The Kingfisher is acknowledged by its name alone as the King of Fishers however I feel that one other bird really deserves that title. Yes, the Kingfisher is gaudy and vibrant. Its dashing behavior and striking form show off its fantastic maneuverability and its dives are magnificent, but the true king is the Grey Heron.
There is something noble about these birds and they exude a cold calm deadliness. I have always felt Herons hold something of the prehistoric about them. Perhaps it is their piercing gaze or the scraggy look of their young but they certainly could have fitted into the ecosystem alongside those early birds of the Jurassic.
I was given cause to think about Herons today. They are not a rare sight in Warwick, in fact, the town boasts a substantial Heronry and they can be seen across the waterways from the Canal to the River, as well as taking easy meals from the fishponds of the Woodloes. This Heron was probably one I have photographed before. By the canal bridge on the Avon upstream of St Nicholas Park is a favourite haunt for this species and I often come across one fishing in the brook that enters the river here. Today I spotted him from the bridge above and so had a good view looking down on him. He was obviously fishing, he stood stock-still, then every now and again he poised in the strike pose, hunched, with his neck drawn back.
What interested me almost more than the Heron himself were the passers-by. Some walked past completely oblivious, others noticed but were uninterested, and then there were those that paused and smiled. Some stopped just a moment to watch whilst others reached for the ubiquitous mobile phone. I was heartened to see that all of them treated the bird with respect. They didn’t approach too close or move unnecessarily for the whole 20 minutes I watched him he was not disturbed once and was able to catch and eat three fish.
People passing on the bridge noticed him and went down for a closer look and a younger man with a basketball cap stopped took a few photos and then, as he moved off gave the Heron a little wave as if in thanks. Lastly, I met a couple who knew the individual, they lived close by they told me they saw the Heron regularly and had named him Henry. A fitting name for a very fine heron.
Turning back to the fishing, I have spent many hours watching both Kingfishers and Herons whilst hunting, and anecdotally I can honestly say that the Heron has a better strike rate. On one occasion some years ago, I watched a Heron down at the Saxon Mill hoover up several fish and then follow it with a bank vole! Up in Scotland, I saw a Heron catch an eel nearly as long as he was tall, wrestle with it and then swallow it.
Henry was no different today catching a sizeable wish and downing it in one.