Retired from the University of Texas and too old to play soccer anymore. Now, in the twilight of his years, time is spent writing in this blog, hiking and exploring Texas Parks, photography, working out, gardening and tending to the five ponds he built .
The day started off badly when I was visited by a pair of Herons which by itself is very unusual as they are very territorial and usually fly alone. Only once before have I seen two of them together on the same pond and to have a pair visit me makes it special, sort of. I think that it was probably a parent and sibling with the parent showing the younger bird the ropes. Hope he learns quickly as I don’t need to be fighting off two of them at the same time. These two never got to fish because I was there. Sheer luck on my part. Then, early this Saturday morning, when I was sitting in the hot tub, there was one sitting in the trees looking all around. When I climbed out it flew off whether it was because of seeing my old and saggy body or more likely because I waved my arms, I am not to know. Hopefully, the water driven Scarecrows will scare them off if they do land to fish when I am not here.
As many of you who read my blogs know that I am a fish and pond enthusiast having built and maintain four ponds in my backyard. The largest is around 6000 gallons and I named it the Big Pond for obvious reasons. The next at 5000 gallons I named the First Pond. It is located off the deck and was the first one built about 30 years ago. Then there are two smaller ponds, one at 3000 gallons that I call the Round Pond and one at 2000 gallons named the Small Pond. These two smaller ponds used to be joined by a weir and the water from the Small Pond used to flow directly into the Round Pond. I had problems in balancing the water and went ahead and separated the ponds by rebuilding the Round Pond to make it twice as deep. They basically are still connected except that the water no longer flows from one to the other. The two large ponds contain Koi some of which are almost 30 inches long and several are between 25 and 30 years old being some of the first inhabitants to the 5000 gallon pond First Pond.
This rambling is leading up, albeit very slowly, to the subject of today’s blog which is actually about the Big Blue Heron that over the years has, at times, helped himself to a free meal at my fish’s expense. We have constantly had run ins with my goal to keep the bird away or at the very least make it difficult to get close to the ponds and it has become a real battle of wits. Whether it is the same bird or a constant stream of them, I am not to know. Wonder what the average life of a heron is?
Years ago when I first started having the Heron problem, I tried all kinds of things to make it difficult for the Heron to fish. I always understood that the birds would walk up to the water and then step in to do their fishing. Some people install trip wires located a few inches off the ground. I don’t know if they work as I have never tried them. Instead, I put 4 ft high wire fences around all of the ponds and then electrified them with a doggy shocker that would make the heron wary and hopefully deter it. This worked for a while until the heron figured that it could fly over the fence and land directly in the shallow water, totally contrary to my earlier beliefs. Of course, it couldn’t do that to the deeper ponds and I do have a video of a heron, who must have visited the Round Pond the year before when it was shallow. Now, a year later, not realizing that it is almost 4 feet deep after I had rebuilt it, struggled mightily to get up and out of the water. He still had enough wits to grab a fish as he flew up
Finally, I added water powered Scarecrows that are activated by motion detectors and placed one on the Round Pond and the other on the Small Pond. These things work very well and are noisy besides sending out a strong jet of water, enough to frighten the bird. The downside to them is that they go off at the slightest movement, whether it be the wind blowing the vegetation or me or the dogs passing in front of them. Consequently, my water bill goes up to $40.00 a month or more from the usual $17.00 when I have them activated. So, I only use the scarecrows when I know that there is a Heron Alert in our neighborhood. I have friends who very kindly alert me when the heron is around.
Based on my previous experience, the Heron usually is the most active in February and March probably because it has a nest with young that need feeding. This year, with so many of the ponds in the area dried up from the lack of rain, I was constantly on the lookout just in case. My neighbors from around me in the area usually text each other when they spot the big bird which was exactly the case this time around. My immediate next door neighbor did just that but the problem was that I was driving and was 20 miles from home and didn’t read the text until I arrived back. By then, the heron had come and gone. I forgot to mention that I have video cameras up in the trees focused on each of the ponds and the heron activated them. Well, the truth is that everything activates them including the wind making the vegetation sway, rippling water, birds and even the fish as they swim around and not forgetting myself and the dogs as we get wet as they go off. This means that I have to scroll through a lot of these two minute downloads on the disk in order to locate any big bird activity. One reason that I knew the Heron had visited was the fact that the goldfish in the Round Pond were not visible and would not come up to feed. They usually only go down and stay down when something spooks them.
Sure enough, when I went back indoors and started reviewing the memory card from the camera system, up popped my friendly Heron in all of his glory busy with a smorgasbord of Goldfish and Koi. He first tried to catch a goldfish by leaning over the Round Pond wall but it gets away. His next move is to hop up onto the wall of the Round Pond trying to catch a fish before eventually walking around the pond and then hopping down into the shallow water of the Small Pond where he managed to catch at least two fish. The last one being one of the bigger ones in that pond of at least 12 inches in length. He really struggled to turn and swallow that fish as the video shows close up and you can see the bulge in his neck where it has lodged. Whether that is its way of carrying the fish back to the nest to regurgitate or is the natural way for its own consumption, I wouldn’t know. Bottom line was that big fish was enough for the bird to complete its meal as it took off almost directly after swallowing its prize.
Needless to say, I have now activated the Scarecrows in the hope of deterring the Heron from making future visits. I plan on closing down the shallow pond and putting it out of commission, filling it in and turning it into a lawn. I will keep just the waterfall activated as a pretty water feature. In the meantime, I will catch the Koi and Goldfish and distribute them between the other 3 ponds so at least hopefully, no more of them will be Heron food in the future.
The Heron really is a beautiful bird and is very impressive with its almost 5 feet wingspan. Kinda reminds me of a Pterodactyl of yesteryear and from the fish perspective, just as dangerous. By the way, there is a Heron statue on the Round Pond so don’t confuse that with the real bird.
The Austin Pond Society held their Monthly Meeting this past Monday, February 17th at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin where most of their meetings are held. The only exceptions is when they go on location to other sites such as Mayfield Park or Austin Aqua-Dome and such.
This meeting was attended by around 35 people, some of whom were there on an exploratory basis to see if they wanted to become members which of course we always encourage visitors to do. All were invited to share in the fabulous pizzas along with salads and deserts brought in by the Members.
At 7:00 pm, Barb, our President, introduced the Speaker for the evening, Bill Biggadike of Bill Biggadike and Associates whose topic for the evening was going to be on Pond and Garden Lighting. Several of the members had expressed an interest in this topic. After a short video, Bill opened up the floor for questions of which there were many and he and his two associates, Kim Reynolds and Steve Garza spent the next hour answering them. Bill apologised for the quality of the video which presented the age old problem of taking pictures at night in the dark and not being able to use artificial light.
Following the presentation, Barb took over and conducted the small bit of business that she had. Julie, as the AAGC Representative was the first person up and gave a brief outline of the meeting that she had attended. Some time was spent in discussing the upcoming Pond Tour to be held on June 6-7. BJ talked about the number of ponds that she currently has on her list and the need for at least a half dozen more. There was also some discussion on the vacancy for a Pond Tour Chairman, a position which is so important and has yet to be filled. We really need someone to pull the Pond Tour all together combining the work by the various individual members and committees that each have separate rolls in getting this great event ready for the Public.
The meeting closed with the raffle drawing and the members drifted away after a rapid clean up of the room. The next meeting is scheduled for March 16 and the speaker will be Adam Coffin from The Great Outdoors. His topic will be “Insects and diseases that are new or lesser known” and should be interesting to learn about the creepy crawlies that inhabit our yards and gardens. Hope to see you there.
A small group of the Austin Pond Society Board met for a pre-season get together at the home of President Barbara Reinhardt. There are two new and two returning members to this group including Secretary Gwen Goulet, Treasurer Mike Peppers, Librarian Max Rice and Member At Large, Cat Bilberry of which, only Gwen and her husband Glen were able to attend. The group also included a long time Member, Julienne Smith, who has stepped down as Secretary, a position that she held for nine years. Her experience and expertise are not lost forever as she has volunteered to be the AAGC representative for the upcoming year. She was accompanied by her Husband, Phil.
Also included in the attendees were Nancy Hall who is the current Publicity person and BJ Jenkins in charge of the upcoming programs. BJ dragged her husband, Sam along with her although he is always a willing participant to her many interests. The same may not be said in the opposite direction as BJ has not yet taken up playing golf, Sam’s favorite pastime.
Another welcome attendee was Margaret Boeneke who is our Registrar and has done more to bring the Austin Pond Society into the 21st Century than any other member with her technical knowledge and computer ability. Also present was Glen Hubenthal who has been on the Board since time immemorial. No one except Glen knows how long that is. Glen is currently the Official Photographer and Historian for the Association and also the AKCA representative. His knowledge of things long past is invaluable in the current running of this group. Last but not least of those attending was Ted Paone who has volunteered for the most Popular Person in the Organization position, that of Hospitality. Looking forward to some of his concoctions for us to sample. Ted is better known as a previous Pond Tour Chairman. The final members in attendance were our host Barbara and myself, Frank Allcorn as the APS Webmaster and Blogger.
Barb has a very nice pond, built by one of our Sponsors, Hill Country Water Gardens. It is around 1400 gallons and contains three large and about seven much smaller Koi and four Goldfish. Being the winter season, the fish were pretty dormant and on the bottom of the pond.
This was strictly a social gathering and forever changing groups of people could be seen mostly sitting around the pond. Between them, the group provided some interesting food most of which was gone by the end of the get together.
The next door neighbor was out playing with her three pugs and being the dog person that I am, I just had to go over to meet them. They were the cutest things and played up a storm, that is after they came over to say hello to me. As I didn’t have any treats, they quickly went back to their fun and games.
After a couple of hours of socializing, the party broke up and we made our way to our respective homes. It was good to get together in a social atmosphere without the pressures of running the Austin Pond Society. Thanks Barb for hosting a great afternoon.
Austin Pond Society held its first meeting of the year and as is always the case, it was held on the third Monday of the month at Zilker Botanical Gardens. There were around forty attendees all were ready to welcome the new season. As usual, we were treated to a meal which consisted of two different kinds of chile with all of the fixin’s. Deserts were provided by the members. This was Ted’s first attempt at feeding the membership and he did an outstanding job. Thank you Ted. If this was a taste (excuse the pun) of what we have to come in the future, then we are in for some very good meals. Another reason to join the Pond Society.
The Speaker for the evening was one of our long time favorites, Reeve Hobbie who is a Master Gardener with Travis County Agrilife Extension Services. His topic for the evening was “Native and adapted perennials”. His presentation with the visual aid of slides was very interesting and picturesque and he had a very attentive audience.
Following the Speaker, Barb, our President had a few words to say concerning the relevant business of the day. Among other things, she mentioned is that Jeannie Ferrier who along with husband Steve, do all of the fish rescues, is looking for anyone who may be interested in learning how these rescues are accomplished by giving a helping hand. You can contact Jeannie at email@example.com. The meeting ended with the drawing for the raffle.
The next meeting will be held on Monday, February 17 at the usual place, Zilker Botanical Gardens. The next Speaker will be Bill Biggadike and the topic will be Landscape Lighting. Hope to see you there.
The Austin Pond Society held its final meeting of the year on November 18 in the form of a Christmas Party which was attended by around 45 members and guests. The entire evening was devoted to eating, mixing and mingling, Blue Santa and a presentation of checks to four different organizations. This was a marked change from previous parties when we have had some other entertainment in the form of contests, music, dancing and other such fun and games. As far as the food, what better way to celebrate Christmas in Texas than Rudy’s Barbecue with all of the fixin’s including pumpkin and apple pies. This was all delicious and very much enjoyed by the members.
The Austin Pond Society made four donations to charitable causes this year. They included Austin Pets Alive, KLRU for Central Texas Gardener, McBee Elementary School and Overton Elementary School for their programs of Hands on Gardening.
This year, as they have done for the past couple of years, Santa and Mrs Klaus attended in full costume along with a couple of helpers. They mixed and mingled and enjoyed the food and the company and made a presentation outlining what it is that Blue Santa brings to 4500 families in Austin that otherwise would be lacking gifts and food at Christmas. As per previous years, the APS members had brought in a whole tables worth of presents for the kids. One of the high points of the evening was when one of our Sponsors, Matt Boring of Texas Ponds and Water Features and two of his people, one dressed as a giant frog, brought in two large sacks of toys to add to the collection. A very nice gesture from Matt and thank you.
The evening closed with a small bit of business and discussion. We are still lacking a nominee for the position of Pond Tour Director which is a bit of a worry. We still have a some time but if any of you are interested, please contact our President, Barb Lenhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to see you all next year at out first meeting which will be held at the usual place, Zilker Botanical Gardens on Monday, January 20, 2020. The Speaker will be from Travis County Master Gardeners and the subject will be Drip Irrigation. By the way, I can’t believe that we are looking at 2020 already. It seems like something out of a science fiction movie…
Thank you to everyone that makes Austin Pond Society such a great group to work with and for being such a fun bunch of crazy fish and pond enthusiasts. Welcome to the start of a brand new year…
These past few days have seen some interesting encounters with the snakes in my yard and either in or around my ponds. It started when I heard the high pitched cry of some sort of animal or bird and not knowing just what it was, I set out to discover what was causing the sound.
It was coming from the direction of the large pond and it took some time for me to locate the source which was a partially swallowed frog in the jaws of one of the non poisonous Diamond Backed Water snakes that inhabits the area. This particular snake is all of 4 ft long. The frog was still alive with only the head and shoulders showing, the rest already in the snakes throat. There was nothing I could do for this frog even if I could have caught the snake as there was too much already down the snakes gullett. Even as I watched, the snake slid into the water and was gone as were the cries of the poor frog. I wonder how long they take to die inside of the snakes digestive system? Incidentally, as we usually associate frogs with croaking and grunting, hearing their high pitched cry of anguish is somewhat disturbing.
Then yesterday when I was outside, I again heard the cry of an animal in distress and followed the sound to the same large pond. It took awhile for me to locate the snake as it was hidden in the plants growing there but I finally spotted it. It may well have been the same snake as there are at least two maybe even three of them. This one was within reach of my long handled hoe and I was able to slip it under the snakes head and shake it about for a bit causing the snake to release its hold on the frog. This one was only held by one back leg and the snake chose to release the frog who quickly scampered away I am sure, much to the snakes disgust. The snake was gone in an instant sliding into the waters of the pond.
Today was even more bizarre as again, as I was out with the dogs just walking around, we heard the same familiar cry of an animal in distress, another frog as it turned out. This one was on dry land next to the Aqua Filter unit and was held by one leg by a much smaller Garter snake that was about 18 inches long. Even as I watched from a couple of feet away, a Diamond Backed Water snake came out of nowhere and made a grab for the frog. The Garter Snake immediately released its hold on the frog and rapidly disappeared leaving it’s prey to the Diamond Backed Water snake. The frog, realizing that it was free, smartly hopped off taking giant 4 feet leaps to get away leaving a very frustrated Diamond Backed Water snake who immediately turned its attention to me making several threatening advances before slithering under the base of the Aqua Filter unit with just its head sticking out. I made a couple of movements towards it and it withdrew its head each time.
Figuring that the excitement and that my lesson with Mother Nature was over for the day, I called the dogs, who had been very warily watching this whole series of events, and we went back indoors.
In retrospect, this was just Nature acting as Nature always acts with the different pecking orders in the food chain. In this case, the frog(s) were the original victim(s) followed by the large snake versus the smaller snake with the frog, a by product of this encounter, all acting just like Humans, the strong over the weak. I felt that I was intruding on this scenario as it was as Nature intended it to be but the anguished high pitched cries of the frogs was more than I could stand without at least trying to rescue them.
Just when I thought I had finished with this post, I was out in the yard this morning and thought I heard the familiar frog cry of anguish, this time, coming from the direction of the 100 gallon tub that contains a water lily. I grow the lilies in separate containers as the Koi tear them up when they are in the ponds. I went over to take a look and sure enough, there was a large frog in the jaws of very long, probably 3 feet of Garter Snake. This one was easy to deal with and I quickly “persuaded” the snake to drop the frog with a short length of hose pipe and then chased the snake out of that particular container where it quickly slithered away about as fast as it could go. I caught the frog and transferred it to another container and thought that was that until a little later, I noticed a frog back in the same 100 gallon tub. Whether it was the same one, who knows. They all look alike to me. I added extra water to the container so that the frog has a sporting chance to hop out when and if the snake(s) return. Frog paradise has now the added excitement of getting eaten by snakes. I wonder if there will be other additions to this story?
Such is the Law of the Wild… Note: The pictures of the snakes are not mine but are downloads from the internet. I don’t have any pictures of them coiled.
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