A portentous astronomical week saw a solar storm, the moon at perigee, a solar eclipse and the spring equinox culminating in a spectacular tide. We made our way to the Devon coast near Paignton to go rockpooling, hoping that the rapidity and reach of the tide would have washed something interesting in from the depths of the ocean. A heron beat us down to the shoreline.
It was a magnificent specimen, with plumage sharp and crisp in black and white as though freshly laundered. It stood tall and still on the pale red rocks against a backdrop of constantly moving waves and spray. Then in a flash it struck, thrusting its lethal javelin into a shallow pool and hauling it back with a flatfish impaled on the end.
There’s something slightly comic about the outline of a flatfish, and it robbed the heron of its dignity. Rather than tipping back its head and swallowing the fish whole, as usual, it stood motionless as before, fish dangling like an incongruous ornament. The heron seemed unsure what to do with it. Eventually it took a couple of steps, dropped the fish, and stalked off to look for something more manageable.
Once we were sure the heron would not be disturbed by our approach we clambered to the spot where we’d seen the fish fall. Ironically, it was our friend Fish who found it, a subtly spotted topknot now sporting an ugly stab wound. He returned it gently to a pool, and we watched it hang there in the clear water, admiring its beauty whilst trying not to be disturbed by the gentle wash of blood drifting from the hole in its side.
It was hard not to feel a little sentimental about the fish – I don’t think it will have survived long – though usually I would have cheered the heron on in its angling. Is it in the eyes that we find a connection with other vertebrates? Elsewhere in the algae-strewn intertidal zone countless other animals live out their bewilderingly alien lives. Would I pity an anemone, or a sponge?