Monday, February 18, 2008

Looney Island

As the crow flies, or in this case, the heron, Looney Island is just over a mile from my home on Chapman Ridge. One of the largest heron rookeries in the valley is located on the island. Close to 100 nests fill the trees on the long strip of land in the middle of the Tennessee River. Great blue herons spend most of their lives as solitary hunters; steel gray isolationists, fishing up and down their adopted waterways. But at breeding time they come together as colonial nesters, filling the trees with large stick constructions. A single tall sycamore can have multiple homes, precariously placed on the topmost branches. The nests are so well built, they can be used year after year.

In February, great blues begin to arrive at the rookery to stake their claims. They don’t necessarily use the same nests as they did the year before and if they arrive early enough to claim a better-located one, they will. What determines a better site? Only a heron knows and they are remarkably tight-billed on the subject. Perhaps it's the view. If they arrive too late, they may have to build a nest from scratch. It’s first come, first served. This declaration-of-site marks the beginning of courtship. Yesterday’s showers didn’t discourage the herons. Several nests have already been claimed; solo males were standing tall in the rain waiting for the arrival of a mate. The wait may be a long one.

Illustration by Stephen Lyn Bales

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