Gone Fishin’

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Somehow I have managed to survive on this planet for over half of a century never having known the thrill of catching a fish.  It’s not for a lack of trying or an aversion to worms.  I’ve sat in a boat and drank beer with the best of them, yet for reasons unknown the fish always seem to bypass my hook and move on to the next. 

But this past weekend I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to get schooled by some expert anglerHeron 6(s)s.  As is usual, instead of taking notes I took pictures.  These fishermen don’t need a trolling motor, spinners, lures or flies.  They rely solely on their long legs, keen eye and quick reflexes.  Without the aid of a tackle box or a trip to Bass Pro Shop, they pluck fish out of the water as Heron 5(s).jpgeasily as I pluck Doritos out of a bag. 


I’ve witnessed Great Blue Herons at work in the past, but what made this occasion so special is that it’s spring.  Usually they are pretty solitary birds, preferring to be loners and not share their fishing grounds with others.  However, in the spring a young man’s fancy tends to turn to thoughts of love, and his affairs are governed more by his heart than by his hunger.

Although Herons don’t normally mate for life, they do stay with one mate throughout the breeding season.  For the better part of the year it’s a little difficult to tell the males from the females, but during this season it’s the males turn to shine.  Whole flocks gather in groups at the local fishing hole and the menfolk do their best to impress the ladies – who in general, tend to remain rather aloof and indifferent to the whole display. 


At this pond there was one gentleman who was definitely the big man on campus.  With his chest puffed up and his long colorful plumage tousling about in the spring breeze, he strutted across the water like an avian Mick Jagger.  Surely, this guy could have his choice of all the lovely ladies, and he did seem to be intent on wooing one in particular.  However, she seemed more interested in catching fish than in courting.  I’m not sure if she was being coy and playing hard to get or maybe she was just hungry.  Most likely, it’s all part of the game of love. Yet even with moves like Jagger, she remained unimpressed by all his obvious charm and charisma. 

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The fishing and the flirting continued on throughout the evening.  At one point some Egrets stopped by to check out the local fishing scene, but they were soon carefully escorted from this exclusive club by a couple of male Herons on bouncer duty. 

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Before long, the sun started to drift lower on the horizon.  One by one the Herons retreated from the Heron 3(s)pond, flying back to their nests to contemplate and strategize their next maneuvers in the courtship dance. We decided it was time for us to fly, too.  But, like the Herons and the sportsmen, we’ll soon be back to try our luck at the fishing hole. Although I plan on getting my catch of the day with the snap of a shutter rather than the cast of a pole. Forever in pursuit of the one that got away.





Swan Song

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With Eagle Quest 2016 at a lull, we took a trip to Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in East Alton, Missouri to check out the local swan action.  Finally we were rewarded with hundreds of birds.  Honking, swimming, flying and frolicking in the semi-frozen wetlands along the Mississippi River, trumpeter swans were everywhere.

Swans 6(s)Seeing these regal beauties in their natural winter habitat seemed a little strange at first.  Like most people my usual experience with swans was in a park or on a private lake. Majestic snow white birds gliding effortlessly across the glassy waters. With graceful necks bent in a subtle S-curve, their beauty and elegance is duplicated in the mirror-like surface. Set against a back drop of perfectly manicured grounds, park benches welcome you to sit, relax and contemplate nature’s beauty. These birds never fly away, why would Swans 7(s)they?  Who would ever want to leave such an Eden?  Of course, I’m not that naive, I knew they would leave if they could.  I figured their wings were clipped, like the parakeets my kids had in grade school.  Of course, those feathers grew back and the birds were once again able to fly.  What I didn’t realize was that the wings of larger birds are generally not clipped.  Instead, these birds are pinioned.  Hmm.  I thought, what is that?  I was shocked when I found out.

Pinioning – A surgical procedure performed on a bird’s wing to render the bird permanently incapable of flight.

To me this is animal abuse. You wouldn’t cripple your dog to keep him from running away, and yet we are crippling these animals. We take away their gift of flight so we can gaze upon their beauty in our parks, golf courses and private estates.  Imagine how horribly traumatic this must be. An immature bird is snatched away from protective parents at a young age. The procedure is often carried out without anesthetic so he experiences the pain and terror of having part of one wing amputated.  As he grows older and instinctually attempts to fly, he is thrown off balance, often toppling over on his breastbone and injuring himself.  These animals are permanently maimed and will never be free to live their lives as nature intended.

The practice of pinioning is outlawed in some countries in Europe.  But here we lop off their wing with a pair of clippers and send them back to our man-made “Golden Ponds”, now a flightless entity suffered to swimming in endless circles for the rest of their natural life.

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I think of this injustice as I look back upon the photographs I took of the wild swans flying boldly across the late afternoon winter sky.  The ivory of their graceful wings set aglow by the radiant embers of the setting sun.  Their long necks leading them across the mighty Mississippi.  This is the way their lives should be.  I consider myself lucky to have been able to witness such a beautiful species in their natural migration and habitat.

He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.

Richard Bach, Jonathon Livingston Seagull