Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 29
July 20-26, 2000
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Whoops! Wrong Catch

The scream of the reel was sweet music to my ears until the unexpected shriek of the heron, a series of deep harsh croaks — frahnk, frahnk, frahnk — shattered that enthusiasm.

“I think you snagged a heron!” shouted Frank. While we were bank fishing near the Severn River on a moonless night, the heron inadvertently flew into my fishing line, tangling its wing. It was now perched on a weather-worn jetty, fermenting a most uncooperative mood.

Slowly, I made my way along the rocks toward the startled bird, and after dodging several strikes of its yellow, dagger-like bill, I got close enough to cut the line with my knife. I made sure that the bird was free from the monofilament and watched in relief as it flew safely and strongly away.

What an awful feeling it is to accidentally trap a creature, particularly one as familiar as a great blue heron. Many anglers have, in the course of fishing, entangled lures with gulls and other birds.

Herons (family Ardeidae) are obliging for birders and nature lovers as they inhabit both saltwater and freshwater throughout the watershed. Great blues, one of the more noble wading birds, stand more than four feet tall. Their plumage is subtle yet distinct, and their bodies are painted a Confederate bluish-gray. Their white head is set off by a streak of black feathers that extend from the eye past the head, similar to a headdress. Weighing in at less than 10 pounds, the birds have elongated necks and legs that give them a grace enhanced by their hunting style.

For the most part, herons stalk shallow waters for fish and shrimp but occasionally dive at and pirate food from gulls. They will also land in deep water and float while foraging. They’ve even been observed to float downstream on rivers and jab at fish as they go. Herons eat mostly fish but also some rodents, amphibians, reptiles and insects, which they dunk in water, if available, before flipping them into the air for a headfirst swallow. They will take human food scraps, too, as well as pet food. Naturalist Tom Horton and many Smith Islanders have told of a heron battling a mother cat for her kittens when the bird’s preferred food source was frozen out by a particularly bitter winter.

Great blue herons, which can live to be about 15 years old, are generally year-round residents to our area. During breeding season, which generally occurs from early spring through early summer, great blues are colonial nesters that live quite comfortably with others in the rookery. For the remainder of the year, however, they are solitary and territorial. Their nests range from flimsy platforms 18 inches across to older nests of sticks and twigs in the tops of trees up to four feet across that may be used and repaired year after year.

Heron colonies exist in many places, with larger ones at Nanjemoy on the Potomac River, Bloodsworth Island in lower Bay, and Pooles Island in upper Bay. Colonies are not particularly permanent; a colony may be active one year and not occupied at all the next. New colonies may be established, grow in size, and then be abandoned.

Whether you choose to wade, walk, canoe, or kayak, observing herons in their natural surroundings can take you to some of the most serene and prettiest parts of Chesapeake Country. Lush marshes exploding with wild rice and ponds full of blooming water lilies offer the gorgeous backdrop to watch these elegant wading birds. A good pair of binoculars will help bring the action to you while respecting the bird’s natural domain.

Fish Are Biting

Spanish mackerel and bluefish have made an appearance in the lower Bay, but the fresh water influx may keep them from swimming north for a bit longer. For rock, chumming remains the preferred method at the traditional spots of Love Point and Sandy Point, the Diamonds and Point Lookout. Lots of good bottom fishing (croaker, spot and white perch) in Choptank, Patuxent, and Severn rivers as well as Eastern Bay.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly