Happy Snappy Ecologist: Predated Heron

in nature •  10 months ago

A macabre set of clues along the river bank this morning! The winter here in the UK has felt raw and barren with wildlife sleeping, hiding or surviving on the edge and out of sight. My walks have felt lonely but for the companionship of wintering birds (too fleeting and far off to photograph). Sometimes though there is some photographable interest for the passing ecologist and I suspect there was high drama at the river last night!

First I find a clump of feathers here, a clump there..........heron feathers.jpg

Their large size, rounded shape and soft grey colour suggest grey heron (Ardea cinerea) and I'm immediately intrigued as herons are a big bird with a fierce beak that I've never seen predated before. We don't have any very big predators in England any more so I'm wondering who won what must have been quite an epic battle.

More feathers, another clump so it's not looking good for the heron. Looking closely you can see how they've been bitten off in clumps - classic fox (Vulpes vulpes) evidence.

heron feathers close.jpg

Finally, 50 metres or so further on the head of the heron.

heron head.jpg

Rather gruesome I know but fascinating too. Just look at the size of that beak!
heron head with boot.jpg
Was it a particularly ferocious fox to take on a foe with such a weapon? Did it get away uninjured? Was the heron ill, perhaps weakened by our recent spell of freezing weather? Or was it not a fox but the big cat that has been rumoured in the village (though not for a few years)? Such intrigue!

It probably sounds quite strange but sad as I feel for the heron (I suspect it's the one that I have been enjoying seeing regularly in this area) I enjoy investigating these ecological puzzles left by nocturnal life. There are otters and mink about but somehow the evidence just says fox to me. Could have had some interesting footage if I'd put my camera trap down there but then where would be the mystery in that...........?

I hope you've enjoyed wandering through this little puzzle with me! All photos are my own and featuring my size 6 welly for scale 😃. It wasn't all grim remnants of night-time drama. I ended the walk being completely enchanted by the first blackthorn blossom of the year.

Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa

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