It was late afternoon and the shadows were getting long at the swamps edge. I had been out most of the afternoon in my canoe photographing water birds and any other thing that showed up. As I backed my canoe up under an over-hang of wax myrtle branches I began sensing that some one or some thing was watching me. I searched the undergrowth but in vain. The feeling grew stronger as I kept slowly creeping backward till I was hidden from sight. With the camera resting on the rim of the boat, in shooting position, I waited. I didn't have to wait long. That feeling that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up just wouldn't go away. Slowly I turned my head around for look behind me. There, not more than 15 inches from my face was a very sharp instrument of destruction aimed directly between my eyes.
You might ask, what would any one be doing out here in the middle of a swamp with a weapon such as this? Well they could be spearing frogs or keeping alligators away or maybe they were spearing fish. Yes, they probably were spearing fish and frogs but now they were trying to damage a photographer. I had been minding my own business, and doing it quietly I might add, when this hunter pointed his spear at me. He didn't say a word to me; he didn't have to. He screamed in my face and I ducked down in the canoe. My heart was pounding so loud I could hear it. I kept waiting for the blow to my head or back but it didn't come. After a while I raised my head and peered over the edge of the boat and stared right into the face of that pointy nose, cross-eyed swamp creature. I still couldn't talk. My heart was still in my throat. This was one of the worse cases of being startled I could ever remember. So much for trying stay unannounced in the woods today. This guy made such a racket that all forms of wildlife must be cowering in their dens. If I had a den I know I would have cowered. Finally I peeled myself up off the bottom of the boat and worked up enough courage to poke a paddle in this guy's face. I backed out of there as fast as I could. If this hunter had really wanted to he could have plucked one of my eyes out as easy as you please. He didn't and I was extremely pleased.
Well I'll tell you a little secret; I had to make this really sound bad because I was so scared and embarrassed. What really happened was this; I had backed into the same hiding place where a Great Blue Heron was protecting its baby. Normally they fly away when people get to close but when watching a baby that's fallen out of a nest, well, all I can say is, look out. Remember their nest is usually built up in the top of the tallest trees around. This could be 30 to 70 feet above ground so when babies fall out they don't usually climb or fly back in. It's hard to describe the sound these large gray birds make, but up close it sounded like a semi truck coming down on top of me. I have been startled many times by these Great Blue Herons when out fishing but nothing compared to this instance. If you have ever seen one of these big birds you surely noticed that spear they call beak. They can put that thing right through a fish or frog. I have even seen them eat small gators after spearing them. While surf fishing years ago, one got himself entangled in my fishing line and it took two of us to get him out. It took one person to hold that spear-like beak and the other to hold the legs and wings and untangle the line.
These are big, graceful, birds in flight but rather slow and awkward on the ground. When standing at waters edge though, waiting for a fish or frog to swim by, they are as still as a post. They rarely miss their target and that was what concerned me most. It would have been hard to explain to people how I lost an eye to a heron. And by the way, why do they call it the Great Blue Heron? I don't see any blue on him, just a lot of shads of gray.
Again it's easy to see how nature can provide some very interesting experiences, some good and some not so good. However, unless you get out into the woods or on the lakes or even in the mountains, you will never know what awaits you. Enjoy what your Creator has provided for your entertainment. I'll see you on the trails.
- Uncle Burney
("McDonald Manna" September, 2006)