Monterey Pine Egret Colony - Alameda CA

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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

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.

3. 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.  Photo 3: SIGN

3. 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.

Photo 3: SIGN

4.In March 2018, ten great egrets arrive. Soon they are joined by another four. Two weeks later, a pair of snowy egrets arrive.  Photo 4: TREE TOP COLONY

4.In March 2018, ten great egrets arrive. Soon they are joined by another four. Two weeks later, a pair of snowy egrets arrive.

Photo 4: TREE TOP COLONY

5. Egret family.

5. Egret family.

6. The great egret brings a gift of a branch to woo his mate and repair their nest. Photo 6: THE GIFT

6. The great egret brings a gift of a branch to woo his mate and repair their nest. Photo 6: THE GIFT

7. And then there are chicks!

7. And then there are chicks!

8. 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.  Photo 8: FEEDING

8. 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.

Photo 8: FEEDING


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

9. Beak biting play.

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


10. Now they are fledglings, as large as their parents.  In the family nest, the young egrets experience quick changes between harmony and raucous battles while stretching their wings and learning to fly.  Photo 10: PILLAR OF EGRETS

10. Now they are fledglings, as large as their parents.

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

Photo 10: PILLAR OF EGRETS

11. 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.  Photo 11: SIX NESTS

11. 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.

Photo 11: SIX NESTS

12. 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.   Photo 12: GREAT EGRET, THE FEATHERS, THE TREE    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    •••

12. 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.


Photo 12: GREAT EGRET, THE FEATHERS, THE TREE

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

•••