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To eat, and to be eaten at Arrowhead Marsh

by on May 24, 2012

At Arrowhead Marsh, a great blue heron demonstrates that a successful catch far outweighs the presentation. Photo by Rick Lewis.

At Arrowhead Marsh, a great blue heron demonstrates that a successful catch far outweighs the presentation.

Photo by Rick Lewis.

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.

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eyu on May 26th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Rick, It was great meeting you at Arrowhead Marsh today!  I came home and read your piece, “to eat, and to be eaten at Arrowhead Marsh”.  Really enjoyed it!  The photos are amazing!  Thanks for your work.

David Dennis on May 26th, 2012 at 12:00 am

I had no idea that herons ate rodents until now. I thought they only ate fish and amphibians. How in the world did you capture these photos? Amazing work.

rick lewis on May 26th, 2012 at 12:00 am

 Hi Elizabeth,

Wonderful to meet you.  Always a pleasure meeting another birder, walker, observer…
Also, thanks so very much for showing me the gopher snake,  Fantastic!!  I’ve been accused of saying fantastic too much, but, Wow!, that snake was excellent.  I watched it check out several squirrel holes & then the rain started coming — I had to get the camera under cover.

Regards, Rick 

rick lewis on May 26th, 2012 at 12:00 am

 Hi David,

I watched a Great Egret take a gopher & then two blackbirds about 25 years ago at the Berkeley Aquatic Park.  Imagine my amazement!  I even have a photo of the gopher doing a back flip, courtesy of the egret, in an effort to attain the ‘head first’ position.  5 years ago, while at Arrowhead, another birder told me of a heron that roamed the grass for rodents.  I watched & waited and took a bunch of pics.  Sometimes the subject cooperates; this heron, if it is the same bird, is used to people in the park.  I sit quietly knowing that herons have a limit line, cross it and the bird will fly.

Thanks for your feedback.


Ron S. on May 27th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Nice work Rick, and a great folow-up story!!

Nlfa on June 3rd, 2012 at 12:00 am

Have you seen the herons that hang out outside Kentucky Fried chicken near the Grand Lake theater ? Apparently they did not read the article and like their food served hot.

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