The herons are happening at Leafhopper Farm! This morning while feeding the pigs, I heard a familiar call through the trees to the south. It’s a special sound, like a strange croaking, but from the sky. I knew immediately that a Great Blue Heron was on the wing. Sure enough, as I stood watching, two birds came out of the forest, landing to perch on large conifers near the creek.
At first I could only see one, though I was sure two had flown in. The bird looked around, then saw me and fixed his gaze on the strange two legged gawker below. I wanted to see the other bird and confirm it was another heron, so I took a few steps, very slowly, down the path and to my great joy, another heron was perched just on the south side of the stream.
The Great Bule Heron is a special animal to me, and I’ve documented them before at our pond. This bird and I have a bond because it is the closest thing to a crane we have here in my area of western Washington. In olden times, all long legged water birds were called cranes. My last name, “Crain” is English for “long legged”, after the crane. This auspicious bird and its relatives hold great honor in many cultural myths and legends around the world. One of my favorite stories of this creature tells of how the crane came to be on the coat of arms in European heraldry. When cranes roost, it’s usually together in colonies, or large family groups. In medieval stories, one crane keeps watch over the group holding a stone in its claws. If the bird drifts off to sleep, the stone will drop from its foot, waking the animal to continue its watch. Hence the symbol of the crane in heraldry is vigilance. There is a wonderful GBH heronry (specific term for roosting herons) near the Ballard Locks here in Washington, though I’ve never seen any heron holding a stone in its claws.
After a few minutes of surveying, the herons took flight again to continue what looked like a foraging mission along Weiss Creek. I am very glad the GBH’s didn’t head up to the pond, as our water is very low right now, making the fish extremely vulnerable to areal attack from predators. However, since the whole point of the pond is habitat, the Herons are welcome to dine there if they choose. I’ve been courting these birds on the land for a few years now, and in a much earlier post, talked about how these great animals have done fly overs at special times during conversations, specifically about building the pond.
Another reason the Great Blue Heron is woven into my life, stems from my first nature education teaching job back in Vermont. The school there had a clan name that had been selected by the community after a GBH did continual fly overs every time the school would talk about a name. Once when a particularly frustrated member of the class cried out to the bird that it was not the right animal name for the school, the heron pooped, almost like a distasteful response, so the name stuck, and Vermont Wilderness School remained The Great Blue Heron Tribe.
That was my first nature education community, and I have always held GBH in high regard, watching and wondering about each encounter I have with this majestic animal. I can also relate to the bird’s passionate movements. Herons, like all cranes, show amazing agility. These displays are enacted to defend and protect, and during courtship rituals, in which both the male and female show off incredible jumps and wing beats, which inspired many styles of martial arts in eastern cultures. Though I am not a martial artist, I do many stretches and movements that copy the great crane stances, appreciating the balance and precision it takes to move with strength and control.
Cranes are also a symbol of longevity, and that’s the energy I wish to welcome on the land at Leafhopper Farm for myself, and all that thrives here in holistic harmony. May the wings of Great Blue Heron continue to shelter this place with warm intensions of vigilance, devotion, and wisdom. Gratitude to this animal for its presence on the land, and the opportunity to continue to learn from this great bird.