She stretched her wings and descended to a stony bank at the foot of the cascade in the middle of
the shallow late April flow. It was approaching sunset. A solitary human sat on a rock with his
Ducklings, startled by the commotion, paddled downstream, emitting staccato shrieks to alert their
parents who where gossiping amongst a group and paid their young scant attention.
The Queen’s domain was clearly defined. Upriver, an old bridge stood on top a man-made waterfall
of giant limestone steps. These steps fell twenty metres over a stretch five times that in length
before levelling off at an overhanging boulder which offered shelter for lonely drinkers and teenage
A million tourists crossed the bridge every year bound for attractions on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Squinting down the river, they were unaware of the tales within the great Heron’s realm.
Shallows at the foot of the falls made for good eating. Receding water split the river into a system
of rock pools. A home for elvers who stayed near the bottom and young trout who broke surface to
chase flies in the fading light.
Fast currents were formed by streams searching their way down the rocks. The ducklings attempted
to cross and were swept back in a watery game of snakes and ladders. Their parents broke from
conversation and effortlessly intercepted their young who latched to their wake and followed
On wetter days it would be impossible to land where Heron stood. Heavy rain saw rushing water
whipped into a frenzy, freeing trapped prey. Then hunting was too dangerous – that time was for
Three powerful flaps of her great wings launched her in the direction of the ducks. She tilted right,
cutting across the sharp, right-hand-bend that divided her jurisdiction in two.
Her downstream border was the first of a series of horseshoe bends that cut through estuary plains.
This marked the territory of a King from her kind. A usurper not seen in previous years had settled
at this boundary unconcerned with nobility.
Predators were hunting in the deeper waters below. The bend snagged large branches washed
downstream on torrential days and trees turned over by storms from the steep wooded bank on the
Some of the fallen clung stubbornly to life and branches shot upward from the water sprouting fresh
leaves. They provided a skeletal haunt for the two otters who slivered their way through submerged
branches like fattened sea snakes.
The river turned left, following its ocean-bound journey. Golden reeds flanked either side. Today
their base was more mud than water but gullies provided access for the family of ducks, sheltering
them from storm and dark. She could hear them approaching to make rest for the night.
Heron carried on. A steep bank on her left meant she flew level with a cow field ending suddenly at
the leaves of a glen. This was the end of her province. The King took care from here, it had always
been this way.
She looked down to see rippled rings betraying her rival. She turned her wings to the breeze
dropping close to where the jet black cormorant re-emerged to inhale. Spooked, it flapped its wings
and skimmed the surface without reaching full flight, landing some distance away.
A small stream from a distant lake emerged from the glen and fed the river. An old stone bridge
crossed where they joined, sheltered by the great chestnut trees. Here she would winter when wind
and rain forced nature back. Heron had proven her prowess. This was her castle alone.