The Night Herons Letting Me See Them

Audrey and I walk around Lake Merritt every day. At 5:00 AM we rise and walk around the lake with Poppy, slowly waking ourselves up with all of the human and non-human life that exists around the lake that early in the day. One of the characters you encounter while walking around the lake that early are the night herons, who hunch around the edges of the lake fixated into what seems like an alternative dimension waiting for a fish to emerge. When we began our walks early in 2021 we would see one or two herons in our time around the lake, but this number has grown over the months to where we now see ten or twenty herons spread around the lake and sometimes all together in a sort of heron gathering or meeting.

When we first started walking I wouldn’t have noticed a heron from a seagull, something that was more about me than it was about the appearance of a night heron. Night herons are shorter and smaller than what you might think of when you hear about a heron. They look like a heron that you squished down into a football size bird. With the males possessing distinct coloring and a plumage off the back of their head, with the female looking much patchier and plain. With each morning that pased I began to pay attention to them more, staring at them perched on the edge of barrier in the water, or walking in the shallow edge of the lake looking for their catch. After adjusting my lens of the world to include night herons I began calling out to them, saying a variety of things in their direction as I was walking by, working to make small talk if you will.

When I would walk by a night heron posed in full fishing mode I’d say, “hello, what lures are you using today”? If I’d see one scampering on the bank scavenging for left over restaurant food I’d yell, “shouldn’t you be fishing”!! When I walked by one of their “gatherings” where I would see ten or twenty night herons gathering in “discussion”, and I’d see a lone night heron down the bank fishing, I’d let them know they were missing the meeting. Like the other human beings I see along the path I try to be a social neighbor, say hello, and make small talk so that they know I am a good person. As the months progressed in 2021 I began to see more herons—-I can’t tell if I see more night heron because of the change in season, because I am more aware, or word got around with the night herons that I am a nice guy. Regardless of the reason, I am enjoying seeing more of these beautiful birds doing their thing around the lake each morning.

As I walk by a night heron perched on the edge of the wall they almost always seem to turn their head and make eye contact. While gathered in groups I feel like they pause for a moment to notice me as I walk by. There is still nothing that seems to interrupt their intense focus while fishing, something they do with such precision they seem to vibrate without actually ever moving. I am guessing the behavior of the herons just evolve from season to season, resulting in more of them gathering around the lake, but I like to think they are letting me see more of them. The more I notice and see them, the more they notice and let me see them. Then once I began to connect verbally, they decide I was worthy of being blessed with their presence. For me, it really is one of the magical things about the world of birds that we don’t let into our lives because we are jut too busy to properly connect and notice the world around us.