Bird's Eye View of Bute

The Grey Heron

(1) Grey Heron
(1) Grey Heron
(2) Young Grey Heron
(2) Young Grey Heron
(3) Same
(3) Same
(4) Bad Hairday
(4) Bad Hairday
(5) Who are you looking at
(5) Who are you looking at
(6) Proud as Punch
(6) Proud as Punch
(7) Ready for the off
(7) Ready for the off
(8) Heron
(8) Heron
(9) Heron
(9) Heron
(10) Grey Heron Albert Pier
(10) Grey Heron Albert Pier
(11) Grey Heron 2013
(11) Grey Heron 2013
(12) Grey Heron
(12) Grey Heron

 

 

A BIRDS EYE VIEW OF BUTE.

The most abundant of the herons in Europe are the Grey Herons. These are the ones that we can see on the shorelines around our Island, standing still for ages, then as they spot their prey they slowly move towards it and lower their head to get near as they can to be certain of a kill, then as quick as a flash they pounce on it. It could be a fish, a small mammal, or even a bird.


This is why during the nesting season their presence is not tolerated by other birds that nest on, or near water. They will soon be harassed and made to move on, hopefully.
The Heron is a graceful bird in flight, with it's slow wingbeats it can at times be mistaken for a bird of prey. It is only when it gets closer to you then you can see the kinked neck that you realise what it is. It is a very large bird,90-98cms,( 35-38ins) with very long legs and a large heavy bill which is normally yellow but turns pink when breeding.


The black and white patterning on the head and neck contrasts with the grey body. Adults have a white crown with a black crest. They nest on or near the tops of trees in colonies which are called "Heronries". A few years ago I found the start of a heronry in a wood on Bute. It started when I noticed for the first time a heron carrying a large branch in it's bill. It seemed that ungainly as it tried to weave it's way to the site that it had chosen to build it's nest. They look as though they would be happier nesting on the ground near the water as that is where they spent most of their time, but that is their choice. They build a substantial nest from the branches that they collect, and it seems to take forever to complete as they depend on branches that have fallen out in the open as they have great difficulty collecting them from inside woods, owing to their size and the size of the branches that they chose to carry. However they manage eventually and soon start laying their eggs. 4-5 Pale blue, which hatch out in about 23-28 days with both adults sharing the incubation period.


They do not take to the skies for about 50-55 days, which seems such a long time compared to other species. Then again ,they come out of an egg, and look at the size that they grow to, no wonder it takes a long time. They are very vocal during this time, with each partner welcoming the other when arriving with a sound like a shreik!. The young make a loud clicking noise with their bill as they snap them together when food arrives, hoping that it is their time for a feed. This is the best time to find the nest site as with up to five chicks to feed it gets very noisy. The site that I found my first nest is building up very slowly with at least four pairs taking up residence now. In some areas of Britain their can be as much as 200 pairs on one site, so there is a good chance that Bute's heronry will keep on expanding over the years.


They can be seen at lochsides , up burns, or at the seaside. If you go out the Rhubodach road you may see them at the waters edge looking for a meal. They seem to have their own area, as they are positioned about 800 mtrs apart all the way out that road at times, yet you can often go out that way and not see any at all as they must be feeding somewhere else. They will feed all around our coastline, so it is pot luck if you pick the right spot. They will also take up residence well inland, as can be seen with a number of them nesting on the fir trees at Kinghouse Hotel at Rannoch Edge in Glencoe. There must be a great source of food there with the moors an lochans abounding this area providing fish and frogs etc. There are also a great number of them from Glecknabae ,past Kilmichael and on to Rhubodach, but as the trees in that area are too small for nesting, I think that they may be nesting at theTighnabruaich area and feeding on Bute. Back to Bute.There are plenty here and although they have quite a high mortallity rate I think that they will continue to increase in numbers if we continue to have mild winters.


As all their food is caught under or around water, severe frost will be their downfall. Would you like to stand all day, up to your backside in freezing water looking for a meal ? As they are wading birds they do not land in deep water as they are to heavy, at least that is what I thought until recently at Loch Fad, seagulls and comorants were on a feeding frenzy at the north end of the loch feeding on what I know not, but a pair of herons saw the commotion and duly arrived and landed on the water and joined in the feast. They only stayed afloat for about thirty seconds then took off again, shook the water out of their wings then landed once more for more food. This was a first for me and also for others who witnessed it also. Keep your eys open and you will be rewarded with unusual happenings from time to time.

An interesting fact is that, as they are so successful at fishing, many fishermen thought that their legs held magical powers that attracted fish. So they captitalised on this by scattering pieces of herons legs around themselves as they fished. There is of course no foundation to the idea. Whatever will they dream up next?

Norrie Mulholland

First Published in the Buteman 13-12 2002.


Pagehits: 1477 (Today: 1)