Monterey Pine Egret Colony - End of a Cycle 2018 - Alameda, California

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MAJESTIC WINGSPAN  A great egret, a majestic white bird with a five-foot wingspan, takes to the air. One might imagine that this elegant large creature inhabits only exotic settings, but in fact this egret lives at the heart of the extremely urban San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, this bird belongs to an egret colony on Bay Farm Island off the southern tip of Alameda.

MAJESTIC WINGSPAN

A great egret, a majestic white bird with a five-foot wingspan, takes to the air. One might imagine that this elegant large creature inhabits only exotic settings, but in fact this egret lives at the heart of the extremely urban San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, this bird belongs to an egret colony on Bay Farm Island off the southern tip of Alameda.

Alameda Pine & Egret Colony

GREEN TREE WITH EGRETS

A Monterey pine leans over the lagoon on Bay Farm Island in Alameda, home to a San Francisco Bay Area egret breeding colony. Nesting begins as early as February and continues through August .

The egrets and the tree are almost hidden. After the chicks are born and they begin to grow, the tree will resound with the rhythmic clacking of egrets. The egret is the logo for the nearby Harbor Landing plaza, but the lagoon, tree and egrets are out of sight. 

A meandering path around the lagoon goes under the tree and around the water’s edge. There are seven villages connected by a mile of walkways and foot bridges.  It’s a place for strolls, dog walking, bicycling and bird watching. On the lagoon are ducks and night herons, and perhaps a kayak or rowboat. There are condos on either side of the lagoon, many with docks and boats out their back doors.

THE SIGN  In January, 2018, there was a sign on the tree, marking it for removal. The tree still appeared strong, but the community’s maintenance crew said it was dying. The egrets had not arrived yet. There was nothing to stop the tree removal in this private community.  Fortunately a family of nesting white-tailed kites, small graceful hawks, was discovered in a nearby tree. They are protected in the state of California and federally by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, once their breeding begins.  With this evidence Cindy Margulis and the Golden Gate Audubon team and friends spoke up for the tree. The tree cutting was postponed for one more breeding season. And what a season it was to become.

THE SIGN

In January, 2018, there was a sign on the tree, marking it for removal. The tree still appeared strong, but the community’s maintenance crew said it was dying. The egrets had not arrived yet. There was nothing to stop the tree removal in this private community.

Fortunately a family of nesting white-tailed kites, small graceful hawks, was discovered in a nearby tree. They are protected in the state of California and federally by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, once their breeding begins.

With this evidence Cindy Margulis and the Golden Gate Audubon team and friends spoke up for the tree. The tree cutting was postponed for one more breeding season. And what a season it was to become.

TREETOP COLONY  In March 2018, ten great egrets arrive. Soon they are joined by another four. Two weeks later, a pair of snowy egrets arrive, then more. By June the colony is joyously noisy and full of escapades.

TREETOP COLONY

In March 2018, ten great egrets arrive. Soon they are joined by another four. Two weeks later, a pair of snowy egrets arrive, then more. By June the colony is joyously noisy and full of escapades.

GREAT EGRET FAMILY  Intimate images stun with grace and beauty as pine needles disappear. In other years this view would be obstructed or hidden. Here, during this nationally celebrated Year Of The Bird, the view of the egret family seems especially sacred.

GREAT EGRET FAMILY

Intimate images stun with grace and beauty as pine needles disappear. In other years this view would be obstructed or hidden. Here, during this nationally celebrated Year Of The Bird, the view of the egret family seems especially sacred.

THE GIFT  The great egret brings a gift of a branch to woo his mate and repair their nest.

THE GIFT

The great egret brings a gift of a branch to woo his mate and repair their nest.

AND EVERYWHERE THERE WERE CHICKS!  Nests are close to their neighbors. Egrets are social and can include the ibis and herons in the colony, among others. This colony this year is only great egrets and snowy egrets.

AND EVERYWHERE THERE WERE CHICKS!

Nests are close to their neighbors. Egrets are social and can include the ibis and herons in the colony, among others. This colony this year is only great egrets and snowy egrets.

FEEDING  It is feeding time for the chicks. All of the parent’s bill and most of the head are inserted into chick’s mouth and down the throat, while siblings wait their turn.

FEEDING

It is feeding time for the chicks. All of the parent’s bill and most of the head are inserted into chick’s mouth and down the throat, while siblings wait their turn.


BEAK BITING PLAY.  Chicks build biting strength and coordination, as they nip the parent’s beak.

BEAK BITING PLAY.

Chicks build biting strength and coordination, as they nip the parent’s beak.


PILLAR OF EGRETS  Now they are fledglings, as large as their parents, But they are still dependent.  In the family nest, the young egrets experience quick changes between harmony and raucous battles while stretching their wings, hopping from one branch to another and learning to fly.

PILLAR OF EGRETS

Now they are fledglings, as large as their parents, But they are still dependent.

In the family nest, the young egrets experience quick changes between harmony and raucous battles while stretching their wings, hopping from one branch to another and learning to fly.

SIX NESTS  Egret life abounds in a dying rangy pine tree. By summer the pine’s green needles have disappeared. Except for the nests and a few brown tufts, the tree is naked. The bonus for bird watcher and photographer is this abundant breeding season with clear views

SIX NESTS

Egret life abounds in a dying rangy pine tree. By summer the pine’s green needles have disappeared. Except for the nests and a few brown tufts, the tree is naked. The bonus for bird watcher and photographer is this abundant breeding season with clear views

LIKE AN OPEN WINDOW INTO A SECRET  It is now September 2018 and the egrets are gone. Their Monterey pine is dead and scheduled for removal soon. The egrets will need a new tree.  The tree stands like a sculpture with its limbs holding empty nests. It gave us one last great, highly-visible breeding season. It gloriously finished its life cycle.  Once almost extinct for their feathers, egrets were slaughtered by the millions in their nesting colonies. These magnificent creatures had a bounty placed on their feathers for the wildly popular fashion trend in hats decorated with feathers, nests, eggs, wings and whole birds. An ounce of feathers surpassed the value of an ounce of gold. This slaughter awakened citizens from all walks of life. In 1918 landmark national protection was passed: the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Its centenary is celebrated this year, 2018.  In the spring the egrets will return. The tree will be gone. They may or may not pick a new tree, here, at the calm hub of the bustling Bay Area. The nests may be retrieved and moved to help lure the egrets to a new nearby tree. Stay tuned for news and updates.    Gerry Traucht lives in Berkeley, photographer of animals and birds. See his Instagram for current updates on the Alameda Egret Tree,   www.instagram.com/gerrytraucht   Visit  www.gerrytraucht.com  for his exhibit the  Egrets In Our Midst    •••

LIKE AN OPEN WINDOW INTO A SECRET

It is now September 2018 and the egrets are gone. Their Monterey pine is dead and scheduled for removal soon. The egrets will need a new tree.

The tree stands like a sculpture with its limbs holding empty nests. It gave us one last great, highly-visible breeding season. It gloriously finished its life cycle.

Once almost extinct for their feathers, egrets were slaughtered by the millions in their nesting colonies. These magnificent creatures had a bounty placed on their feathers for the wildly popular fashion trend in hats decorated with feathers, nests, eggs, wings and whole birds. An ounce of feathers surpassed the value of an ounce of gold. This slaughter awakened citizens from all walks of life. In 1918 landmark national protection was passed: the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Its centenary is celebrated this year, 2018.

In the spring the egrets will return. The tree will be gone. They may or may not pick a new tree, here, at the calm hub of the bustling Bay Area. The nests may be retrieved and moved to help lure the egrets to a new nearby tree. Stay tuned for news and updates.

Gerry Traucht lives in Berkeley, photographer of animals and birds. See his Instagram for current updates on the Alameda Egret Tree,

www.instagram.com/gerrytraucht

Visit www.gerrytraucht.com for his exhibit the Egrets In Our Midst

•••