After a great day filled with productive and fun meetings with several collaborators in Leiden, the Netherlands, I was on my way to leave the city. A long road, notorious for its traffic, leads the stream of cars out of the city and, as was the case for me, towards the N11, which connects Leiden to the A12 highway – the way out of here. I’ve driven this particular route many times by now.

Although I never was located in Leiden myself, I officially graduated at the university there. In my days as a PhD student, I had had several meetings and tours of the university. I remember handing in copies of my dissertation at various buildings, and of course the defense ceremony after which I obtained my doctorate. The road to Leiden and back always feels familiar.

The N11 in particular is a long stretch of straight road with very little noteworthy to see around it. I didn’t mind today. I had a good day, and was on my way to visit a friend in Gouda for dinner. The sun was shining. Life was good.

As I made my way along the N11 I noticed something on one of the street lights ahead of me. A particularly dark and plump something, bigger than a gull or a cormorant. I didn’t recognize it until I was quite close – a heron.

A big plump heron.

I looked at it, and it looked at me. When our eyes met, there was a mutual sense of recognition. It must’ve read the recognition of its species in my eyes.

What I read in the heron’s eyes was something different.

As our gazes met, briefly, only for a matter of seconds, it was clear to me what this big bird was up to. Maybe it was something in its stare, its expression, or maybe even in its plumpness. It was working on something that was bigger than itself.

As I was getting closer and had realized what was about to happen, I hit the gas pedal, to try and make it past the streetlight and its accompanying heron, before it was too late.

I thought I had made it. I really did.

Then, a huge squirt of liquid goop splattered across my windshield. Bull’s fucking eye. This heron knew what it was doing. A master heron who had perfected the art.

I’m tempted to describe the color of the splatter as minty green. Can you imagine? The gut content of this huge bird being that color. What an odd sight. Minty green, but likely without the minty freshness.

I released about ten seconds of windshield wiper fluid onto my windshield, and slowly, the wipers were smearing the light green substance all across the windshield. It took the better half of my windshield liquid to finally free my window from any of the big bird’s gut content.

If you ever encounter a heron on a streetlight, don’t make eye contact. They can sense your fear. They’re – literally – shit birds, and they will live up to their name.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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