Thursday, June 13, 2013


Muskrat heading home from grocery store.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

With water levels up a bit, wildlife seem to have responded in a positive manner.   Bass have made nests in the warm shallows, and from the Bayou pier we can see half a dozen or more fish of size guarding eggs among the fanned, white stones.  On one of my trips to watch what was going on there, I found a muskrat on the pier munching green grass shoots.  Finally, it left the pier for home with grass bunched in its mouth.  We're not certain how many of these muskrats there are, but with high water they've got more territory to build homes, find food and raise young.

Aidan and Magnus have been with us on several occasions, too, watching for turtles and birds. Canada geese, despite the nearly continual presence of aggressive mute swans, have successfully raised young in the area marsh grasses.  We counted 20 goslings in a flotilla this morning, accompanied and guarded by their parents.

One sight that's fascinating, but still a bit hard to watch, is the hunting and eating of snakes by the great blue heron.  Last week Mary Jo observed a heron as it caught, then managed to down a large, fat water snake.  Part of the process in subduing the snake enough to get its head down its gullet first requires gumming it near the head repeatedly, then dropping it back into the water momentarily to get a new grip with its long beak.  Eventually, head-first, the snake disappears down the bird's esophagus as the heron tilts its head backward.  To aid in swallowing, it may take a sip of water, much as we would after eating a dry cracker.

Well, this noon we watched that process once more with a slightly smaller snake as the heron's lunch.  It was close enough for me to capture with a small telephoto, including the bulge in its neck as the still writhing snake went down the chute.  Some powerful stomach acids must then do the rest of the work, we assume.  Not more than a minute after eating one two-footer, the heron slowly walked forward and caught another snake, this one a bit smaller, and if we missed any technique the first time around, it was on display even more plainly with the second snake.

For one who doesn't much care for snakes, or at least so many in an area where we often go wading - even though they are harmless - this heron and its brethren are seen by my wife as heroes in keeping a balance, maybe even tipping it toward the heron a bit.  I can't say I enjoy those brown water snakes, either.  On the pier at Rock Island last week, four or five good-sized snakes were wrapped together on the top of the pier, mating or enjoying the warm concrete...or whatever it is snakes do in community.

Here, then, are some of the great blue heron photos taken today.   -  Dick Purinton


Tony Woodruff said...

We're all sure glad the lake level has been moving in the right direction. Thanks for the photos of the muskrat and blue heron. Nice to know that the herons are helping keep a check on the water snake population! By the way . . I was reminded a few weeks ago through a story on NPR that "canadian" geese is an incorrect term. They are properly named canada geese. The reporter jokingly said they have no rights and privileges as citizens, don't carry passports, etc.!
- - Tony Woodruff

Richard Purinton said...

Correction made!