Great blue herons normally swallow their prey whole, I believe this fish head came courtesy of a family of river otters I had seen moving through shortly before. Although effective hunters themselves, I’ve seen herons shadow otters before to try for scraps from the on-the-move otters (and seen otters make feints towards the herons if they think they’re getting too close and might grab more than just leftovers).
I’ve frequently seen bitterns catch tiny little fish like this one and I often wonder if it’s worth the effort (especially so when the larger herons and egrets do it). I guess they’re not expending much extra effort while on patrol looking for all kinds of prey, be it fish or frog or vole or snake or earthworm.
A hooded merganser swallows a fish she just caught in the shallows of Long Lake. She’s swimming away not from me but rather the other mergansers in her group who would be more than happy at the chance for a free meal. Once she surfaces with the fish she’s got to get it oriented head-first, lengthwise down her long thin bill, and toss it back and swallow it. The still squirming fish sometimes gets dropped even when alone, much less in a crowd, so a little private space is always welcome.
When car shopping a couple of years ago, I only considered cars where it was easy to cross from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. I was specifically thinking of situations like this at the auto tour at my local refuge, where I saw a family of river otters to the right of the car and the best views were from the passenger seat. Thankfully crossing over is easy to do in the Subaru Crosstrek we bought and I was able to watch the otters for quite a while as they groomed and played and ate. I was struck by how, even in the midst of vigorous play, the siblings would catch a fish when the opportunity presented itself and enjoy a quick snack before resuming play.
I spent the morning sitting still at the edge of Long Lake and was rewarded when a small group of hooded mergansers swam in close to feed. There’s a sign hanging above a culvert that blocks part of the view of this section of the lake, but thankfully for me this male surfaced in plain view with a fish in his mouth.