Wildlife Column: Herons stalking the riverbanks

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During recent weeks I have seen numerous Grey Herons both flying overhead and stalking riverbanks and local park ponds.

I assume this is a busy time for adult herons with voracious young in the nest. This is one bird that has really picked up in recent decades – with reduced persecution and also cleaner rivers now full of fish. The picture shows an individual I had the pleasure of watching for a good while out at Chatsworth Park on the Derbyshire River Derwent. I was on the far bank and the bird presumably felt sufficiently safe and secure to pretty much ignore me.

The bright, beady eye is that of a predator and indeed, herons always seem to have the look of something prehistoric. When they fly with the typical heavy, lazy flight and harsh croaking call, they really seem straight out of Jurassic Park.

I watched any individual on the pond at Graves Park. It was disturbed as we walked around one side around about dusk – and probably wasn’t expecting anyone at that time. However, it soon dropped back down on the far side. I considered whether it was actually after fish or maybe hoping for a nice, tasty frog perhaps.

It peered almost anxiously into the dark water with the yellow water-lilies as if scanning for potential prey. Meanwhile the setting sun made long, dark shadows across its watery haven and I felt a little guilty for having disturbed its urgent business.

I wonder where these birds are breeding since we have quite a few locally and they are colonial nesters and noisy to boot!

Back to the River Derwent at Chatsworth and we saw good numbers of Sand Martins nesting in the steep, open riverbanks. A Dipper flew past at speed before dropping down onto an exposed rock jutting from the water; its distinctive white breast bobbing its territorial display.

A real bonus and not so common on this river, was an adult Kingfisher followed by two youngsters. They were off like a shot and sadly didn’t show again even though I watched carefully on the return walk.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.