You’re going to have to wait for the Olde Homestead story again, because this is too incredible not to share at once.
On Sunday, I went to Central Park for my first bit of hardcore NYC birding in awhile, what with all the traveling and writing I’ve been doing. Migration is starting to kick in again, with little clumps of Confusing Fall Warblers (Dendroica whatthefuckwasthatshitwherediditgoii) scattered around the landscape and the plaintive calls of shorebirds mingling with the equally plaintive calls of birders expiring in the quicksands of Jamaica Bay.
I had a particular yen to fill some embarrassing gaps in my year list, of which perhaps the most shameful was Green Heron. Yeah, somehow I’d missed Green Heron until nearly the end of August. How does that even happen?
So it was with much delight that I spotted a lovely specimen of Green Heron standing on an earthen bank not far from where the Gill enters the lake. An immature Black-crowned Night Heron was a few feet away, doing a passable imitation of a lawn gnome – but the Green Heron was putting on a show, hunching up and stretching out, stalking up and down, and eventually flying to the top of a nearby fence to better show off for me and the pair of bemused German tourists that I pointed the spectacle out to.
At one point, the Heron cocked hir head and fixed one yellow eye on the top of a fencepost, where a large dragonfly had landed. For a long moment I watched the bird watch the bug; then the Heron swung its beak around in a single darting sweep, and swallowed the erstwhile terror of the skies in two bobbing gulps.
Dang, I thought, that was cool! I can’t wait to blog that. Perhaps I could do a post about the primal appeal of predation, and how even very serious birders seem to enjoy swapping stories of improbable meals they’ve seen birds consume….
Jump-cut to this morning. I’m sitting in my windowless cube when my Auk-sense starts tingling and I reach for my cell phone – a bit too late. The call – from my brother Brian – has been transferred to voicemail.
And what a message I get. Brian, it appears, is standing in a swamp somewhere outside Albany. While waiting for a train to pass so he could check some power lines on the other side of the tracks, he found himself observing not just one Green Heron but a large colony of them! Already enough to make me jealous.
But then, he noticed one of the Herons skidding awkwardly across the water, unable to get airborne. And then he sees the form pursuing it through the much – an otter, which proceeded to catch and dispatch the bird. He’d never seen an otter before, let alone one engaged in such dramatic behavior. I was, of course, immediately compelled to relate the entire story to the other technical writer at the office, who I’m sure thinks I’m charmingly eccentric now. Or something.
Apparently this sort of thing is not unheard of amongst otters. A study of otter droppings in England found that birds may be an important component to the otter diet where fish stocks are in decline or birds are particularly vulnerable. Certainly that’s in keeping with the general principle that animals inclined to eating flesh will often take whatever they can catch and get down the throat. Still, it’s not anything I’d ever heard of or even considered.
It’s a funny old food web, innit?