Nature in the City

June 7, 2007

Last week I noticed that the fish in my water garden were not eating.  This was not normal.  Each spring as they get their eyes open after a long winter’s semi-dormancy it takes them a while to begin to come out and beg like the little piggies goldfish can be, but they always eat.  I had finally gotten my pond switched from comet goldfish to fantails.

Each day I would go out and feed them, and a little while later I’d go out and look and the food would be gone, so I knew they were eating- they were just doing it clandestinely.  But over the course of a few days more and more food was left.  Finally it appeared that all of the food was still there even several hours later.  I got the net and moved the plants around, but I couldn’t find any fish.  Not one.  Not even the small ones that had yet to get their colors.  The adults were brightly colored fantail goldfish- red or calico.  They are easy to see, but there was no one in the pond.  A few had died during a series of hail storms a couple of weeks earlier, but while he’d had an unusual amount of rain for this part of Texas, we’d had no more hail.  There were no signs of the destruction made when raccoons raid a pond.  My dogs would never bother fish- what?  And get their faces wet?  I don’t think so. 

Fish can be surprisingly good hiders even in a backyard pond, but a couple more days went by and I was certain all of the fish were gone.  I put mosquito dunks in the pond.

Our master bathroom overlooks the roof of the back part of our house.  One morning I pulled back the curtain to get into the shower and there outside the window stood a massive egret.  He was easily three feet tall, perhaps taller, and brilliantly white with a sharp yellow beak pointed down to the pond below.  The flesh in the soft throat fluttered though the rest of him was stone still, looking.  (Sorry, Charlie… you already cleaned out that fridge!)  In a moment he took three strides to the crest of the roof, positioned himself to get a better look.  One would think that an animal with legs that long would be awkward, but he moved smooth and graceful.  He moved as he had to move if he were not to alert the fish. 

I quietly called my husband and he came and we both got a good look at him.  He went and looked him up online while I showered.  The egret stood within 15 feet of me in my shower for about five minutes and I got a very good look at a very magnificent creature.  This was a Great Egret, also known as a white heron. 

That was last week.  Last night I was given some mosquito fish for my pond from a ponder in the area.  This morning when I went to the back door to let the dogs out, there stood the egret, on the ground in the thick plants near the pond.  I ran for my camera making the dogs wait.  To give you an idea of the size of this bird, the terra cotta fish pot on the right side of the picture measures 16″ tall and is sitting on a flat rock that is 4″ tall.  The area where the egret is standing is flat ground in the garden.  His legs are as long as his neck. 

Great Egret 

An instant after this photograph was taken the egret flew away.  His wing span, which, if he was 3 feet tall would have measured 5 feet, seemed to fill my small back yard. 

I had not purchased any more goldfish because I knew he would eat them.  Now I am considering stocking the pond just for our urban egret.

For more information on the Great Egret, including a recording of their vocalizations, visit the Cornell University website:  http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Great_Egret_dtl.html#sound

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