I knew by the hoarse squawks around the bend of my favorite bass water on the Susquehanna River's North Branch, we were about to compete with the best fisherman on the river - the great blue heron. There they were - not one, but probably a half dozen or more, standing almost motionless on their stilt-like legs that, stretched out as adults, might push 3 feet.
This feathered fisherman belongs to a broad-ranging family of birds referred to as Ardeidae and, if you're a budding ornithologist, the genus-species Ardea herodias.
Among the most common of herons, the big blues are the largest of the many groups in the United States. You can distinguish them from a distance, as they fly, by the S-shaped crook in their necks. Other similar birds position their necks in a straight-line fashion.
The comical feathered bird has a way of ruffing the feathers of many devoted anglers and particularly those who make a living by guiding on the rivers or raising fish commercially and for their own pleasure.
Big blues will stand for endless periods of time with their necks curled in the S-shaped position, primarily in shallow water, watching for aquatic life to pass by - and fish are their favorite targets. With almost lightening speed, flexed neck muscles uncoil, pushing long, sharp beaks into the fleshy dorsal of their prey.
What's the problem with that, you ask?
The problem begins when you have a conflict of interest in fishermen who hate to see the big blues eat thousands of fish and who end up losing their potential profits from the river.
The problem continues when the big blues discover that it's more profitable to stand in a rearing pond, stacked with fish, than in a river where fish numbers are fewer.
These two conflicts of interest seem to have promoted a philosophy of "you love 'em or hate 'em."
Another problem is that wading birds such as pelicans and herons possibly could be the source or physical agent that carries the dreaded spores causing whirling disease in rainbow trout.
And because the active spores live part of their life cycle in muddy environments, such as stream bottoms, large wading birds are suspected of carrying that organism from stream to stream.
To understand the problem, we must realize that when conditions are negatively affect the lives of large birds to exist, they merely fly to where food is obtainable.
Having worked for years on some of the most populated trout streams in the nation, I can attest that there have been seasons when large wading birds appear by the thousands. It is not unusual to see great numbers on the best shallow lies where it is easy picking.
Since the big blues cannot distinguish small from large, they respond basically to motion and the conditioning process begins. If the fish is large, the long, sharp beak could penetrate deep into the dorsal section. The problem begins to magnify when that deep, exposed wound is invaded by harmful bacteria or viral pathogenic organisms, causing the fish's death.
In retrospect, we sportsmen must understand the artificial containment methods that we have developed to further our hobbies such as hunting and fishing merely promote easy paths of fulfilling the most common desire in animals - hunger. Basically, it's liking putting a baby in a room filled with gumdrops. It does not take long for the birds to figure out that man is their best friend.
It is a constant battle for wildlife managers to develop devices and methods to protect the many dollars invested in propagation of desirable species and we have to pay the price. The infringement of undesirable species and the paths that we take to destroy wildlife's chance of survival is a critical balancing act.
Remove a segment from the critical energy chain such as food, species-related habitat, or organisms that promote the entire energy chain, and we end up with a deflated balance of nature.