In the Dark, All Herons are Grey

Tuesday, May 10th, ©2011 Marcus Brooks
Great Blue Heron (Wikipedia)

Great Blue Heron (Wikipedia)

Last night a friend on Facebook mentioned seeing a Grey Heron on a bridge in downtown Austin, TX. I came within an electron of correcting her. Grey Herons are a Eurasian species. A heron in downtown Austin is most likely to be a Great Blue Heron.

I know something about herons for a few reasons. For one thing, as a child I read Ellery Queen Jr.’s 1954 Blue Herring Mystery (***Spoiler Alert***), in which the blue herrings are a red herring. The booty was actually stashed beneath a stuffed white heron that was in fact a juvenile Little Blue Heron. But I forget the details.

More importantly, my Mom and Dad were avid birders. I spent much of my youth driving Mom around Central Texas in our big ’69 Coronet 440 station wagon, stopping every few feet to let her identify the odd shrike or flycatcher on a wire, the ducks, coots, and spoonbills in a sewage pond, the kingfishers above a creek, or the cormorants and Great Blue Herons near Town Lake.

Still, I restrained myself and did not “correct” my friend on Facebook. For one thing, I can’t know that a Grey Heron isn’t ever blown over here from Africa. That is, after all, how America came to have Cattle Egrets. Why not herons?

More to the point, I am sure the heron my friend saw was grey. Adult Great Blue Herons are grey, more or less, as are adult Little Blue Herons, although these aren’t common in Austin. Even a Green Heron can look grey sometimes.

Benjamin Franklin said, “in the dark, all cats are grey,” and it’s just as true of herons.

To digress, my wife Shea found that saying deeply offensive when she learned it’s from Franklin’s Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress. Therefore she also dislikes my favorite misquote: “In the dark, all cats are Zone V.” But perhaps that is best, because I myself am offended by Ansel Adams’ choice of Roman numerals for a system that includes zero!

Which all goes to show the sort of nonsense that floats to the surface whenever I’m set to thinking. Just about any stray word or phrase could be a red heron!

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