Stay on Key with The Beer Can Blues

Contributing Writer

It’s partly cloudy on Beer Can Island as I walk among the fallen gray trees that dominate the landscape here. Looking up, I flinch in surprise. Close by, atop one of those huge tree’s upturned root system is a great blue heron. Silent, hunched over and unmoving, the bird’s still gray form blends perfectly into the landscape. I’ve seen blues here many times that have been camouflaged by the trees. I’ve watched people come face to face with a great blue that they may have thought materialized out of nowhere. The bird, very large at 46 inches, can be startling. It’s happened to me also, but years ago. No one is around yet I’m embarrassed. I didn’t think it could happen to me.

On Whitney Beach I meet a longtime friend, Shelly, who has not been out to Beer Can Island in a while. We walk out to where fallen tall gray trees lie with their huge root systems upturned. There is a model photo shoot going on but the real show is nearby. When the fish are running, great blues keep an eye on the fishermen. A fisherwoman tosses a throwaway to a waiting great blue heron. The hungry heron picks up the fish, walks away positioning the fish in its bill and soon swallows it. The woman later tosses a fish to a comic looking, non-breeding, brown pelican. The patient pelican standing on a sand bar catches the fish but appears to drop it. Instantly two other brown pellys are there. One with a frosty colored head, indicating that it’s breeding, steals it out right out from under the first one’s bill. Survival of the fittest.

The fisherwoman catches another one and the great blue comes running with its wings cupped, looking elegant.  She has to put her foot on the fish, hold it and keep the great blue at bay. The blue then scoops up the bloodied fish, which is smaller than the preceding two fish. However it has competitors in some brown pelicans. The blue flares at them. Trying to get pictures of the action with my camera, I don’t see who gets the fish. Shelley however has enjoyed the Beer Can blues.

The next day on Beer Can a fisherman catches a sheepshead porgy, which is a long wide silver fish with spines and black vertical stripes.   A scrunched up great blue waits. The fisherman drops the porgy into shallow water where it flaps. The heron moves toward it. The fish however goes full throttle toward deep water, racing for its life and leaves no trace. It’s an almost for the blue. The porgy is safe but worse for the wear and tear.

Two days later there are five great blues on Beer Can near two fishermen. Two have their wings wide and cupped while one has its bill in the air. Their wings, slowly and imperceptibly come to their sides. This has the earmarks of a territorial dispute that ended just seconds ago. One blue may have taken umbrage at the other impinging on its territory and chased it.

Two weeks later my wife and I are on Whitney Beach where a great blue heron is at the water’s edge. Its neck is stretched out to the left and the head is pointed to the right. It stabs the water once and gets nothing. Stabbing the water a second time the blue plucks a several inch long silver fish that is held in its javelin-like yellow bill. The blue turns around holding the flapping fish tightly. Then it waits a very short time, adjusts the narrow fish and imperceptibly swallows it. What dexterity.

One morning on Beer Can there’s fisherman near which is a great blue biding its time. A short distance down the beach is another great blue that lifts off in a gaggle of long legs and wings with some black flashing. It flies toward the fisherman but close to me. I get a small thrill out the bird coming so close but have no patience to wait for the next throwaway. Starting to walk among the fallen gray trees, I keep an eye out for any great blues that may be amongst them. I don’t want one to appear out of nowhere again and surprise me.



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