Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

October 18, 2008

Carpe Carpio

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:50 pm

  Every year at this time, Ma Erie pulls the plug and Lake levels drop by a half a foot or so. The phenomenon appears to be unrelated to the overall lake levels as expressed throughout the previous summer. It is as if a drain plug is pulled and then quickly replaced. No, I don’t think the government has anything to do with it – if this were so it wouldn’t happen with such precision! “The Gods” don’t do it because Zeus and Poseidon don’t deal with fresh water (it’s in their contract). Let’s just say that it happens and move on.

  All of this wasted verbiage is simply to confirm that the local coastal marshes also drain when the lake does its late season drawdown. When a shoreline marsh lowers, aquatic life is squeezed into a smaller space as the bottom muck approaches the surface. Fish are especially put to the test when this happens. Not only are they forced to contend with warmer, lower oxygen water but, by crowding, they become the figurative fish that are easily shot in a barrel.  The shooters in this case are usually Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets armed with lances instead of lead. The autumn marshes are packed with both species looking for a fattening experience.

  Recently, a multitude of young carp found themselves in just such a shallow water situation (see here and here). These fry hatched out earlier in the summer and have now attained a few inches in size. At this stage they are as cute as a carp will ever be. This cuteness means that they are also of good eating size. 

  There were thousands of individual fish within view and probably another ten-thousand unperceived under the cover of duckweed. A single Great Blue Heron was enjoying the feast on this particular afternoon and he was engaged in “Carpe Carpio” – which basically means “Seizing the Carp.” I took several shots of this bird doing his thing – including landing a successful jab at one of the carplets (see above).

  The final “carpe” is achieved with a lightening speed extension of the long neck. The moment is so fast that it is hard to see – you see the before and the immediately after, but not the in-between. My shot freezes one of these plunges at the moment the water blanket was lifted and the heron’s head sliced under the surface. It is difficult to appreciate the shear patience and stalking skill that led up to this point. I present to you the chance to do just a thing (Heron Movie).  

  Even fish in a barrel need stalking. The heron took each step without breaking the surface or creating a ripple. The long neck is extended out at a shallow angle in order to place the head well out in front of the footwork. Both of the huge eyes are focused down to create a 3-D perceptual cone. Only when a single target is chosen does the fisherman coil its neck to ready for the strike.

 Although it is the kill that normally gets all the attention in movie clips, I here present only the stalk so that you can appreciate this crucial part of this fisherman’s strategy. This particular stalk ended in a dead little carp, but I’ll withhold that part from you. I grew weary of watching the thing and turned off the camera just before the strike occurred. Patience is a virtue for fisherman and filmer alike.

2 Comments »

  1. The blue herons certainly are great! I live near a creek, but it’s densely surrounded by shrubbery (mostly buckthorn, boo!). I was shocked to see a great blue standing on my shed one day. They are BIG!

    Comment by Monica Milla — October 20, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  2. Keeep up the good work.. keep this up! Its so good and so important. I am looking forward to read far more from you.

    Comment by worship songs — April 30, 2011 @ 9:01 am

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