Dock Master Goes Fishing

By: Winifred McGowan

Volume 18, Issue 9, September 2023

Our Dock Master, a great blue heron, is checking for fish before plunging into the water and returning to the dock. It caught its fish on the first try. Prior to processing the fish, it fluffed its wings a bit. Next it would "thwap" the fish on the dock and often would back away quickly, precisely the distance it would take to reach the fish with its neck stretched out. Alternately, it might spear the fish. Much of the time it was hard to tell which it was doing, as the kayak blocked the view of the action.

While the heron was repeating these motions, a deer crashed through the trees and swam across the bay to another island. The heron did not even look around!

Continuing to process the fish, as a deer swims by!

Presumably, the heron pummeled the fish until it died before swallowing it whole, about 5 minutes after the plunge (cooks take note!). Following its meal, the heron bent way down to get several quick drinks (straightening up between drinks), cleaned its bill on the planks, and preened its feathers. It returned to the dock many times and caught a number of fish.

There was a slightly different sequence when the heron fished at the edge of the water: it would dip the fish in water: periodically or stop and get a drink for itself during the "processing" of its meal.

After cleaning the beak, time for fixing the feathers. 

I am amazed that the heron didn't fly off as it usually does. It knew I was watching and I was relatively close, maybe 30 meters away, both of which frequently trigger a hurried flight with an indignant croaking.

[Note: All photographs by the author, Winky McGowan]

By Winifred  McGowan

Winifred (Winky) McGowan came to the islands at a young age to visit her grandmother, aunt, and sometimes her cousins, and continued coming with her parents for several years. She and her husband became owners of Little Sagastaweka Island in more recent years. Sagastaweka Island, the other island bought in the late 1800s by her great grandparents, the Finleys, was a gathering place for a large, extended family.
Winifred spent much of her working life in conservation related jobs, inspired by her love of plants, maps, and the outdoors. You can guess that the islands were part of that inspiration.

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 4, April 2020, Photography, Nature

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 9, September 2023, Nature, Photographs

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