To eat, and to be eaten at Arrowhead Marsh

May 24, 2012

When I’m hungry I usually go to a place where someone brings me a plate of hot food. Birds, on the other hand, actually work for theirs.

You may think you work too, but when was the last time your food escaped or scratched back? It’s a jungle out there and predators exist in the guise of a pretty bird standing on long legs, or performing amazing aerial acrobatics. Food is energy and it takes energy to get food. It is not always pretty; a successful catch far outweighs the presentation. 


Photo by Rick Lewis.

Consider this great blue heron at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland. Obviously, this squirrel and this gopher have paid the ultimate price for not being eternally vigilant. The heron has been rewarded for its patience and stalking acumen.

Its ‘S’ shaped neck has assisted it with lightening fast strikes, sometimes hard to follow with the naked eye, but accurate none the less. The heron can stand motionless for a very long time. Or it will sway, almost imperceptibly, as it lowers its head closer and closer to the intended target, hypnotic, snake-charmer like, and deadly. And you didn’t think the boogeyman was real. Extraordinary rodent control. 

tern 1

Photo by Rick Lewis.

Forster’s terns scour the waters for fish. They hover and bob and arc and feint and then lock-n- load, plunge-dive into the water. Time and again this guy dives, comes up empty, shakes it off, rises above the water, searches and dives again. Imagine the frustration when the fish, so hard fought, shakes loose and falls back to swim away. This tern was having none of that! No such thing as catch & release in a tern’s world. 

tern 2

Photo by Rick Lewis.


tern 3

Photo by Rick Lewis.

Unfortunately for the tern, this was a story of the one that got away. At first I thought his expression was an “Oh shucks, I just lost my dinner” and then realized it was a more serious expletive not suitable for sensitive readers. Finally, the tern seemed to accept this loss (what other choice did it have?) and dove again, missed, and dove again and came up with another fish, probably just as tasty.

All in all, a trip to Arrowhead Marsh should leave you feeling a little like a Van Morrison song, upbeat and poetic, and perhaps a tad bit hungry.

About the Author

Rick Lewis is a Bay Nature contributor and wildlife photographer who likes to muck around with his lenses in Arrowhead Marsh.

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