Check out Richard Primack’s Newton Tab article, “Newton nature enthusiasts flock to local parks to see wildlife” which details a few of the interesting wildlife experiences in Newton during these pandemic times. It covers this story of the Great Blue Heron and American Eel encounter as well as other stories and photos (e.g. a Barred Owl and a Pileated Woodpecker in Webster Woods) about Newton wildlife!
Sometimes you come across a dramatic life and death struggle in nature. A newly posted video, Great Blue Heron vs American Eel, on the Newton Conservators YouTube Channel captures such a situation between a Great Blue Heron and an American Eel at a local vernal pond in the Dolan Pond Conservation Area in West Newton, MA.
Vernal ponds (or pools) have no connection to other water sources such as streams or springs and as such they can dry up at certain times of the year and are supposed to be devoid of fish (and American Eels!). In this case, there was a severe drought over the summer of 2020 which was causing Dolan Pond to recede severely for the first time in a few years. Dolan Pond is a local spawning ground for the American Toad and is also host to Bullfrogs, Green Frogs, Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, and various waterfowl such as Mallards, Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teal, and Canada Goose. When it recedes, mud flats are exposed and the pond becomes very shallow and an ideal hunting ground for Great Blue Herons.
On October 7, 2020, the Great Blue Heron must have felt they hit the jackpot in hunting for a meal when they came across a huge American Eel in the mud there. For one thing, American Eels are found in waterways, streams, and lakes, with some connection to the ocean and not expected in a body of water with no possible connection to the ocean. Possibly, some fishing enthusiast may have dumped a baby eel (used for bait) in the pond some years ago and it grew up to a large size; females can grow up to 4 feet long, males only to a foot. They like to bury themselves in the mud and can eat frogs, toads, baby turtles, etc.
The video begins with the scene where the heron has found this quite large eel and is intent on devouring it. This might appear unlikely due to the eel’s size. Watch the drama unfold!
Vernal ponds are a sensitive habitat. See the Vernal Pool Association website for more info at vernalpool.org. Introducing non-native species into vernal pools can be very disruptive. For instance, a small goldfish dropped into the pond can grow into a huge carp, devouring frog and toad eggs and diminishing their population since they breed in places without fish for this very reason. Herons and kingfishers note their presence and will usually hunt them down. So putting fish you don’t want into a pond is not doing the fish any great favor!
Dolan Pond is located in West Newton. Find complete info on our website at https://newtonconservators.org/property/dolan-pond/
What wildlife scenes await you as you explore Newton’s open spaces? We’d love to hear from you (write to email@example.com).