Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Magnificent great blue herons return

By STACEY COLE May 19. 2017 7:17PM

A heron rests on one leg by the lakeshore. (Courtesy/Cheryl LeBlanc)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, May 16, 1987.

GREAT BLUE HERONS, the long-necked, long-legged creatures known by some as “blue cranes,” have returned.

Early in April, a friend of mine here in town stopped me at the post office and announced that the herons were back.

He knows where there is a colony of these magnificent birds and watches over them, for he doesn’t want any harm to come to them.

The great blue heron is the largest, most widely distributed and probably the best known of the herons that breed in North America. Of this magnificent bird, Arthur Cleveland Bent wrote:

“It is a stately bird, dignified in its bearing, graceful in its movements and an artistic feature in the landscape.

“In its native solitude, far from the haunts of man, it may be seen standing motionless, in a lonely dignity, on some far distant point that breaks the shoreline of a wilderness lake, its artistic outline giving the only touch of life to the broad expanse of water and its background of somber forest. Or on some wide, flat coastal marsh its stately figure looms up in the distance, as with graceful stealthy tread it wades along in search of its prey. Perhaps you have seen it from afar and think you can gain a closer intimacy, but its eyes and ears are keener than yours; and it is a wise and wary bird. But even as it takes its departure, you will still stand and admire the slow and dignified strokes of its great black-tipped wings, until this interesting feature of the landscape fades away into the distance. A bird so grand, so majestic, and so picturesque is surely a fitting subject for the artist’s brush.”

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Every summer Mildred and I watch the herons fly over the farm. They spend most of their time feeding along the river and when they have had their fill they head for their nesting place.

As Bent said, these birds appear truly majestic in flight. They slowly sweep the air with their great wings and make a grand silhouette before they disappear within a bright blue sky.

There have been times when herons, either great blue or green, have not been popular with us at the farm.

Several years ago we dug a small pond for irrigation purposes. The pond was laid out by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and later on they furnished small brook trout to stock it. We were especially fortunate, for the trout spawned and for several years, did very well.

Sometimes on a Sunday morning we would go down to the pond and most always we each caught a good-sized trout for dinner. What fun it was to fish for them using dry flies.

Most of the time, though, we visited the pond at evening just to watch the trout jump. I was almost mesmerized by the ever-widening, circular rings they created when they splashed back into the water.

Unfortunately for us, both the great blue and the green herons also found the fishing to their liking. At first we tried to sneak up on the birds and scare them away. But they were not easily frightened, nor for long. Within a year or two, no fish responded to our lure. We have not stocked our pond since, but every once in a while we see the herons return. As far as I know, all they catch now are frogs.

Although I was not very happy to lose my favorite fishing spot, I never really got angry with the herons. I still like to have them around. I chuckle when I catch them waiting patiently for a trout to rise and all the pond has to offer is a frog. Perhaps the joke is on me, though, for I understand that frogs’ legs are quite a delicacy.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at

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