NOTES FROM A MUSKY TRAIL HIKER #5: The Heronodactyl
A regular blog sharing a biology observation from my hike on the Musconetcong Wildlife Management Area trail in Asbury.
I sometimes make up my own words for things, mostly to just amuse myself. Those hot pepper flakes they have in pizza shops? I call them, “pizza sprinkles”. Eating pizza becomes instantly more fun when you ask for them. Try it. You can’t do it without smiling.
On my latest Musky Trail hike, I spooked a heronodactyl into flight. You probably boringly call them herons. But look at them… don’t you think that they look a little ‘Jurassic Park’? A little prehistoric? To my disappointment, birds are in fact, not descendants of pterodactyls. Modern birds descended from two-legged dinosaurs – a group that included feathery velociraptors and tyrannosaurs. If Tyrannosaurus Rex had those laughable, meme-inspiring arms, then the ‘heronodactyls’ have those strangely long and gangly legs. Ah, but it’s those legs I love the most, and why I’ve always known the ‘heronodactyl’ was my spirit animal. I resemble them on that count, although slightly less gracefully.
Though I think my nickname for the heron is best, there are others – Big Cranky, Long John and Poor Joe. Cranky seems to derive from the calls they make when alarmed or being aggressive. But mostly, the ‘heronodactyl’ stands around quietly on one leg, waiting for food to come within reach. They hunt alone; about the only time you’d seen two herons together is when they are nesting or sleeping in their colonies. In a demonstration of extensive scientific consideration, a heron colony is called a herony. Several hundred years ago, some biologist no doubt, thought that her made-up word was amusing.
It is impossible to sneak up on a ‘heronodactyl’. Most of the time (well, all the time for me) they spook into flight before you even know they are there. This makes me consider that being a heron researcher involves long periods of nothingness – or telescopes. But, I am thrilled every time I glimpse one of these gangly, majestic birds take flight. Their legs hang down and they don’t flap their wings furiously, giving the impression that they are almost in slow motion.
I will end this blog with three random ‘heronodactyl’ facts:
The joint you think is a knee is actually an ankle.
The average heron is as tall as a second-grader, but weighs less than most newborns.
They often sleep in trees.