Herons and hawks

I went running on the towpath at Carderock today, and the first thing I saw were patches of spring beauties poking up through the fallen oak leaves. Years ago I dug up some of the plant’s tiny tubers to verify their edibility. It was a culinary experiment that won’t be repeated.

Efficient predator with a taste for
whatever it can swallow.

Further along I saw five Great Blue Herons stalking fish in a part of the canal where it widens. Four of the leggy birds were facing each other, cocking their heads to track the movements of the little sunfish that were emerging from their winter lethargy. Every couple of minutes one of the herons would unleash its rapier bill and come up with a wriggling fish in a garnish of detritus. If this were a National Geographic nature video I would expect to learn that the birds were acting cooperatively by bunching the fish together to make them easier to catch, the way a pack of wolves herds elk. Actually, I think the four of them were just there because the fish were there.

Watching all of this was a hawk in a tall tree overhead. My glasses were back in the car, but I could still make out a band across the bird’s light colored breast that marked it as a Red-tail Hawk.

I continued my run. As usual my pace was so slow that I might just as well be out looking for someone to strike up a conversation.

“Did you see the hawk?” the man asked. He gave me a friendly smile under the brim of cap with the name of a US military ship.

“Yes, I think it was a red-tail,” I replied.

“No,” he corrected me. “the tail was too short to be a red-tail. It was a red-shouldered.”

He had also seen the herons, and informed me of their scientific name. “Ardea herodias,” he said. “‘Ardea’ is heron in Latin,” and ‘herodias’ is “heron” in Greek. So ‘heron heron.'” Still smarting from getting called out on my hawk identification skills, I made a note to shun people who flaunt their knowledge of scientific names.

On the way back I saw that the hawk was gone. But nearby I heard the unmistakable “cree, cree, cree” call Red-shouldered Hawks make in staking out their territories. But I still think the one in the tree was a red-tail.

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