Herons in Alresford

Heron Protection

We live in Alresford surrounded by watercress beds, river streams, lakes, and fish farms. Pretty much heaven for any bird that likes the odd bit of fish for dinner, lunch, or worst of all – breakfast. The tall trees in the Avenue are much appreciated, as beautiful, attractive, part of the town heritage – and to Herons the perfect place for their nests. They do like an easy life, and for breakfast, particularly at dawn in the Summer, when all are still asleep, they tend to look around for something easy and tasty in the garden ponds round the town. There are very few of my Alresford friends who have not lost carp or goldfish from their ponds, to a marauding Heron.

At home we have a very deep pond, protected from normal aerial view by an overhanging yew tree on one side, and other trees along another side. There is a wooden fence around the open side, officially to prevent toddlers from falling in, and reeds and oxygenating plants shelter or cover the surface in the Summer. Even so we added a submerged water butt, on its side, to give a cave for the fish to hide in. We have not knowingly lost many fish, but there are maybe 30-40 in there, breeding away, so it is difficult to keep track. But you can tell when there has been a visitation – the fish do not come out of hiding for 2-3 days, not even for their morning feed.

Nevertheless, in the Autumn, when dawn is later, it becomes noticeable that there are occasional visiting herons sitting on the 6 foot fence near the pond, watching: they fly off as soon as we open the curtains. The answer to this problem has been varied: it started with putting obstacles on the lawn so their landing run was restricted; we bought a plastic Heron to stand guard, as it is said they will not poach fish from another Heron’s pond; and when all these failed we have used wooden poles to hold up metal mesh screens above the pond main surface. Still they are seen, attracted when the tree cover allows the water surface reflection to be seen from above, and the pond weed dies down.

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

They say you can get electronic bird scarers that detect the arrival of Herons, and sound an alarm, but they would probably wake us up all night as a result of the passing cats, hedgehogs, foxes and whatever else that visits regularly. So any further suggestions would be welcomed: the next plan is to install a green plastic net over the wooden poles.

And Heron Appreciation

One of my colleagues, Alan Franck, Editor of the magazine HazardEx, visited Alresford in the early 1980s. He remembers:

“One of the most memorable weekend walks was a winter’s day circuit to the north of Old Alresford, with a weak silvery sun illuminating a landscape of muddy ploughed fields and the stark woodland edge. We came over the brow of a hill and saw a flock of birds rising from the watercress ponds below, in the distance – but there was something unusual about their ponderous flight which caused me to take out my binoculars for a closer look. And there, in front of us, was an extraordinary sight never seen before or since. Hundreds of herons were circling up into the sky and slowly flapping off into the West.”

They were obviously returning to the Trout Farm, or flying off further afield for better pond pickings!

Another visitor

It is worth also mentioning that other visitors pass by Alresford Pond and the Trout farms round here: early one Autumn morning en route to work around 7am an unusual and large bird took off from a roost on the tops of the trees above the roundabout on the A31 above Ovington: this was very white underneath, with shaggy feather covered legs, brown upper parts, and I’m convinced it was an Osprey! This was many years ago, before Buzzards had become regular sights round here, but it did not seem to be what I know as a Buzzard.

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