The Green Heart of Poringland


A Mate for Harry?

Poringland Lakes’ resident heron ‘Harry’ is often seen statuesquely standing beside lakes, patiently waiting his next meal but now appears Harry may have found himself a mate as two herons have recently been seen simultaneously at the lakes.

Wildlife enthusiast Peter Aspinall was on hand earlier this week to capture this magnificent picture of Harry trying to lodge on one of the dead silver birches.

Grey herons are one of Britain’s largest birds.  They have a wing span around 6ft but despite their size are surprisingly light, weighing on average only half as much as a greylag goose.

Herons are sociable birds when nesting, invariably nesting in long-established heronries most of which are in trees, with the majority of nests at least 25m above the ground. However, reed-bed heronries are not unusual.  It is not known where Harry makes his (and Harriett’s) home but it can’t be far from the lakes judging by his regular appearances, predominantly in the early morning.

The number of herons breeding in Britain and has been growing steadily for many years.  They suffer badly in cold winters when ponds and streams are frozen for prolonged periods. However, the recent run of mild weather has helped boost the population.

Keep a look out for Harry on your next visit!

Swan Lake 

For the past few days, a beautiful young swan (pictured right) has been gilding serenely and effortless across Poringland Lakes.

Anglers and visitors alike have been excited to see the rare sight and hope the swan will take up residency although according to the RSPB this looks unlikely as the swan is probably searching for a mate or a flock of swans. 

It’s not unusual for parents to chase their offspring away which could be the case at Poringland.  Once the cygnets are old enough to look after themselves, typically after six months, the parents cut the parental ties and chase them away, sometimes quite aggressively. 

A juvenile swan will then seek out another flock until it is about four years old when it is deemed to be an adult. 

As a general rule swans mate for life.  If a mate is lost, then the surviving mate will go through a grieving process like humans do, after which it will either stay where it is on its own, fly off and find a new stretch of water or re-join a flock. 

In the wild, with all the hazards they have to live with (vandals, pollution, dogs, mink, overhead cables, bridges, pylons, lead poisoning, fishing-tackle injuries etc), an average lifespan would be 12 years. However, in a protected environment such as a sanctuary, this figure can reach 30 years. 

Postscript: If you were hoping to catch a glimpse of the swan, you are too late!   Reports received this morning have confirmed that the youngster has moved on, much to the disappointment of local bird enthusiasts. 

Heron Family Expands  

Conservationists at Poringland Lakes are jubilant with the news that our two resident herons have successfully produced an offspring.

Speculation has been mounting for weeks after it appeared that long-standing resident Harry had been joined by a female, Harriett.  

Now several sightings of a heron chick have been recorded.  Finally, at the weekend, accomplished wildlife photographer Liz Dack managed to capture the newcomer on camera.

Except when they are breeding, herons spend much of their time alone, feeding or wading in shallow water. They are wary and suspicious birds, choosing quiet areas to feed.  A heron uses stealth and speed when hunting and will wait, poised and silent, at the water's edge or, in the case of Harry, perched on the concrete ring usually in the quieter Ray Noble Lake.  

When a victim comes within reach, the heron strikes quickly, stabbing down its long, sharp bill to grab the prey tightly. Fish are swallowed whole, head first so that the spines or fins do not get stuck in the bird's throat. Large fish may be brought to land and broken up into smaller pieces before being eaten.  

A heron is often difficult to spot when it is resting, head hunched between its shoulders, motionless and silent. If it is alarmed it will suddenly stretch its neck and take to the air, perhaps with a loud, harsh 'fraaank' – as witnessed countless times at the lakes.  

Herons usually breed in colonies known as heronies in high trees close to lakes although other sites are sometimes chosen including low trees, bushes and bramble patches which are plentiful at Poringland Lakes.  

The same nest is used year after year until blown down.  It starts as a small platform of sticks but expands into a bulky nest as more material is added in subsequent years. The male usually collects the material while the female constructs the nest.  Breeding activity takes place between February and June.  

The clutch of eggs usually numbers three to five.  Both birds take part in incubation and the period lasts for about twenty-five days. Both parents bring food for the young.    Both birds take part in incubation and the period lasts for about twenty-five days. Both parents bring food for the young. They fledge at seven to eight weeks. 

The average life expectancy in the wild is about five years. Only about a third of juveniles survive into their second year, many falling victim to predation.  

Although herons take fish, stocks at Poringland Lakes are plentiful and shouldn’t be unduly threatened.  

“The anglers are conservationists too” said trustee Peter Aspinall.  “i am always impressed how they report their sightings and share the excitement of seeing nature first hand” he added.