Welcome to my journal. There is a huge granite rock that juts out into the ocean at high tide off our beach in Nova Scotia. It looks like a whale and given my adoration of these mammals we named our place WhaleRock. I write about the comings and goings of animals and birds and other things I love, observations I am happy to share.
We have a lot of hares roaming around in the underbrush and woods. Now in winter they have turned a muted white to blend in with the snow and the fur on their back feet splays out under and beyond their long leg bones and toes and allows them to walk without sinking so much. I find them very handsome indeed. The couple that resides closest to our house I call Matilda and Crazy Joe. Matilda is perfectly proportioned, like Albrecht Durer’s famous rabbit in pen and ink a few hundred years ago. She is demure and a bit shy, scurrying away from nibbling on grasses when I come out to feed the birds. Crazy Joe on the other hand is a bonafide extrovert, leaping in the air for no apparent reason, doing balletic twirls and sometimes racing in circles like the proverbial dog. In the spring and summer he nuzzles Matilda with the thoughtfulness of any ardent swain and even kisses her on the lips. He is long and lean and a good quarter larger than his mate. I talk to him when I emerge from the house and see him sitting on the grass fifty feet away. Two years ago he would bolt under a tree but now my voice and presence is familiar and unthreatening and he allows me to approach within four feet from him. He has not been around much this winter, coming to nuzzle Matilda only once. Has he a harem elsewhere? Is he hunkered down in the woods awaiting the ardor of spring courting? I am waiting too. They have produced several litters over the years, little butterballs of fluff, sticking close to their mom before they leave home and find their own mates. I miss them.
Potato Island is heating up again. The courtship displays of the Herring and Great Black backed Gulls are getting noisier, as the couples reclaim their spots from past years. They are monogamous and even though the two species sometimes destroy and even eat the eggs and young of the other this usually results from illegal border crossing. They mark out their territory in nesting size segments and apparently everyone knows what the lines are. If they are violated the perpetrator is fair game and so is his family. I always wondered how they kept the peace so crowded together.
This year I saw a hybrid couple, a Herring Gull with soft grey back and the Great Black Backed with its enormous size, the largest gull in the world, courting—a Romeo and Juliet kind of romance. They bathed in the pond with the others as part of the social club, which gathers every afternoon between 3 and 4 pm for noisy wing flapping and head ducking. I have seen hybrid gulls but never saw a couple that produces them before. They were quite handsome and flew off together in formation low over the water sort of like fighter jets in aeriel display, dipping their wings in synchronicity.
The Great Blue Heron has been stymied this summer. The pond is high as the sluice culvert is blocked with sand from the rising tides of the ocean and he cannot find shallow enough water to stand in for his eel fishing. The Cormorant has no such problem and swoops in to dive under, covering himself in eons of bottom silt before occasionally hitting pay dirt with a fat eel. Then he surfaces and bites it hard with his serrated teeth before gulping it down.
I always loved watching the Heron fish for eels, standing knee deep stark still, his eyes fixated on the water waiting for an unsuspecting eel to cruise by. With lightening speed the Heron darts his five-inch beak into the eel like a knife, spearing the eel and then working it between the bill’s top and bottom as he shakes his head furiously side to side in an attempt to kill the creature. This can take some time. A big four-foot eel does not go under easily and wriggles its body around the bird’s beak like spaghetti on a fork. The Heron then has to pry its beak open to get the eel back in shaking position again.
Once it took almost twenty minutes to subdue the eel. Finally the limp figure draped either side of the beak and the Heron did an artful flip of the eel into the air and slurped the entire body down like a giant noodle. The effort caused the bird some moments of what looked like indigestion before it composed itself and ran its beak through the water to clean it. Head down and beak up and the Heron had enough of a drink to extend its graceful wings and take to the sky.