Aki and I are cruising the Mendenhall campground, looking for the perfect spot to set up our family tents. We need a place with room for two tents that is within easy canoe carrying distance of the lake. From nearby comes the sound of preschool students heading in our direction. Aki, who thinks that little kids are really just puppies wearing funny clothes, tends to scare them with exuberant welcomes. To avoid that I lead the little dog down toward the lake and find a great blue heron fishing the shallows.
Either Aki can’t see the bird or she ignores it. Either way the heron doesn’t exhibit any signs of stress or concern. It lets me watch it stalk salmon smolt, moving slowly with its neck pulled back to form an “S.” When it freezes, it releases the tension in its neck to fire its head and long beak forward like a lance. It does this several times. The fish win their first battles with the heron. Finally the tall bird snatches a meal from the water, flipping up its beak to force its prey down that long neck.
After the preschoolers move on, Aki and I return to the campground road and follow it around the edge of a large pond. Mergansers, buffleheads, and mallards are paddling toward the far shore when an osprey cruises over their heads to land in the top of a nearby spruce. It’s been years since I have seen one of the fish eagles. I would have passed the pond long before the osprey appeared if not the for noisy toddlers.