August 31, 2012 @ 9:30 pm
There was a good moment in the last episode (44) where Nancy Fulda described having an evolutionary epiphany, watching sparrows harvesting squashed bugs off the grills of cars at a gas station.
I spent yesterday evening at the Bog Garden, a tiny little patch of woods at one end of a pond in one of the higher-end neighborhoods near my house. People go there to feed the ducks, a species that tolerates us humans rather well. I like ducks, but the species I love are the wilder ones that don’t tolerate us so well. I stalked a female Great Blue Heron who was fishing the stream, but she flapped away from me twice before I could get close at all. Then I gave up and followed the boardwalk up to the pond, where her mate was fishing out away from the shore, along with a pair of the much smaller, even more shy chestnut-colored Night Herons. I love the patience of those birds, and I try to match it. I curled up on the bench to watch them.
“Look at the size of that turtle! Baby, look!” said the grandmother to her tiny granddaughter, who was throwing half-slices of bread into the water. “No, tear them into smaller pieces,” she said, and “No, we don’t feed those birds; those are Canadian Geese. Throw it to the ducks.” The little girl was not listening to Grandma, though. Neither were the geese and the turtles (one slider and one snapper), or the little panfish, who were all going to town on the bread. They can’t resist the empty calories any more than we can.
“We’ve spoiled your solitary . . . solitude. Sorry!” Grandma said, brightly. But she hadn’t. Just the opposite, actually. I was shocked to see the big blue come striding over on his thin yellow legs, taking advantage of the traffic jam to strike, putting his whole head under the water a couple of times before he came up with a little panfish’s tail in his beak. Then he flipped his head up and tossed the fish, torquing it a little so that the fish flipped around, and caught it again so it was facing him. That way its dorsal spines were pointed the wrong way to snag in his throat – which had a pouch under it, like a pelican’s but smaller! I never knew that. Closest I’ve ever been to a live one. Guess they’re more adaptable than I thought, or maybe it was just that one individual. I sure never saw his mate again that evening.
The night herons were long gone, of course, even though they were totally safe, so well camouflaged against the muddy water that Grandma couldn’t see them, even with me pointing them out to her. I’d been paying so much attention to the drama in front of me that I hadn’t seen them leave.
Eric Horstman in the previous episode (43) talked about the lack of fear being deadly for the animals of the Galapagos, with humans who were either hungry or or just ambitious, but here the lack of fear made for easier hunting, like the theory that says we didn't domesticate wild hunting wolves, that we domesticated trash-picking scavenger wolves who were genetically less afraid than their cousins who stayed away from us in the forest.
Pet herons would be pretty cool.