Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Fish Story

Great Blue Heron -16, Pond Goldfish and Koi-Zero

A couple of weekends ago I ran into the greatest "fisherman" ever. With keen vision, a stealthy approach and superb concentration on the task at hand, he land
ed every fish he targeted that afternoon. He was tall and rail-thin with a huge beak-here's a photo of him:

It's been about three years since we added an inground fish pond just below our outer deck. It holds perhaps a hundred gallons of water and is surrounded by rock slabs. It is filled with fresh water which is oxygenated by means of a submersible pump and a plastic hose which is attached to the ass of a large statuary frog located back center. The pump draws in water, shoots it into the frog's ass and out his mouth back into the pond, creating air bubbles as it sprays accross the pond surface. We bought our first goldfish and koi just after installation and have truly enjoyed the pond and the fish. It's been a learning process all along-what plants to put in, how best to control algae, the perils of letting the water getting too hot in the summer and how to keep the pond free of ice in the winter are questions that we have dealt with, usually after the death of a couple of fish. But it's been mostly a successful little operation. The first couple years we used a small pump which required daily filter cleanings-take out the filter, hose it down, unhook the pump hose and shoot water violently through it with the garden hose attachment, then re-hook the deal back up. Many a day I returned to my office from lunch with sleeves rolled up and shirt and pants wet from the effort. This year I bought the pump from hell-it's been firing an uninterrupted stream of water without a cleaning for about six months. The pump is so powerful, I had to glue the hose to the frog's ass receptacle to keep it from blowing off and snaking around shooting water everywhere. The first winter, I read up on cold weather care and found that the fish will adjust to very cold temperatures-they just can't have the surface to freeze. In the cold weather, they go to the bottom of the pond, their metabolism slows and they just "sit" there. They don't even require feeding because their bodies aren't working hard enough to digest the food. We got a floating heater that keeps ice from forming on the surface and have used it every winter but this one because it's been so mild.
We started out with about eight fish, lost some in the heat when the pump stopped working, and last spring added some more making a total of sixteen. We still had goldfish from the first season and they had grown as big as small bass. The others were a mix of smaller goldfish and white and orange koi. The pond in the spring and summer is a prolific breeding ground for frogs. Everything did great this year-we kept the water cool by adding well water in the summer, had plenty of plants for shelter, had the killer pump going full bore and had snails and those little algae eating catfish keeping the green slime down. Their colorful swirling and swimming were a constant attraction to our two cats, who would teeter precariously on the thin rock slabs to stare at the fish and take the occasional unsuccessful swipe at them. The rocks are just stacked, not cemented and are not the most stable platform, even for nimble kitties and several nights when the cats returned to the back door soaking wet, I knew damn well what had happened. We loved feeding the fish-they could see our appoaching shadows and would swarm to the surface, mouths gulping before the first flake hit the water. The big fish could inhale flakes the size of a dime and the little ones waited for the scraps to sink down and they would take their turn. The pond life had been so stable for so long that had really stopped worrying about their welfare-just a feeding once or twice a day depending on their activity level.
On a cold Sunday a couple of weeks ago, Jane yelled for me to come look at this huge bird in the backyard. It was mister GBH. I had never seen one so close up-the thing was about five feet tall, blue-gray in color and when I looked out the door and spooked it, it took off looking more like a small plane than a bird-truly impressive. Jane said she had seen it the day before in the middle of the back yard. I went out and looked in the pond and didn't see any of the fish but since it was cold and the water was a tad murky, I just assumed the fish were finning on the bottom. Later that night, I got out my 2 million candlepower spotlight I use on my boat and shot a beam of light into the pond-still nothing. I still held out hope that the bird maybe just scared the fish into hiding and they would come back out soon. The next day I took an oar and stirred the water to a froth with no results, then I took some nets and tried some more-nothing.
The heron had actually eaten every fish in that pond-they're all gone. I "Googled" the phrase "pond predators" and every hit had a picture of either a raccoon or a Great Blue Heron. Ain't nature a bitch!

The pond now sits empty except for the dormant remnants of a few pond plants and the water still streams out of the frog's mouth. When the weather warms, we will restock it with a new group of fish and when Mr. GBH comes around next year, I've got something for his ass! He'll be no match for the Gator Guard floating gator head with it's mirror-back eyes flashing in the sun. Should scare the hell out of the cats too!


Anonymous RedNeck said...

A buddy of mine had a pond like you're writing about. He had the same problem. They wound up putting a very fine mesh screen over the top of the pond. I don't know that the heron's up here would be scared of a gator head, because, they've probably never seen one. Might as well just stick a scare crow in there brother... ;)

8:19 AM  
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