During the winter, one of my primary focal points is the wood burner. Not just the heat it produces, but the hypnotic beauty of its dancing flames. I am easily distracted while sitting in one of the chairs close to this stove. Installing the wood burner was our very first project at Crockern, and since that time we have spent many fine hours enjoying it, both dogs curled at our feet. I also proudly organise the store of wood in the barn, rotating our supply to season the latest arrival. My wood store organisation paid off when Chimney Sweep Steve said, “You two should write a manual about how to use a wood burner. This one is as if it is brand new.” Like the Grinch’s small heart, mine too grew three times that day.
I won’t betray my love for our wood burner, but lately, I find my tendencies toward distraction are pulled in more than one direction. I can no longer walk past the living room window without stopping to see what, if anything, is visiting the pond. I’m like a hopeful teenager willing my crush to round the corner and catch my eye. Each time I look out upon the pond, I enjoy the magic which tentatively creeps into the scene: a sparkling glimmer upon the water as the sun pokes through the clouds; or perhaps, a rippling of waves as the wind whips up the valley. Already, our new pond is attracting wildlife. We have had the arrival of a pair of ducks swimming daily, and periodically making camp on the island. I watched a Sparrowhawk preen its feathers on a nearby fence post, resting from a recent hunt nearby.
But most recently, I spotted Roger gingerly wading out into the pond. Roger is tall and slender, and the pond is very muddy at its edges. I waited in anticipation for his probable slip and splat into the mud. But Roger didn’t fall, instead he came to a spot and stood motionless, gazing intently at the water. “What is he doing?” I wondered. Hunting? Attempting to determine the various depths of water? Considering where we will be placing trees and any other plant life? Looking for the muddy archive of animal print trails passing near the pond? Or, trying to see the pond from the same perspective as the Grey Heron, one of our first and most frequent pond visitors.
It’s no wonder we’ve spotted this elegant long-legged hunter waiting by the water’s edge for a fish nearly every day. Across the river and in the stand of pines, lives a colony of Herons. Herons nest socially and usually at least 25 metres above the ground. I’ve walked in these woods and looked up but have never spotted a nest. Over the years, we have delighted in watching Herons sail along the river’s path with their slow-flapping wings and long legs held out behind. They look almost prehistoric in flight, and comical as they attempt to gain purchase on a flappy tree limb. From my own perch, it is easy to watch these magnificent birds fly in and out of the pines. And if I can’t spot them, I can hear them making their loud and raucous selection of croaking sounds. Impossible to miss.
Until they started visiting our pond, I did not appreciate the size of a Grey Heron. Some of the adults can stand up to one metre in height, with a wing span of about two metres. I’m only about 1.6 metres tall. This makes it one of the largest birds we will spot at Crockern.
Herons are usually solitary hunters, standing silently and patiently with that beautiful pale grey plumage. Because they are still for so long, I can take in the beauty of the broad black stripe extending from their eyes to the back of their white heads and necks. I like the extra feathers drooping down their necks, too. They are dead on trend for eye-liner styles and may be the unknowing inspiration for a drag queen or two. Lady Heron performing tonight on RuPaul’s Drag Race! These natural killer good looks are accented by their long and pointy yellow beaks, perfect for spiking their prey. That could spell curtains for some of the other small wildlife to visit the pond. Fish are not to be found in our pond. How long will they wait until they realise this? There are plenty of moles in the fields, so perhaps those will suffice.
Most recently, I was driving up the track and glanced down towards the pond. I wasn’t expecting to see much more than the direction of the wind on its water and the mud patches all around the perimeter. But standing stock-still, scattered almost equally around the edge like numbers on a clock face, was a siege of Grey Herons. Six to be exact. I phoned Roger from where I sat in the car. “Roger, quickly get your camera and go to the living room window. Do not let the dogs out. Take pictures. You’re not going to believe it.”
Perhaps, dear reader, you’ll be equally surprised by the photos.