A Feast in the Shadows

On my visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, I encountered a feeding spectacle near the south end of the refuge.  A shallow pool below an outlet canal teemed with small fish, clearly stressed by the falling water level and unable to escape to an adjacent creek.

Their wriggling masses attracted green herons that enjoyed easy pickings from the muddy shore or overhanging limbs; four of those small waders were spaced around the secluded pool.  In concert, several northern water snakes criss-crossed the shaded waters or lounged on logs that broke the surface.  Watching from above, I empathized with the fish, scattering in response to the hunters' sudden movements; on the other hand, a quick death in the beak of a heron or jaws of a snake may be preferable to slow suffocation in an evaporating pond.

Such spectacles remind us that nature's cycle of life and death is not always pretty to watch.  She is not sentimental when it comes to young creatures and, more often than not, they are choice targets for predators.  While we admire nature's beautiful landscapes from a distance, up close encounters give us a more intimate and realistic image of her complex ecosystems.