. I have seen logs that look like muskrats, stereos, dishwashers, fishermen, and canoes. Trees grow queerly and water gnarls them until any shape can be obtained. Now anything floating slowly in the water, or sitting motionless on the bank, is at considerable suspicion of being a log.

I once thought I saw a heron standing on the bank. However, the object made no motion, and I was paddling, so I knew it must be a log. A surprisingly heron-shaped log, but a log nonetheless. I continued paddling toward the next bend. The log bent down, ate a fish, unpacked two huge wings, and flew around the corner.

When I came around the corner there were two herons standing there, and my log still in flight over them. The herons were spooked by my appearance, and they launched into the sky as well. I had never seen three herons at once before, and I don't think they knew how to act in such large company, either. A couple of them settled into the tops of trees, and it is very funny to watch these large birds perch on the high branches. The tree bows considerably under the weight. I suppose herons are too large to fit onto the lower branches.

There, friends, is my case that herons are good. Make of it what you will, and ask yourself, is a river more than the sum of its birds and twists?

Day 59 ended: 50*28.947N, 101*47.859W

1 comment:

LBA said...

I lived under a heron nest on the west coast at one time. Yes they live in trees, and take large dumps from the top branches. Needless to say I did not live there long.