“He’s back, the bugger!”
The cry always comes from the kitchen, and I don’t have to wonder who’s back. Harry’s back. Harry is a thoroughly unwelcome, but maddeningly regular visitor to the Jessop house. Or rather to the Jessop garden. Harry, you see, isn’t a tiresome neighbour or lonely relative – some old bore constantly popping in uninvited for a cup of tea, intent on regaling us with his view of Arsenal’s chances of winning the Premiership, or depressing us with an irreversibly dystopian view of the world, culled from the headlines of the shriller tabloids.
‘Our Harry’ – as we have come to think of him – is a bird.
To be more precise, Our Harry is a heron. And what Our Harry is after is not merely a cuppa but breakfast, lunch or dinner – and sometimes all three in one day. These meals, I should add, invariably consist of fish. The fish live in a pond in our back garden.
I’d like to say that this aquatic water feature was inherited, the proud legacy of a previous householder, but I can’t. I created the thing myself, a few years ago, in an environmental flight of fancy that I’ve regretted ever since. I should say half regretted, because the pond often presents a lovely sight. Deep and clear, its surface is gently rippled by a tumbling waterfall, and its margins of water marigolds and irises put on a splendid show each spring and summer. The fish certainly feel at home. So does our pesky heron.
I should, of course, say herons, because clearly there is more than one Harry. There is a whole gang of Harrys. (The collective noun is not actually ‘gang’, it’s,appropriately enough, siege, but gang conveys the image of aggressive thugs.) Its members present a variety of specimens, each with remarkably individual physical characteristics, identified by names such as Shorty, Fluffy, Big Boy, Stripey or Skinny. As different as they may be in appearance or methodology, all these birds share certain specific personality traits: they are always hungry, they are damnably clever and they are tiresomely persistent.
The defences we’ve constructed to repel these ornithological marauders have been varied, ingenious and, so far, more or less useless. They’ve included, in various guises, intricate webs of fishing wire; fences; floating plastic discs; life-like facsimiles of herons; and electronically-activated water guns and noise-makers. Whatever the form of defence deployed, the herons have either found a way to circumvent it or, even more irritatingly, simply ignored it. Covering the entire pond surface with netting works, but looks ugly, defeating the whole purpose of having a pond. (Even netting isn’t entirely effective; the birds have been known to chew through it).
I’ve even scoured the web for a fool-proof solution, trying in turn every recommendation found, including all of the above.
My irrational hatred of herons is, in the final analysis, cancelled out by grudging admiration. The damn things are just too smart for me. Whoever came up with that pejorative phrase bird-brain can’t have come across herons.