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

Austin Pond Society 25th Pond Tour for 2019.


Yellow Crowned Night Heron nest with three babies.

The Austin Pond Society held their annual pond tour over the weekend of June 1-2 returning after missing out on having a tour last year, 2018. The size of the tour was also cut back to a more manageable number easily covered on each day, Saturday for the South Side of the Colorado River and Sunday for the north side.

The tour had a few of the spectacular favorites plus several new ponds which have never been on the tour before. All, regardless of the size, had something to offer in the way of beauty and in some cases, originality. One of the highlights included a nest of Yellow Crowned Night Herons complete with three babies that appeared to almost be ready to fly the roost. Ironic that one of the pond owners natural enemies could hold so much fascination when babies are involved.The night pond that has been on the tour several times before was just as spectacular as it has always been.

If you click on a picture, it will enlarge and you can use the side arrows to move along. Use the “escape” key to return to normal size.

I have put together two slideshows which takes about twenty minutes to view but is well worth it as it shows the spectacular beauty of ponds of different sizes and types and all of the accompanying work that has gone into the landscaping and plants and flowers that make up the whole garden. One pond even had three live donkeys which attracted as much attention as the ponds for the younger members on the tour.

All in all, the tour was a resounding success and even though smaller than previous tours, has probably set a new standard in both number of ponds and quality.

Written 6/5/2019

Cleaning the Ponds


The jungle that is my backyard
The jungle that is my backyard

Following the last wind/rain storm that we had a couple of weeks ago, the Spruce tree that I have in the 6000 gallon pond blew over. This is not really that surprising as it stands about fifteen tall and it’s roots are in an eighteen inch diameter shallow container weighted down with a couple of heavy rocks. For those of you that are unaware, pots and such when placed in the water are very easy to move around as the water makes them feel lighter and more buoyant. With this top heavy tree and the weightlessness (almost) of its base, it doesn’t take a lot of wind for it to topple. Spruce trees in the wild have a very extensive shallow root system that spread out in all directions with a lot of those same roots above ground.

You can see the extensive root systems of these Spruce trees

Yesterday, I resolved that I would make the effort to upright the tree. This required that I get into the pond along with the fish and the turtles. I kicked around whether to wear my waders or to strip down to a pair of shorts and chose the latter. Actually, the water was not a bit cold and as I had just finished moving and stacking the rocks to stop Sandy from digging her way out, was a very welcome way to cool down.

The blown over Spruce
The uprighted tree.

The tree uprighting went very well and I managed to swing it back into place and retie the supporting cords. I found the rocks that had fallen off when it went over and replaced them. I could feel as I walked around that the amount of leaves and debris was more than I should allow as when that stuff rots, it tends to give off methane and ammonia which are toxic to the fish. So, I figured that as I was already in the pond, why not go ahead and clean out as much of the junk that I could. At the same time, I was able to reach in the bog and clean it of some of the very abundant plants growing there.

By this time, I was really in the swing of things and after completing the 6000 gallon pond, I moved over to the 5000 gallon one that is just off the deck and proceeded to jump into it. As well as cleaning the muck out of the bottom, I needed to trim the Umbrella plant and take out other excessive growth. The urn that is in the middle of this pond had stopped working and I surmised that the hose had broke and needed to be replaced but when I turned it over, it was just totally blocked up. A few pushes with the drain cleaning snake and it was free and clear which was a pleasant surprise. I needed to rebuild the base as I wanted to put a shelf above the water line for the many turtles in the pond to have a place to sun themselves. I bought that urn thirty years ago and installed it on the very first pond that I built and subsequently moved it to the rebuild of that same pond later years.

There was a nest of fire ants at the exact spot that I used to get in and out and they managed to bite me a few times even when I was in the water. Nasty little buggers, fire ants. I don’t like them one little bit. I finally finished all of work inside these two ponds. I didn’t realize how sore I was with all of the exertion until I jumped in the hot tub.

Shallow Pond

I need to get in the shallow pond and clean it out and cut back all of the growth as I can hardly see the water. I haven’t seen anything of out friendly Heron but that is probably that he can’t even see the fish it is so grown over. That and the two Scarecrows. This is the pond that the two Brown Snakes do all of their fishing so it will be interesting when that time comes. I also spotted a Whip Snake yesterday so we may have at least three of them living here. Probably wear the waders for this one…

Footnote.
We had very heavy winds overnight and needless to say, the tree has blown over again. Oh well….

Written 5/20/2019

A Battle of Wits


Scarecrow


The Heron is a very wily adversary and relies a lot on keeping the pond owner guessing as to when he is likely to show up. I spent a week at home only leaving when I absolutely had no other choice, like running out of food or keeping a pre arranged Doctors visit. Normal stuff except when there is a hungry Heron wanting to catch and eat your Koi and Goldfish. He kept no regular patterns and it meant getting up at the crack of dawn because as soon as it was light enough for him to see, he would swoop down from the tree that he had perched in and land on the Goldfish pond wall. If the fishing wasn’t very good there, he quickly moved over to the L shaped pond which is the shallowest pond out of the four big ones. The Heron knew he could safely wade in this pond and as the video shows, spent time pursuing and if he was lucky, catching and eating fish. Other times he would fly in mid morning, other times mid or late afternoon and even late in the evening. There was no telling when he would show.

On a previous run in with a Heron several years ago, I put wire fences around each of the ponds and then attached a doggy shocker which worked pretty well as eventually, that particular Heron stopped coming. I was Heron free for maybe 3 years before the current one has shown up. I went to work on the shallow pond and installed a system of cross-wires that diagonally dissected the pond and were about a foot above the water essentially dividing the pond up into small sections. I tried to install the doggy shocker but the wires grounded out in several places so the system would not work. I left the wires as strung and turned my attention to a more physical presence in the form of a Jet Spray Scarecrow. I had purchased one several years ago but due to non use and probably neglect on my part, this one leaked and I could not find a way to prevent it. I had no choice but to go on line and see if I could find another on E-Bay or Amazon and managed to locate several that were available. They were by a different manufacturer, Hoont, but as they were a lot cheaper, I quickly tagged one for $29.99 and went through the checkout process. I deemed that this was an emergency and paid additional postage to get it to me in three days in which it duly arrived. This one is brand new in an unopened box and I quickly set about installing it on the shallow pond.

The very next day, the Heron showed up and my first inclination was to rush outside and scare it away but I decided to watch from my vantage point indoors to see what happens. After exploring the Goldfish pond without any luck that I could see, it flew up into a tree above the shallow pond and then sat there for what seemed an eternity. It kept looking down at the shallow pond as if it so see a way for it to safely fish but it stayed in the tree. Then all of a sudden it hopped around and flew off as fast as it could. I went out and checked and the Scarecrow had been activated and as it is pretty noisy, was enough to frighten it away.

I immediately went back on line and purchased another for $25.00 from the same company only this one was a slightly used one. When it arrived, it was missing a couple of screws which I was able to replace and I installed it on the Goldfish pond. I was able to adjust them both so that they limited the spray to the distance of the pond meaning that I am able to walk around the ponds without getting soaked. As far as I can tell, the Heron has not been back as the fish are beginning to lead a normal life and are starting to show themselves again.

I am not suggesting for one minute that I can declare victory over this wily opponent as I am sure that it will not give up that easily. If, by chance, he decides to turn his attention to either of the big ponds with the the very large Koi in them, then I will purchase a couple more of the Scarecrows and get them set up. Here’s hoping that it wont be necessary.

Written 4/8/2019

A Visitor to my Ponds


A not very welcome visitor

I had a very interesting visitor to my ponds yesterday. This one was about 4 feet tall with a 5 feet wingspan and was a beautiful blue-grey color. He was not a welcome visitor but that didn’t seem to phase him one little bit.

I have put together a video of his/her time that was spent in my ponds yesterday morning. The video is not of the greatest quality as it is made up of 7 separate videos that I got from the surveillance cameras of which I have 4 scattered around the yard and pointing at the ponds. These cameras only record in 2 minute increments and are motion driven which quite literally means anything that moves be it wind, water, waterfalls, decorative fountains and the like and includes me, when I am out there and of course, the dogs. The very first set of pictures is from a camera that is going bad and needs changing out hence the black and white effect. The rest show the heron in all of its glorious color.

The black and white picture is of a pond that used to be joined together to the pond in the color pictures that follow before I rebuilt it making it 4 feet deep. Way too deep for the heron to jump in which is probably why he moved quickly to the adjoining pond where the water is only 2 feet or less deep making it easy for him to wade around at his leisure as you can see from the video.

It is not clear just how many fish it managed to eat but judging from the absence of goldfish in the pond, I would say that he got quite a few. They could be hiding out and may appear in one’s and two’s later on but I am not holding my breath. There are still 7-8 12 plus inch Koi which is about what were there before so I imagine that he left them because they present a more difficult eating/swallowing problem than do the much smaller goldfish. We will just have to wait and see if when he returns. I keep calling it a “He” but truthfully, I have no idea if it is male or female and I have not read of any differing characteristics.

Stay tuned as I’m quite sure he will be back. Where were the dogs, you might ask. Probably curled up with me in bed and even if they heard anything were way too comfortable to be bothered with it.

Written 4/8/2019

Two Fish Rescues to Start 2018


DSC_0473

I had calls from a couple of different pond owners who for totally different reasons wanted to close down their ponds. The first call, the owner stated that he had two ponds, one with two goldfish and the other with eight. He needed to find them good homes as the house and one of the ponds was going to be demolished and a new one built in its place.

I was met at the gate by the owner who showed me the ponds, one front and one back. The front pond was about six feet by three feet and contained two goldfish which were very easy to catch. The pond at the rear of the house was a large circular one of about eight feet in diameter with a fountain. This one, we had to pump out in order to catch the ten goldfish. It didn’t take too long and with the owners help, I was quickly on my way. I took these fish to Mayfield Park which was no more than a half mile from where I was.

DSC_6608

The other owner just didn’t want the pond anymore and was getting rid of everything including the Koi and the equipment. He had eight Koi, the biggest around fifteen inches long and all of them were beautifully marked. His pond had fairly large red sandstone rocks which had obviously been put in with a front end loader as they were way too heavy for me to handle and reluctantly, I had to pass them up. The owner was going to fill the pond with them which I thought was a waste but as I couldn’t get them out, there was no other choice.

DSC_6607

I made arrangements to visit him and catch the Koi the first day. I had lots of help from the owner and two other people so the catching went pretty quickly. The pond was around 1500 gallons and I had to pump it down to make it easier to catch the fish. The pond had been professionally built back 2006 as was obvious by the construction. They had dug a deeper middle section which must have been close to four feet. I took the Koi back to my own ponds and put them in the 6000 gallon pond where they joined several other larger koi.

DSC_6606

The next day, I went back to North Austin where the pond was located which incidentally would not show up on my GPS system, to collect the equipment which consisted of a large Sanyo skimmer, a 2000 gph pump, a single grate and netting from the bog, a waterfall and filter box and several pieces of 1-1/2 inch heavy duty flex pipe. It took me a while to dig out the skimmer box and the pipe was also buried but not very deep. With everything loaded, I made my way back home to unload everything.

The rescues were relatively simple and in both cases, the owners were very nice and very helpful.

Written 1/21/2018

More Fish Rescues of the Easy Kind.


This past week, I received calls from two different people and an email from a third person looking for help with their ponds. As I am the website contact person for the Austin Pond Society, I get the calls first and then make the decisions regarding the outcome of the various and different requests after I have followed through and obtained the details.

Usually, it is a simple decision regarding the type of action and if it is something that the Pond Society can handle. Then I decide if it is too big for me in which case I pass it along to Jeannie, our President who also handles all of the larger fish rescues.

What is a fish rescue, you ask? Simply put, it usually is a cry for help from the public to assist them find a new home for the fish they have in their garden pond which for any number of reasons, they are closing down. In many cases, the Husband has died and the pond is too much work for the remaining spouse or in the case of one of the calls I received, the owners had sold the house and the new owners wanted to keep the pond but did not want the fish. In nearly every case, the owners are closing down the pond.

With the three requests I received, I quickly determined that the first was too big for me and was one that required both help with the rescue and then the ability to house 10-20 medium sized Koi until permanent homes could be found for them. As I am not setup to house any fish other than my own, I passed this one along to Jeannie so that she and her merry band of Koi Rescue Enthusiasts could make the arrangements to handle. I should mention that we try to find good homes for any fish we rescue by offering them among our members first as they always get first dibs. Then we turn for help among the general public and finally, we donate them to Mayfield Park here in Austin. The Park has 5 ponds that are big enough to house a substantial number of Koi and Goldfish and this year, both Jeannie and I have placed a large number of Koi, Goldfish and Carp into these ponds. The Carp were in error and were mistaken for large black Goldfish but they seem very happy in their new environment.

The second and third calls were both in the range that I could handle and so I called the owners and set up dates to visit with them and make the rescues. The first house was located not too far from me in an estate where all of the homes were so big, my own house would probably fit in them at least twice and probably more. This house had already been sold and the ex-owners were just completing the final clean out and catching up on the odds and ends. When I got there, I could see the pond behind the fence with the gate open and “Jim”, the ex-owner was already standing in the pond with his net, splashing around in an attempt to catch the fish. I said hello and introduced myself. We chatted for a bit as he tried to catch the couple of fish left in the pond. I suggested that I would hook up my pump to lower the water level giving him a much better opportunity in his task.

The deal was that I was to take an 8 inch Koi and the two largest goldfish and he would keep the much smaller remaining goldfish for his new home. He proudly showed off the Koi that he had managed to catch which was in a 5 gallon bucket standing by the pond. As if on cue as we watched, the Koi jumped out of the bucket and back into the pond. After we both recovered from the fit of laughter that this caused, I hooked up my pump to help him by lowering the water level so that he could catch the Koi for a second time. In no time at all, he had caught all of the fish. I bid him farewell and then made my way back home where I put the Koi and Goldfish in different ponds at my house.

The next rescue, a couple of days later was also another easy one. The owner, a very friendly lady by the name of Debbie met me and showed me the pond which was a circular one of about six feet in diameter and only a couple of feet deep. It was real close to the driveway making it easy to load out the trailer. I set up my pump which quickly lowered the water and I pulled out seven water lilies in pots as it was pumping. It was very easy to catch the twelve small Koi and Goldfish and transfer them to my container ready for transport. Between us, we bagged up the lilies and reloaded my trailer and in thirty minutes, I was back on the road again.

This time, I headed to Mayfield Park where I planned to put the rescued fish. This went by without any problems despite notices spread around the ground warning the public, “To not disturb the Peacocks and Peahens as they incubate their eggs or they might attack you”. I repacked my trailer and made my way back home. The water lilies made it back to my house and into my containers that house my surplus plants which are free to anyone needing pond plants.

Interestingly enough, this last rescue was one street down from where I used to live out in the Pedernales area thirty two years ago. On my way back, I pulled into the street that was my old home and drove to the end just for old times sake. It brought back very happy memories of my time spent living out there on my five acres and rekindled in me, the old longing to turn back the clock. Of course that is not possible but a man can dream, can’t he? There was a Realtor’s Sign for the property next to the acreage I used to own so I took down the number and gave them a call. Turns out to be a 15 acre lot with an unfinished house and the asking price was $425,000. When I sold my 5 acres thirty two years ago with a house, a large horse barn and paddock, aviaries and sheds and fully fenced, it went for $120,000. Go figure…