Dining with Great Blue

Great Blue Heron Hunting
To my surprise Great Blue landed right in front of me and started hunting.

Sometimes when you are looking for birds they just don’t cooperate. They become invisible and disappear. Your only choices are to curse and go home, or to exercise a little patience and sit and wait. A few weeks ago I was faced with that decision. I was on the beach at the north end of Qualicum. It was cold and overcast and a good excuse to go home, but I had a little time to kill and an itchy trigger finger. I even surprised myself when I donned my winter coat, golf gloves, rubber boots, and set up the tripod and camera at the tide line. Twenty minutes later there was only a distant Common Loon on the water, a flock of Brant too far down the beach, and a few Black Turnstones turning over stones.

Great Blue Heron and Greenling
Great Blue’s first catch was a juicy, wiggling greenling.

Ten minutes later I was questioning my sanity when a Great Blue Heron flew towards me. I expected it to fly right by,  but it surprisingly deployed its landing gear and floated down fifteen meters in front of me. It took a few steps to the south, stopped, stretched up its neck for a better look, angled its head, and shot its bill into the water. There was a smile on great Blue’s face when it stood up with a juicy, wiggling greenling in its bill. It took a few moments to maneuver the fish so it was head-first then it was down the hatch. I watched with amusement as the lump in the heron’s throat progressed down to its tummy.

Great Blue Heron with Gunnel
Great Blue caught a variety of fish including a green gunnel fish.

You would think that this was the end of the story, but it was just the beginning. Great Blue knew something I didn’t. The receding tide had land-locked a variety of fish in a small pool. Great Blue had found itself a  veritable seafood buffet. Next it snagged a skinny silver fish, then a small greenling, and then a green gunnel fish. By the time Great Blue was done, it had caught four greenling, five gunnel fish, and one menacing, prickly, prehistoric-looking sculpin.

Great Blue Heron with Sculpin
Was Great Blue full or was the sculpin too prickly to eat? Great Blue killed the sculpin but flew away without eating it.

Great Blue smacked its lips in satisfaction as it dined on all the fish except for the sculpin. It dropped the sculpin on the beach and speared it to stop the wiggling. Then it picked the sculpin up but dropped it like a live hand grenade, and flew off. I was mystified. Was Great Blue full? Or was the sculpin too dangerous to eat? Would the prickly horns on the sculpin get caught in the heron’s throat? I don’t know. I’ve asked around, but still no answer.

Like many things I see in nature, there are more questions than answers. If you know the answer, please email Mike Yip.

About the Contributor:

Mike Yip is a Vancouver Island photographer who has published two very successful books on birds and has just released his third. More of his bird images can be found at his website Vancouver Island Birds.