In Mediterranean Israel, we don’t really have a distinctive autumn like they do in North America or Europe. But somehow we know that the fall is coming. Not only do the lower temperatures and the date on the calendar signal the new season, but nature itself proves to be the best evidence to allow us to witness the change with our own eyes.Suddenly we have some guests in our landscape. Now, when the days have become cooler and more pleasant, is a good time to go out and enjoy some of autumn’s many winged visitors. Millions of birds pass through Israel on their way from Europe to Africa, where they will spend the winter months. Some of those birds remain in Israel during the fall. One of the larger species that we can observe is the grey heron.The grey heron is a wading bird that prefers water habitats, like the rest of its relatives do. You will find the grey heron along the coastal area, near fishing ponds, in the Hula Valley and lake and even in the South, but always around water. You can spot them alone or in small flocks.
Frequently, the grey heron stands perfectly motionless on the bank of a river or body of water. It can stay completely still for a long time. I saw one standing stock still for more than 10 minutes before it shot off like an arrow towards an unsuspecting fish.The ability to freeze on the spot and the lighter color of its underbelly are very important to the grey heron’s hunting strategy. Its prey, which is usually a fish or a frog in the water, does not see the danger above. The heron’s light colors blend in with the bright sky, making the prey unable to perceive any ominous movement or shape. The fish or frog may swim into the heron’s path, unaware of its impending doom.The grey heron is well equipped for this task, armed as it is with a spear-like neck and beak, as well as stereoscopic vision to calculate exactly where the fish or frog is and when it is within swooping range. As an opportunist, the grey heron will not refuse a large insect or reptile or even a small bird that may have landed nearby. After all, this heron is a large bird that measures one meter in height and can weigh up to two kilograms. It needs its food. The grey heron is most impressive when it spreads its wings to take off. Then it becomes a giant flier with a wingspan of almost two meters. In flight, the heron keeps its neck in an S-shape, which is a helpful way to distinguish it from other large flying birds such as the white stork or the common crane. Being so light relative to their body size, it is a sight to see a flock of herons on windy days pointing their bodies head-first directly against the wind, exposing the narrowest body surface to the force of the wind, which would otherwise easily blow them away.The grey herons will remain in our region until spring, so there is a lot of time to enjoy these graceful autumn visitors.