Heron vs Koi?

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I’m not a bird or fish expert. I took “Biology for Dummies” at Saint Vincent College. (The class was officially titled “Biology for Non-Science Majors” or something.)

I have this weird obsession for bird photography, though. I spent an afternoon in St. James Park in London once. I took something like 300 photos of ducks in the pond there. I had more pics on my memory card of ducks than I had of Buckingham Palace.

I just lose it when I see heron. I’m not the world’s most observant person. Still, I remember the first time that I saw a heron “in the wild” here in Western Pennsylvania. I was an adult. We were driving on a highway that spooned a creek. I yelled, “Hey, there’s a heron standing in the creek!”

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

Now, in the warm months, I see at least one heron fly directly over my backyard in Parnassus. Same time each evening. Perhaps my yard sits under the flight path between Pucketa (Puckety) Creek and the Allegheny River? What do you think? Again, I took “Biology for Dummies.” My bird knowledge comes from the Audubon Society’s website.

I have a lot of, ahem, “feelings” about the air and water quality here in Western PA. I grew up in rural Central PA and in the rural Laurel Highlands. My mom grew up in Pittsburgh. I travelled to the ‘burgh to visit her family. I don’t mean “the affluent suburbs outside of Pittsburgh.” I mean Carrick and Brownsville Road.

One of my strongest memories about Pittsburgh from back then was the smell. Everything smelled like sulphur. You know, because of the mills. I was born just about the time that the Pennsylvania steel industry started to collapse. It collapsed all throughout my childhood. Here’s the thing that gets me though: Mom lived in Pittsburgh from birth to age 20. She lived in rural PA for the rest of her life. Mom never smoked. (I smoked occasionally when I lived on my own. But my mother never smoked. She never lived with a smoker.) My mom died of lung cancer two days after her 64th birthday. So, yeah, even non-smokers get lung cancer sometimes. Pittsburgh’s air kill my mom?

Back to the birds. From what I understand (again, from “Biology for Dummies” and some internet science articles), Western PA was filthy for decades. Then, a bunch of folks tried to clean up things. In fact, Saint Vincent itself has a cleaned-up pond. Now we’re sort of a kinder habitat for birds and such. Including my heron.

So, anyway, my employer held an Earth Day photography contest on its intranet. Prizes are bragging rights only.

Since I took millions of bird photos, I entered one of these for the contest. I posted a heron photo. I wrote in the caption that to me, the heron is a symbol of the air and water clean-up efforts here in Western PA.

Within hours of my posting about my heron excitement, this one employee (who I don’t know) from another office (on the East Coast of the US) left a comment on my post. The comment went something like this:

I used to have a Koi pond my backyard. The pond had about 20 fish that were all worth a great deal of money. One day, I came home and all of the Koi were gone. My neighbor showed me a photo of a blue heron sitting on my roof looking down at the empty pond. So, I blame the heron for eating all of my expensive fish. I had to close my Koi pond.

(She capitalized the word “koi.”)

I have family friends who lost their own koi to raccoons. I’m sorry to hear this. They went out and got fencing to protect their koi pond from predators.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021.
This one’s blurry. Oh well. You try asking a heron to stay put so that you can get a photo.
Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I learned from a five-second Google search that heron are native to our part of North America. Koi are not native to North America.

Really, how privileged do you have to be for you to view photos of an Earth Day contest, see a photo of a bird that’s making a comeback in its native habitat, and complain that a bird from the same species ate your (non-native) exotic fish?

Heron. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 25, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

In honor of heron just doing their best to survive in their natural habitat on this Earth, here are a bunch of heron photos that I took.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October, 2020. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

Shades of Death Trail / Boulder Field / Hickory Run State Park / Pocono Mountains

Here is my sister’s blog post about her camping trip to and her experiences with the Pocono Mountinas / Hickory Run State Park / the Boulder Field / the Shades of Death Trail. My sister Katie and her husband hiked the Shades of Death Trail and visited the massive Boulder Field with their five-year-old and their three-year-old.

A Bear, A Snake, and Two Eagles Walk into a Bar. Ouch! Pics or it Didn’t Happen. Well, Here are Some Pics.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If I ever end up on a reality show, I will list my occupation as “Wildlife Photographer.”

Here are some of the photos that I took in Northern Michigan. We stayed on Drummond Island, an island off of the northern Lake Huron section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Drummond Island holds the remains of a fort from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Not an American fort. A British fort. British soldiers guarded this fort even after the War of 1812 ended and the Treaty of Ghent gave Drummond Island to the United States. The British kept a military presence on UNITED STATES SOIL for DECADES after this war. I bet that this urked old Andrew Jackson. I want to blog about this some time.

The island is a few miles from the Canadian border. It is physically possible to snowmobile from Canada to Drummond Island when this part of Lake Huron freezes.

Anyway. I saw a black bear run past me outside as I sat inside the kitchen of our rental house. I didn’t grab my camera fast enough to get a photo of said bear. Had I yelled, “Hey, bear! Hold still til I grab a shot of you!,” it would have ended poorly for me.

I DID see two eagles either fight or mate. I grabbed a photo of BOTH eagles after they separated but before they flew away.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Then, I saw a snake on “our” porch. My new snake friend ran off and hid under the porch after I took photos of him or her. Jonathan either saw this same snake hiding in our wood pile several times, or he saw a different snake of the same species hiding in our wood pile.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a sandhill crane. In my post about the Jersey Devil folklore in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, I mentioned that writers and podcasters theorize that the some of the alleged “Jersey Devil” witnesses actually saw sandhill cranes.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I love heron, and I will shoot heron (with a camera) every chance that I get. I said HERON. You know, the bird.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Now, I know that Jonathan took much better photos than I did, but here are some more:

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Loons!

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

As Seen From the Boat Deck of the SV Pinniped

Off the Coast of Presque Isle State Park (Coming into the Passage to Presque Isle Bay), Erie, PA. Lake Erie. As Seen from the Deck of Our Sailboat, SV Pinniped. July 31, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

My mom, Shirley, was extremely gifted in the textile arts. Everyone who knew her well knew that she was really, really good at knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, sewing, and quilting. Anything that involved fabric or yarn, really.

One of my earliest memories involves a pink rabbit costume. Mom was under the impression that the town’s trick-or-treating would be held on Halloween night. Well, about a week or so before Halloween, she walked to the post office. She learned from a postal employee that our community’s Halloween parade and designated trick-or-treating hours were actually planned for THAT VERY EVENING. So, she booked it home and got to work on finishing the rabbit costume. It was ready for four-year-old me to wear just before the parade started.

Around this same time, Mom made me a pink (see a theme here?) quilt. She entered said quilt in the community quilt show. She took me to view this quilt show. I threw a temper tantrum when I saw “my” quilt in the exhibition, complete with a tag. How dare Mom attempt to sell “my” quilt!

I didn’t legitimize my own mother’s hand crafts. I don’t excuse myself for this, but I think that this was because a lot of my mom’s work fell into the arena of stuff that they did on “Little House on the Prairie.”

You know – “Women’s Work.”

(By the way, I loved both the “Little House on the Prairie” books and the television show. Mom sewed me and my sisters bonnets and ruffled dresses so that we could be just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

But – Mom was an artist. Several years ago, Mom and I visited the Carnegie Museum of Art (in Pittsburgh) while my dad went hunting back home in Somerset County. Mom specifically requested that we view a special exhibition about the hand crafts of women around the world. A lot of the art in this exhibit were the exact same mediums that Mom had created for the people that she loved for decades.

That being said, in the last year or so of Mom’s life, she decided to learn how to paint landscapes. She picked out painting supplies as her Christmas gift from my dad for from Santa Claus or whomever. She watched Youtube tutorials on landscape painting. She painted seashores. This was during the same year that she battled cancer.

Jonathan gives me photography lessons. Our photo outings got me through the chaos of the past few years. When I take photos of boats and birds and water, I feel the peace that I imagine that Mom felt when she painted beaches a few summers ago.

I and my two youngest sisters celebrated a June birthday by going to one of those places where you pay a flat fee to paint a sign. You know, where you can bring your own wine and charcuterie board, or your own beer and nachos, or whatever food and drinks make your own life worth living. It was fun. It reminded me of eighth grade art class.

I’m so grateful to my mom for teaching me to survive through life’s rough patches by clinging to anything that gives me joy. Also, for finishing my pink rabbit costume at the last minute.

Presque Isle Lighthouse

Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA. Lake Erie. June 27, 2021. Lighthouse put into service in 1873. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA. Lake Erie. August 1, 2021. Lighthouse put into service in 1873. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Did the Jersey Devil Fly to Pennsylvania? Also, What is REAL Fame?

Sandhill Cranes. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October 10, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The Jersey Devil is a mythological creature. Its origin story maintains that the Jersey Devil was the result of a 13th birth to a (human) colonial family in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The Jersey Devil terrorized the family (or killed the family, according to some versions of the tale). Then, it flew up the family’s chimney. People have reported it flying for hundreds of years now. Mostly in New Jersey, of course. However, at least one person reported seeing it in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River.

This Cryptid also named a professional hockey team and inspired its mascot. I speak of the New Jersey Devils. I work in an office in Pittsburgh. My one manager – a Philadelphia-area native – sits directly across an aisle from me. He placed a pillow featuring the New Jersey Devils’ “devil” mascot on a shelf directly above his desk. I see that devil pillow every time that I look at his office’s glass front wall.

So, the locals adopted the Jersey Devil as a beloved part of their culture.

I listened to these podcasts about the Jersey Devil:

Episode 9:  A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke

Episode 314: The Jersey Devil from Last Podcast on the Left

(Just a warning that Last Podcast on the Left (LPOTL) includes adult language and content.)

I’ve read several books on folklore that include chapters or at least mention of the Jersey Devil. Depending on your source, you will read different things about the Jersey Devil.

Some of my sources speculate that people who reported seeing the Jersey Devil actually saw a sandhill crane. That’s why I included at the top of this blog post a photo of two sandhill cranes. Here’s another photo of the same pair of sandhill cranes:

Sandhill Cranes. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October 10, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I took these particular photos in October 2020 from a kayak on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western Pennsylvania. The park sits about 90 miles south of PA’s Lake Erie shoreline. When I took my photos of these birds, the birds ate in the wetlands at the lake’s edge. I made a lot of noise. The birds ate. They did not flee from me. They just ate. I took these photos during the same week that I read that biologists anticipated significant numbers of migratory birds to fly south for the winter. I am under the impression (I am NOT a scientist) that these birds stopped at Lake Arthur to feed during a migration from somewhere on the Great Lakes to somewhere south.

Here are different sandhill cranes that I saw on an island of Lake Huron in Northern Michigan in August 2020 and August 2021:

Sandhill Cranes. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Cranes. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Crane. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Crane. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I’ve established what sandhill cranes look like. My crane photos are all from the Great Lakes region. However, from what I understand (again, I am NOT a scientist), sandhill cranes have a range that includes other areas of North America.

Was the New Jersey Devil actually a “Pennsylvania” Sandhill Crane?

Also, what does it actually take to be famous through the ages?

I blogged about American Naval hero Stephen Decatur a few days ago. He defeated pirates. He won a Medal of Honor. He married a socially elite woman. He and his wife were an early 1800’s power couple! He lived in a mansion near the White House. He seconded Oliver Hazard Perry in a duel. He then died in a duel himself. A bunch of people who were born before the American Civil War were named after him.

And – he (allegedly) saw the Jersey Devil while he was testing cannons for the United States military. He (allegedly) fired a cannonball at the poor creature.

And – for me – the whole Jersey Devil story is what convinced me that Stephen Decatur will not be forgotten in America. He was famous enough to be linked in folklore to a beloved American figure – the Jersey Devil.

Just for the record, several sources that I consumed also linked Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, to a Jersey Devil sighting. Joseph Bonaparte used to be the King of Spain. After Napoleon’s defeat, Joseph had to move to New Jersey. The Canadian band Moxy Früvous has a song titled King of Spain that begins with the lyrics “Once I was the King of Spain, now I eat humble pie.” The song’s lyrics include mention of employment in a North American pizzaria. I personally think that the song is a dig at Joseph Bonaparte – the former King of Spain who had to move to Jersey, and then went down in folklore for his alleged run-in with the Jersey Devil.

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