The heron, the frog, and the Thanksgiving feast

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to my American readers (and happy Wednesday to the rest of you)! As you travel over the river and through the woods, or wherever this holiday may take you, I hope good cheer comes along for the ride.

Today’s post is a short one, and it’s all about an ongoing feast in my back yard.

This summer, a juvenile Green Heron discovered an all-it-could-eat buffet of frogs in the pool and became a frequent poolside visitor.

Our juvenile Green Heron in early August

My husband and I had not seen so many (or any) frogs in our pond in previous summers, and their presence added to the daily outdoor chores. Sometimes we could relocate them while they were still alive. Other times, we had to fish them out after they drowned in the skimmer or at the bottom of the pool.

A small, brave frog watches me take its picture.

I haven’t seen any frogs in the pool for the last month or so, and I realized about a week ago it was because—at least in part—we still have frequent visits from the Green Heron. I don’t know if this is the same juvenile heron as our August guest, but I enjoy seeing it stand by the pool.

It’s skittish and quick to fly if it sees me watching it, and so I have to take its photo from inside the house and be careful that it can’t see me from a window. It’s not graceful like other herons. It has a gangly look when it flies, and its squawk sounds like an unpleasant shriek.

Today, the heron sat frozen like this for several minutes. I’ve never seen it still for so long.

The Green Heron stares up at the sky.

Was it asking a blessing for its meal? Was it basking in the joy of having just eaten a frog? Was it hypnotized by something in the sky?

If this is the juvenile heron, its coloring is coming in nicely, and it’s clearly adding girth from eating so many frogs.

This Thanksgiving, may you enjoy your feast as much as the heron enjoys its frogs.

One of the things I’m grateful for is a back yard that attracts interesting birds. What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

The golden trees of fall

I couldn’t let autumn slip by without talking about trees, especially beautiful fall trees such as the aspens.

I didn’t grow up in the land of aspens, and so they’re not part of my mental image of fall. They are spectacular, though, and it’s hard to pass by them in the fall without pausing to admire them and listen to their leaves “quaking.”

Aspens in Nevada

While driving from the start to the finish of one of my husband’s recent races near Tahoe, I couldn’t resist a quick stop along this roadside. I lost more than an hour because of the stop (thanks, Nevada DOT, for mismanaging your construction zones so entirely that day, and by thanks, I mean the exact opposite of thanks). But as I look back at these pictures and remember the beauty of that morning, it’s hard for me to say I wouldn’t have stopped if I’d known the trouble that waited ahead in the construction zone. At least for all the aggravation, I had these moments of sheer beauty.

A showy autumn display

Other days brought an escape from the car, along with opportunities to see these beautiful trees up close.

The bark offers a spell-binding play of dark and light.

Leaves of gold

I’ve been reading about the growth patterns and habits of quaking aspens. They grow in groups called clones, where each “tree” isn’t so much an individual as it is part of an outgrowth of a single living root system.

They continue to grow through winter, too, an unusual characteristic for deciduous trees. You can read more about the layer right under their bark that allows this to happen.

Aspens even have the power to turn the water into gold. Well, not really. But the combination of aspens and sunlight adds an air of magic to whatever water happens to be nearby.

A heron wades among the golden reflection. (I’m not sure all of the gold reflection is from aspens.)

A blaze of aspen gold washes over salmon in Taylor Creek.

I hope these last two photos whet your appetite for what’s coming next week. The salmon are running, and we got to see a different sort of salmon spawning in Taylor Creek near Lake Tahoe. Next week, I’ll share some favorite shots of the salmon and the birds that hang out with them (sometimes to the detriment of the fish).

How is autumn shaping up where you live? We’re raking lots of leaves and enjoying at least a little fall color.

Tis the season for salmon

My husband and I have kept ourselves busy the last few days decorating for Christmas. Tis the season after all.

It’s also the most magical time of the year down at the river. As I ran this morning, I realized that I have fallen in love with the river, and this time of year has become my favorite river season for two reasons: cooler weather and the salmon run.


Salmon splash in shallow parts of the river as they make their way upstream.


The end point for the salmon, at the gates of the hatchery

A fish hatchery upriver raises Chinook salmon from the eggs they collect (a process that is not at all for the faint of heart of heart to watch). Visitors to the hatchery can watch the salmon climb the ladder (also troubling to watch, as some of the salmon throw themselves again and again at gates that often close to prevent overcrowding in the holding tanks).


A fish makes it up a “rung” of the ladder.


The ladder draws crowds daily, salmon climbing and people watching.

I prefer a spot lower down the river, one where I stop daily at the river’s edge to watch the splashing of the salmon, trying to decide if this day holds more salmon than the day before.

There’s inherent heartbreak to the salmon run. They swim up river to spawn and then die. The last few days, I’ve noticed more and more dead salmon in the river and along its banks (Warning: photo of dead salmon below). That also means the vulture count is growing.


I count at least sixteen in this picture.


The vultures provide a necessary service, but … I don’t enjoy this part.

The river teems with birds at all times of the year, but this heron (a year-round resident) seems especially perturbed by the vultures landing so close to him.


Puffing up with indignation


Establishing the pecking order? Or claiming personal space?

As the sun emerged from clouds the other morning, the vultures stretched their wings to warm in the sun’s heat. As ugly as vultures are, I found them beautiful in their own way this day.


Ugly and beautiful?

The vultures’ presence is vital, or the river would become unbearable for the stench and debris. It’s hard to watch, but I remind myself that this is the salmon’s goal in life and is a cycle they must undertake to keep their species going.

The hatchery offers hope on this front. For a quarter, you can buy fish food to feed these babies:


A holding pond filled with baby chinooks

Have you ever seen the salmon run? If not, come visit California in the fall. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spellbound by this spectacular cycle of nature.