The Heron Won

Years ago when we started filling a bird feeder in our carport, I learned an unhappy lesson. One snowy December morning in Bellevue, I looked outside to see an immense snowy owl dining on one of our little birds. Lesson: If you feed little birds, it turns out you end up feeding some big birds as well. The sad fact is, if you feed fish, you end up feeding a few big birds, too.

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for several weeks, but now that several loyal blog readers have written inquiring after the health of The Big Guy, it’s time for me to come clean. Our accidental koi has eaten his last handful of Pond Guy Fish food. The blankety-blank heron finally got him and all our other fish as well.

For those of you unfamiliar the back story of J.A. Jance versus the heron, here it is.

When we bought the house here in 2006, there was a fishpond in the back yard all right, a very leaky fishpond that didn’t hold water. Hence it didn’t hold any fish, either. A couple of years later, when we redid the backyard and installed the garden, we installed fishponds as well, two of them, front and back, both with working waterfalls. Then we went to PetsMart and bought two bags of fish, fifty fish a bag, ten cents a piece. They were tiny goldfish—some orange, some speckled gray, and even a couple of coal black ones, and feeding the fish became my job. I fed them every day and watched them grow from tiny to three or four inches. I loved how they’d come out of hiding when I showed up with the food.

Somewhere along the way, a rock got into the water pump in the back pond, and the resulting oil spill took out the fish, despite our best efforts to save them. When we tried to restock it with a few small fish, a missing screen resulted in the poor little guys getting sucked into the pump. So for years, the back pond stayed empty of fish and remains so today. In the meantime, the fish in the front pond continued to grow and prosper. One in particular, a gray speckled fish, was noticeably larger than the others, enough so that he was given his own name The Big Guy.

Two years or so in, however, the heron showed up—a huge blue heron with immense eyes who loved hanging out down by our fishpond. He’d come flying in low over the house in the early mornings while we were sitting outside on the back porch. I’d jump up in my white bathrobe and go flapping down into the backyard to chase him away. Someone suggested we put a heron statue down by the pond. We did, but to no effect. He would stand right there beside it and fish to his heart’s content.

We tried a motion activated water cannon. It may have nailed the heron a time or two, but it mostly nailed the person who was going down to the pond to feed the fish. Guess who that was?

For Father’s Day our daughter and grandson would bring Grandpa a new bag of fish. Gradually, the price went up. The last I saw, fish that used to cost ten cents apiece now cost a quarter. A few of the little ones hung around long enough to grow to the size of some of the others, but not that many. The heron kept on coming by and grabbing them. The Big Guy, however, who was smart enough to stay out of sight most of the time, kept getting bigger until he was good four or five times the size of all the others. Obviously a single tiny koi had made it into that first batch of ten-cent fish.

For Mother’s Day several years ago, Colt presented me with a Nerf Machine Gun that was powerful enough to send whistling nerf bullets over the pool house and onto the grassy lawn next to the pond. (Colt and his mother were in the aisle at Toys-R-Us discussing the range and fire power of each Nerf weapon when another shopper paused long enough to ask who they were shopping for. “It’s for my Grandma,” he said. “She shoots birds.”)

Well, one bird only, and I can assure you that herons do not whistling Nerf bullets!

The fish went mostly dormant while we were in Tucson for the winters, and when we’d come back I’d do an inventory to see how many of them had survived. This year we were home for the winter, but when spring came around, my annual fish count came up to thirteen, including an orange one, much larger than the others, who mostly hung out with The Big Guy.

Then in the middle of April we left for Tucson to pack up the house. When we came back there were only nine fish left—with no sign of the two big ones. I hoped they were still hiding, but that’s not the case. They’re gone. All of them.

A few days ago, taking the dogs out in the late evening, I discovered that the heron had changed his routine. Rather than dropping by in the mornings when we’d be out there to spot him, he had taken to coming by in the late evenings, just before dusk.

So this is my Requiem for The Big Guy. Rest in peace. You were here for seven plus years, and we enjoyed getting to know you. It’s not easy to admit defeat, but there were no fish among Bill’s Father’s Day gifts this year. We’re done. I’ve packed up my back porch arsenal. We are no longer in the business of providing a sushi bar for the neighborhood heron, so I no longer need to keep my supply of whistling bullets readily at hand. My backyard war is over.

The heron won.