Herons and Life


Big, Beautiful and deadly

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.

To watch the latest video use this link https://vimeo.com/393958826
To watch the previous video from a year ago, use this link https://vimeo.com/329165998

Written 2/27/2020

I Wish I Could Fly


Flying off into the sunset

Have you ever thought of a reason why
that birds should fly up in the sky
when all we can do is walk on the land
no matter how hard we plan
and even though we all might try
we know that we can never fly.

My dogs run and jump and play
with paws on the ground to help them stay
firmly fixed as they walk around
no thoughts of flight nothing that profound
as content with life as it stands
flying is just not in their plans.

The fish in my ponds all behave
used to their life below the waves
and even though they may swim and jump
they are much too solid a lump
to leave the water just a little way
and flying for them is only play.

I envy the birds to have this skill
to come and go at their will
sometimes walking on the ground
alert to danger that is all around
a quick little hop and away they go
leaving the danger far below.

Painted Bunting

Written 7/11/2019

Stormy Weather


The blown over Spruce Tree

I was out doing my usual thing of driving and listening to Audiobooks and noticed that the sky was getting very overcast and that the wind was getting up. Before I had driven much further, the sky opened up and the rain quite literally came down in the proverbial buckets being driven sideways by the very strong wind.

I and many of my fellow drivers slowed down to a crawl with our four way flashers going. Of course, there is always the idiot that thinks he/she knows better or does not recognize the dangers and continues to drive at a high rate of speed and we had a couple of them. As I got closer to home, the rain had tapered off to just a steady downpour but on my street, it was covered in leaves and broken branches a sure indicator of the high winds.

Fearing the worst, I pulled into my driveway with no visible problems at least in the front of the house, to be met at the door by four very excited little dogs all pleased to see me. Whether it was their natural enthusiasm or the after effects of the strong wind and rain, I am not to know.

We walked out into the back yard where it was very visible that the winds had been very strong with a multitude of leaves and small twigs interspersed with the occasional larger branch littering the grounds and floating on top of the ponds. Other than that and the fact that a lot of the vegetation was beaten down things didn’t look too bad. I noticed that many of the large leafed plants like the Lilies, Tara and Canna, their leaves were badly damaged full of holes and splits showing the intensity of the rain and the power of the wind. I have a Spruce tree that stands in a pot in one of the ponds and it had blown over. When I checked the rain gauges, they showed that six inches of rain had dropped in probably a little over ten minutes.

Showing the Rain and Wind Damage on 5-5-2019

Oh yes, the famous Murmuring Creek that my street is named after and that runs through the bottom of my garden was actually flowing just a bit. It never has any water in it at any other time except when we get a gully washer. All in all, considering the power of the wind and the intensity of the rain, we got off very light. Just Mother Nature doing her thing…

Written 5/7/2019

Losing Pets


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Losing a much loved pet is very difficult for all of us and some of us grieve for a long time as we try to move on.  The same is not true, at least for me when I lose any of the big Koi that live in my ponds. Fish, by nature, are cold blooded things and don’t do well in the cuddle department. I know that some people do not share my views on fish but I find it hard to even come close to any form of grief when a fish dies as they are sometimes apt to do.

A couple of days ago, I lost a big white Koi which was the biggest fish I have ever had. She was one of the originals so probably close to 38 years old which is pretty good for a fish in an unprotected pond. She was well over three feet long and probably weighed close to twenty pounds. I suspected that she was  going to that big Koi pond up in the sky as she had been acting very lethargic the past few days and did not appear to be eating and sure enough, when I came out to feed them the other morning, I could see her laying on the bottom of the pond. It is my experience that these large Koi don’t float immediately and it usually takes a couple of days for them to get up off the bottom of the pond, I suppose as they start to decay and the gasses start to form.

After a real struggle on my part due to her size and weight as my net was hardly big enough,  I managed to get her out of the pond.  Close inspection did not reveal any outwardly visible signs of damage or disease so it must have been an internal problem of some sort. Anyway, dead is dead and after pulling on a pair of long sleeved rubber gloves, I carried her to the bottom of the garden and with some effort, tossed her over the fence for the vultures or other wild things to clean up. She was heavy enough that I managed to wrench the muscles in my left upper arm in the process causing me to light up the air with a few well chosen cuss words.

I have at least fifty or sixty Koi in three of the five ponds some of which are almost as large as the one we just lost. These are the second batch of Koi bought way back in 1980 following a refilling tap water incident which wiped out the original stock purchased in 1977.  I have one surviving Koi from that original 1977 group and he is definitely the oldest and is at least 41 years old but being a male, is not among the very largest ones. There are also a couple of hundred or so Goldfish in three of the ponds and it is hard to stop them from breeding especially in the ponds that are populated by Goldfish only. Koi do a good job of keeping the population down as do a couple of turtles that are in the other ponds as they eat the eggs and  young fry.

The occasional fish die off is not always a bad thing as it keeps the population manageable. I am glad though that I don’t have to make the choice  of who lives and who dies. I’ll leave that to Mother Nature…

Here come the buzzards,  Mother Nature’s cleanup crew and so the pendulum swings as it always does, in the grand scheme of things.

Written 8/9/2018

 

Austin Pond Society Meeting June 6-18-2018


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The third Monday of the month rolled around just as it is supposed to and with it, the Austin Pond Society held their monthly meeting at the usual place, Zilker Botanical Gardens. This meeting was just a little different as instead of a Speaker, we opted to take a Tour of the beautiful facilities that we call home.

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We met as we usually do in the Zilker Meeting Room and were treated to Fried Chicken with all of the fixin’s accompanied with sides and deserts supplied by the members which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Following the meal, Barb Reinhardt,  who was filling in for Jeannie Ferrier, the President who was away on personal business, introduced four new members and then held a brief Q and A prior to everyone joining the three Docents who had so very kindly volunteered to show us around.

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There were around 30 members in attendance including the 4 new ones and we split into three groups each accompanied by a Docent and started on the walking tour of this wonderful place. Austin is so lucky to have these beautiful gardens for all to see.  Having visited many times before, I took off on my own so that I could take as many pictures as possible which I have turned into a video set to music.  Many of our Members have not visited the Gardens before and I am quite sure that it was an eye opener for them.

The Business section of the meeting on video.

APS Business Meeting June 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The video of Zilker Botanical Gardens.

Zilker Botanical Gardens 6-18-2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The next meeting of the Austin Pond Society is on July 16 and will be held off site at Mayfield Park. Check the Website and Facebook for further details.

Written 6/20/2018

Austin Pond Society May 2018 Meeting


The Austin Pond Society tried something different with this May Meeting and held it at one of our Sponsors Store, namely Aqua-Dome located just off Ben White in Austin, Texas.

Aqua-Dome Meeting May 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The meeting was held outdoors with the weather cooperating, a nice breeze and not too hot. The first part of the meeting was as usual the Business Section and although the idea was unique, the soundtrack left a lot to be desired due to external traffic sounds. The second part of the meeting in which the owner, Gary Coffman, gave a demonstration on repotting water lilies was held in a different part of the large yard and the sound is much better.

Another of our Sponsors, Jet’s Pizza located in Brodie Lane, supplied the hungry group with a grand selection of different pizzas for us to devour which we proceeded to do at a rapid rate. There were about 40 members that had showed up and they listened intently as Gary showed us how he repots his water lilies. He also discussed Lotus and all of the other freshwater bog plants that he has for sale.

The meeting was over by 7:45 pm and I am quite sure that many of the members learned a bit about repotting water lilies. Thanks to Gary Coffman and Aqua-Dome for giving us something different.

This is the Business part of the meeting.

APS Meeting May 2018 – Business from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Gary Coffman demonstrating on “How to repot Water Lilies”.

Austin Aqua-Dome 2018 Repotting from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Written 5/22/2018

Austin Pond Society April Meeting 2018


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The Austin Pond Society held it’s April Meeting at the same place and same time this past Monday, April 16, 6:30 pm at Zilker Botanical Gardens Clubhouse. It was attended by a little over forty members which was not surprising as this meeting was the Annual Plant Swap. This always nurtures a lot of interest as the members bring in their unwanted plants to exchange for others of a different variety. In theory, you had to bring in plants in order to be eligible to swap for other plants but in reality, there are always so many plants left over at the end of the meeting that it didn’t matter if you had plants of your own or not. The donating members didn’t care as they would have to take them back home if they didn’t exchange hands.

The food for the evening was the good old American staple, namely hot dogs with all of the fixin’s and deserts provided by the members. Yours truly made do with a bag of chips and several cookies as I don’t eat hot dogs. Following the meal, Jeannie, our President got right into announcements and the small bit of business that needed to be done. She was followed by Barb as the Special Events Organizer who explained to the group the rules of the Plant Swap. As usual, the volunteers who had arrived early and had helped with the set up all went early as they had have first dibs. They were given about five minutes to grab whatever they fancied before the rest of the ticket holders rushed out to fight over whatever remained. They were followed by those without tickets to hopefully grab all that was left to save the donators having to take them back home. Incidentally, the tickets signified that you actually had contributed something in the way of plants or fish. I opted to not donate anything this year as the few remaining plants that I have at home will be used in my own ponds. This did give me more time on taking the pictures and videos so it had some positives.

The swap went very quickly and the meeting was over by 7:30 pm with even the cleanup completed. This has to be one of the fastest meetings on record.

The next meeting will be held on May 21 at the Austin Aquadome. More details to follow. The three videos that I made are below.

The first is entitled 2018 April Business.

and the second is the Annual Plant Swap live.

The last is a slideshow to music of all of the pictures that I took

Written 4/25/2018