12 May 2012

Snowy Egret Rookery

The Palo Alto Baylands happens to be about 10 minutes from where I work, so I occasionally drive up there on days I arrive at work extra-early.

The Baylands have been interesting - the only place I've seen Clapper Rail, and the easiest spot to see Pheasants up close.  But aside from that, they have seemed to take a backseat to the closer Shoreline Lake and Charleston Slough, which consistently have yielded more birds and other animals.

Well, I decided to visit the Palo Alto Baylands again recently, and was surprised to see a large Snowy Egret and Black Crowned Night-Heron rookery (community nesting site).  Suddenly I have regained interest in the Baylands!

The Snowy Egret breeding plumage is amazing:
The "spikey hair" and long wispy feathers really stand out.  The birds lores are usually yellow, though in this case are pink/red, which is more common in breeding season.  Apparently stress and/or fighting can cause their lores to turn red other times of the year as well.  I noticed that this (and other) birds feet were more reddish than usual as well.

The Egrets perform an interesting courtship display, tipping their heads back and slowly moving it upwards towards the sky.

With so many competing birds so close, there were a few skirmishes, such as these two fighting for position in the tree:

The rookery spans multiple trees, with probably 30 Snowy Egrets currently there.  Before leaving I snapped a couple more shots:

And a silhouette:

Oh, I mentioned the Black Crowned Night-Heron rookery.  They, in fact, shared a lot of the same tree space as the Snowy Egrets.  I didn't spend much time photographing them, but did take a couple of shots: