Herring and Other Delicacies

Near the end of February and into March, the herring congregate and spawn near the beaches of the east side of Vancouver Island. The arrival of the herring means the beginning of the fat time for other animals  who look forward to eating well, after a hard winter. Here, in a photo taken by one of my neighbours Paul Knettig, the seagulls and eagles await the arrival of the herring. But the eagles are not above preying on other guests at the same dinner table. Among the many seabirds who also enjoy the arrival of the herring, are the loons. It seems that loons are one of the favourite foods on the eagles’ menu.P1020586

Here are the wing bones and a few feathers of what I believe was a common loon. I found this wing under a tree in my yard.

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Here is a close up picture of it.

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Now, aren’t those feathers similar to the wing feathers of this loon in the photo below (taken a few years earlier). I had picked up the pieces the eagle had dropped from a tall fir tree in my yard, and put them together again in the shape they might have been in.IMGP0338

With dead herring lying around on the beaches, the eagles are eating well, but they still prefer to bring their food to a safer spot to be eaten. Sometimes they get clumsy and drop things. That’s why I found a herring head under this same tree where I later found the loon. Thinking I would write about it in a blog post, I picked up the herring head and put it in the empty wheelbarrow for safekeeping until I could go get my camera. Alas! When I arrived with my camera, the herring head was gone.

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And Emma’s breath had a distinctly fishy smell.

Emma 1“Well, you didn’t say not to….”

35 thoughts on “Herring and Other Delicacies

  1. This is the perfect post for me to ask a question I was pondering this afternoon — it occurred to me that you, of all the people I know, might have an answer. (Or not.)

    I’ve been working on a boat that has become infinitely attractive to an osprey. Every night, he perches on the mizzen mast or boom, and has dinner. Every morning, I show up to work and have to begin by cleaning off fish entrails, tails, eyeballs, etc. It’s not something I especially look forward to. But nothing that deters other birds (those plastic owls, CDs swinging in the wind, erratic noises, etc) has worked with the osprey.

    Have you heard of any tricks? I got totally frustrated once, when he dropped a fish onto a freshly varnished hatch, and I confess I threw a roll of masking tape in his direction (though not at him — they’re protected.) If it’s just something I have to live with, I will – but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

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    • Wow! Aren’t you lucky!? Grab the camera and take his picture. I know that the local fishboats have problems with seagulls sitting on the masts and pooping on the decks. (I’m sure that’s not why they’re called poop decks). Many fishermen have put metal cones on top of the masts and poles at least while they’re at the wharf for the winter. I think your osprey has come to expect you to be cleaning fish, so you can’t really blame him for hanging around when you ring the dinner bell. I suppose you can’t change your habits and starve him out if it isn’t your boat and the fish cleaning is your job. It’s a tough one. I don’t suppose he’s shy either. My advice – take lots of pictures and write a blog about it. Thanks for sharing this interesting problem with us.

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  2. I agree with Gladys. Emma would never snatch a herring head without permission. 🙂 It must have been a crow. The photos are very interesting to look at.

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    • They might be escapees from the nets, and then didn’t make it. Not sure. But they do repeat spawn, so it’s not like salmon, some of which die after spawning. Still, they have to die sometime. It would be interesting to know how these herring ended up on the beach. I suspect that it’s from the fishery. It’s not the usual thing to see them like that. You see lots of roe on the beaches but only the occasional herring. Good food for the birds though.

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    • I didn’t want to believe it, but I saw her chewing the last bits of it and then I had to watch her to make sure nothing got stuck in her throat. She’s SO bad. Don’t know why I love her so much.

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  3. That face…so innocent. Ha. Little sneak. Too adorable.

    I can’t imagine having things drop like that in my yard from birds. I did tell you that story about a fish getting dropped and then lodged in someone’s car. They were driving over the bay when a bird dropped it.

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  4. OK, so do you think herring are to be eaten by birds and sea animals or by humans? Just curious. I used to eat pickled herring as a kid at “smorgasbord” restaurants and would throw up later that night. Then in a Dutch town (can’t remember which one) I ordered herring because it was the traditional food and because some of my Dutch ancestors used to fish for these guys. They were these disgusting greasy full fish stuck on a plate. I couldn’t touch them. They did look like walrus food or something like that.

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    • I suppose it’s all in the preparation and the way you were encouraged or not to enjoy it. I love pickled herring. Maybe you were semi-allergic to fish. My parents both loved herring, especially pickled, but also kippers (dried and smoked herring). And they are good fried and eaten with boiled potatoes. But I suppose it’s like olives. You have to learn to like them (an acquired taste) and after you like them, you’ll love them. Having said that, it may be too late for you if you’ve had these bad experiences with it. The herring that is for human consumption is fished in the winter, maybe around November? December? but the herring that is fished for at spawning time (like now, in the spring) is a bit scrawnier and mainly fished for the roe (which the Japanese loved until the younger generation switched to McDonalds) and the left over bodies of the herring are sent to reduction plants for dog food or fertilizer or whatever (a sin, I think) But along the way, while the herring are schooling by the gazillions, the sea lions, salmon, sea birds, eagles, and seagulls and many other animals that live on the beaches, thrive at this time of year.

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  5. Anneli, your Emma’s reactions are like children’s, “quick as a wink!” Followed with the sweet and innocent look.
    I am so glad you captured all those eagles lined up. We see seagulls and an occasional eagle at Alum Creek reservoir but rarely more than one at a time! Such a cool story, too. So herrings don’t fill their stomachs as well as loons. So interesting and no one else fills us in on such information, Anneli.

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