By David D. Cooksy
[Note: This is the first of a four-part “How to” series. In future issues look for “How to aat a catfish,” “How to eat a dragonfly,” and “How to eat a crawdad.”]
Yuck! Why in heavens name do we need to know “how to” eat any of these creatures? What does knowing “how to” have to do with Mission Trails? And do I really want to see “how to?” The answer is simple. We are privileged to observe the seldom seen behavior of how animals in Mission Trails go about obtaining and consuming their prey.
December was a very good month for photography in Mission Trails as I captured two of the “how to” segments within a few days, courtesy of the same great blue heron at Kumeyaay Lake as it consumed first a bullfrog, then a catfish.
The first step, the most important, is the hunt and capture of the bullfrog and I am not certain that is the easiest step for a great blue heron. The hunt can take a very long time and the catch being a life and death struggle may not always be successful. But in this instance the hunter made short work of this step as it pulled out a serious sized bullfrog in mere moments.
I have tracked and photographed the great blue heron, great egret, and snowy egret for many years. For some reason the next step of “how to” is identical for each: what appears to be playing with your food. In this example of a bullfrog, the heron held the frog in its great bill to crunch and squeeze and flip about, only to drop the frog in the water to be hauled out for more tossing and crunched up a bit more, swished around in the water again, crunched up a bit more. At times this appeared more cruel than preparatory for the inevitable conclusion as there is seemingly an element of entertainment. It was all so casual.
Of course, the purpose of the exercise is survival — a meal. And no matter the meal — be a bullfrog, a catfish, a dragonfly, or a crawdad — all ultimately serve their purpose going down one way: head first. Whether the meal is still alive as it slides down the hatch I cannot be certain. Some meals are consumed very quickly with little preparation; other meals seem to take much longer. In this instance, I cannot imagine the frog knew what hit it, let alone the long minutes of preparation before consumption. Regardless, after much tossing and crunching, washing and flipping, the meal is maneuvered head-first and with a few flicks of the beak is gone.
Based upon my observation, the consumption of bullfrog is not a delicate process. As the great bird flew away shortly after completing the meal, I was unable to ask the most obvious question: does it taste like chicken?
— David Cooksey is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park. For more information about the park’s free offerings, opportunities, updates and events, visit mtrp.org or call 619-668-3281. Special walks can be arranged for scouts, clubs or other organizations of any fitness or mobility level. Contact Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-3277 or firstname.lastname@example.org