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 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.
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.
I have had run ins with Herons for the past several years. Anyone that has a backyard pond will get a visit from these very large and beautiful birds usually to the detriment of the fish in their pond, sooner or later. The Heron is only doing what Nature has equipped it to do and that is to catch fish either to feed its young or to feed itself to stay alive. They are huge or at least they have a huge wing span of close to six feet and they also stand around four and half feet tall.
After several visits over the years, it became a contest between me and the Herons. In my case to prevent them from eating my fish and in their case, the ever ongoing challenge of feeding babies and themselves. I devised a method of fences around four of my ponds each powered by an electric doggie shocker. I even had to put crosswires up over the top of the pond as they would land on anything that stood out of the water such as a turtle sunning spot, a fish fountain and even an urn bubbler, in an effort to get close to the fish. The fifth pond is very small, only 350 gallons and I completely covered it with a wire mesh hinged cover.
I also invested in a four camera video system that each are activated by movement. The problem with this system which is still very much in place today is that any movement activates it. The wind blowing the branches or even a fountain splashing the water and it turns on and runs for two minutes meaning that there is a lot of wasted footage. Even if I suspect there has been a visit, I have to run through a lot of images just to check. Luckily it is all digital so it is no big deal to re-format and use the same storage card over and over.
One of my friends who also happens to be the President of the Austin Pond Society, lives about a mile from me as the Heron flies so we usually compare notes or send text messages if either of us gets a visit. We had a meeting just last evening and the subject of Herons came up. We both commented on the fact that neither of us had seen or been visited by the Heron(s) for several months. Just goes to show that you should never talk about anything that you don’t want to happen. It’s just tempting fate.
I recently rebuilt the goldfish pond and took down all of the fencing around and over that pond. I had intended to leave it down in the mistaken belief that the pond was now sufficiently deep enough that the Heron would not attempt to jump into it as it had on previous occasions. I have that on video also from a couple of years back which dispels the theory that the Heron likes to walk into the water. One of the earlier videos shows the Heron jumping into the water after very carefully slipping between the wire fences around that pond and then standing and fishing after getting in. The pond was much shallower then only around two feet deep. After I finished the most recent rebuilding, the pond is now almost four feet deep in some places and well over three feet for the rest.
The only thing I can think of is that this is probably the same Heron returning after several months or so away and remembering that it was able to jump into this pond before I rebuilt it. The water is still a little cloudy and I can’t see the bottom but maybe the Heron can. If it had come last week, it certainly would not have seen the bottom as I had a severe case of algae bloom which totally turned the water green. I’m hoping that it is probably a little too deep for comfort and it will not try it again. Interesting that even though it was stumbling around in the water, it still managed to catch a fish. Natural instinct, I guess.
Two of the ponds which are also the largest, one at 5000 gallons and the other at 6000 gallons have very large Koi in them some more than 24 inches long and weighing in at well over twenty pounds. The Heron would probably not bother with them for two reasons. One they are too heavy for the Heron to lift out of the water and secondly, they are too big for the Heron to swallow. That leaves the two goldfish ponds one of which still has the wire fences around and over it and also a “Scarecrow” which is activated by movement and sends a strong jet of water across an area in front of it, enough to scare the birds and animals. I have a second “Scarecrow” which I will re-install back onto the rebuilt pond and hope that it will keep the Heron from trying to repeat this mornings little adventure. I really don’t want to put the fences back up and will only do so as a last resort.
I hate to lose fish, any fish even the goldfish of which I probably have well over one hundred. I also have around sixty large Koi and with the exception of the very biggest of them all who I have named “Big Bertha” none of the others have names or numbers. They are not like dogs and cats that you can make a fuss over or give them lots of love and get a lot back in return. After all, they are cold blooded and have no feelings to reciprocate. A fish is a fish is a fish…
I was making my rounds after being away for several hours and as I usually do, was feeding the fish. This is a good way to see if there had been any visits from the Heron while I was away as the fish go deep and won’t come back up for several days. Well, this is exactly what happened in the goldfish pond as the fish were nowhere to be seen.
I went back inside and sat down at the computer with the memory card from the surveillance system and started going through it. I knew that I was looking on cameras 1 and 3 as they focused on the goldfish pond. The thing to remember here is that the maximum length of each video is not much more than two minutes and not knowing when this might have happened, I had to start from just after I left the house which was about 1:00 pm. It was not until I reached videos taken around 4:00 pm did I get to see the Heron. He strolled up to the pond as he normally did and jumped the fence and spent a lot of time trying to fish from the wall that divides the goldfish pond from the Koi pond. He soon got tired of that and before my eyes, it jumped into the water. I had always believed that they would walk into the water and not literally jump into it. I don’t know how it knew how deep it was as it is a little cloudy and I can’t see the bottom. That Heron must have x-Ray vision as it didn’t seem to have any trouble.
It fished around for a bit but it is not possible to tell if it caught anything as it spent time behind the Thalia plant out of sight. I should explain that both the Goldfish and Koi ponds have wire fences around them that are powered by a doggy shocker that gives quite a jolt. I know as I am always running into it as I work around the ponds. There is also an intricate system of crisscrossed wires that span the top of the Goldfish pond with the exception of one small triangle that the Heron used to fly away. At least I thought it had flown away but as I was looking at other videos, it suddenly appeared in one trying to land on top of a fish fountain in the Koi pond. Giving up on this idea, it landed on the bog area and started to look for the fish. The big Koi spotted it and moved away but one of the 4 smaller ones got too close and became dinner. What is interesting as it stood there waiting so patiently is that the big Koi moved back in directly beneath it but it made no move to attack them, probably because they are so big.
It eventually flew off as it probably heard the dogs barking indoors as I arrived home. All told, the Heron was around the ponds from 4:00 pm through 6:00 pm a total of two hours but I have edited the video down to fifteen minutes. It is very interesting to watch as it shows how patient these big birds are and also just how much on the look out they are for their own safety. They are very nervous when they are on the ground or standing in the water.
After watching the videos, I went back to the ponds and added cross-wiring to the Koi pond plus eliminated the triangle on the Goldfish pond. I also noticed that the unit for the doggie shocker was not working so I changed it out for a new one. Hopefully, this will deter it but I thought that before. This is really a game of wits between me and the Heron and so far, the Heron is winning.
And I thought that us humans were the smart ones….
I had reason to get in a pond today
and the fish asked,”Are you here to play”
“Alas”, I said “I have no gills
to swim with you would be a thrill
my place is on land where best I can dwell
to tend to your needs and keep you well”.
“Okay” they said, “Here is our list
of all the things that need to be fixed,
for starters, those turtles have got to go
they eat our eggs and babies too
and really they haven’t got a clue
when it comes to basking in the sun
instead of laying on the rocks
they lay instead on the plant pots
and kill the plants by trampling them down
and blowing our cover when the Heron comes round”.
“Talking of Heron”, one fish exclaimed,
“what can you do to make us safe.
for every time that he lands near
we are all shaking in fear
for one of us that bird will take
and for himself, breakfast will make
Red Eared Slider
Oh yes, and also, by the way
when it comes to dishing out the food
the food is OK but we want more
it’s not like we are keeping score
but twice a day is not enough
so please, we need more of the stuff”.
Of course the fish were not talking to me
as in their pond I went about my task
although I am sure that if they could
their conversation on those lines would be
as those are the things that I worry about
and spend my time finding things out
like fences around each of the ponds
with doggy shockers that I keep turned on
and pumps and aerators to keep them safe
keeping water filtered, the muck to replace
and the fish have clean water to spend their time
which makes both of us feel fine.
I learned a long time ago
never to name the fish on show
as really I have no control
even though I do my best
as at any time they can get sick
which always ends in a bad way
and they can no longer play
and sadly I net them from the pond
as for them, their life has gone.
This is the way that Nature has deemed
that all living things a short time will dwell
in water, on land or in the air
as others are born to take their place
to continue each of their kind of race
fish are no exception to this rule
as they come and go even though it’s cruel
to lose your most favorite of fish
as that is Mother Natures wish.
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