Great Egrets at the Santa Rosa Rookery

By far the largest bird in the Santa Rosa Rookery is the Great Egret, and I’ll have to admit — though I know better — that I am always surprised that a bird this large nests in a tree — even if it always seems to be a very tall tree.  

On this visit, one of the highest nests I saw was this Great Egret nest with two chicks.

Great Egret Chicks in nest

That seems like the most logical place for  Great Egrets to have nests since it is easier for them to fly in and out of the nest.

Great Egret leaving tree

However, not all Great Egrets nest at the top of the tree.  For instance, this Great Egret landed near the top but had to weave its way through some awfully tight spaces to reach its destination — 

Great Egret weaving through tree

three hungry chicks that flailed their wings as they mobbed the parent.

Egret Chicks jostling to get fed

So, I end up asking myself why did this egret build the nest so deep within the tree.  Do the dominant Great Egrets get to nest on the top of the tree?  Is it simply a matter of which egret started building a nest first?  Or is there an advantage to having a nest lower in the tree because it defers predators? 

I would love to visit Santa Rosa at the beginning of nesting and see which species start nesting first and where in the tree the first nests are built.  

Back to the Santa Rosa Rookery

Several years ago I discovered the Santa Rosa Rookery through Facebook entries, and I’ve tried to visit every time we’ve been in Santa Rosa during nesting season.  I thought that we might be too late to see anything on our recent visit, but I still drove over while Leslie and Paul were doing something else. 

As it turned out, most of the birds seemed to have already hatched and left the rookery, but there were still enough birds nesting that I spent over an hour trying to capture some shots.  

In previous years I tended to focus on the Night Herons, but I didn’t see a single Night Heron until the end of this visit.  The two juvenile night herons I saw weren’t even in the two main trees; they were on an adjacent tree.

juvenile Night Heron

The one on the left was certainly the more adventurous of the two and even spread its wings as if it was going to fly over to the other tree, but it never actually flew.  I only saw one adult Night Heron, and it was landing at the top of one of the two main trees, not where these juveniles were.

Night Heron landing in tree

I was surprised that the Night Heron landed there because I’d just spent twenty minutes or so looking for Night Heron chicks and hadn’t seen any (which apparently doesn’t mean that there weren’t any there). On previous visits, the Night Herons, Great Herons, and Snowy Egrets far outnumbered the Cattle Egret, but the opposite seemed true on this visit. 

I’ll have to admit that I have a hard time deciding whether a chick is a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, or a Cattle Egret, but it’s easy to tell when there’s an adult Cattle Egret in the nest like this.

Cattle Egret with chicks

These four chicks look a lot like those in the above shot and they were lower in the tree than Great Egret chicks I could positively identify, so I’m assuming these were Cattle Egret juveniles (particularly since there is an orange cast to the one trying to fly).  

juvenile Cattle Egret

I’m less sure that these even younger chicks are Cattle Egret, but they don’t look like Great Egret chicks to me and I mostly saw adult Cattle Egret landing and flying nearby.

heron chicks

I’ve seen several rookeries since I started birding, but the Santa Rosa Rookery is the only one where I’ve seen such an amazing variety of herons nesting together.  

Back to Santa Rosa

We followed up our trip to Colorado with a week-long stay in Santa Rosa to finally meet up with Paul Dien. We got there a few days early so I spent some time birding while I was there.  

Surprisingly, some of the best birding was in the backyard where several Mockingbirds visited. 

Mockingbird

After a while I began to suspect there must have been a nest nearby.  I never found it, but I did get this shot of a juvenile complaining to the parent that they weren’t bringing food fast enough.

Juvenile Mockingbird with Adult Mockingbird

I’m not sure what the parent’s reply was, but I suspect it told the kid he was getting big enough to start looking for his own food. 

Of course, no trip to Santa Rosa would be complete without a visit to Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake, and no visit would be complete without seeing the Acorn Woodpeckers.  Luckily, we were greeted by a tree full of them as soon as we got out of the car.

Acorn Woodpecker on Ground

The last time we were at the park workers were cutting down old trees that the woodpeckers were using to store their nuts, but apparently they’ve found a new home in this giant oak.  There were woodpeckers from the base of the tree to the very top.

Two Acorn Woodpeckers on tree

The day’s highlight was seeing the woodpeckers drive off a crow that dared to land on their tree.  It happened too fast for me to capture most of what was going on, but I liked this shot of one of the woodpeckers dive-bombing the crow as it retreated.

Acorn Woodpecker Dive-Bombing Crow

Unfortunately, the rest of the walk wasn’t nearly as exciting since we saw very few birds, perhaps because we walked later in the day than usual and the park was more crowded than usual. 

Still, I felt lucky to get a shot of this shy Oak Titmouse since I only see them in Santa Rosa, and even there only rarely. 

Our Last Day in Colorado

On our last day in Colorado Jen and the kids were busy getting ready for their upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, so Tyson took us on a much-needed walk before we started our long drive to Santa Rosa.  There weren’t quite as many birds as we had seen on previous walks, but I managed to get a  nice shot of a Northern Flicker marching across the field

Northern Flicker

and of a Great Blue Heron dining on frog legs.

Great Blue Heron eating frog

With few birds in sight, I shifted my attention to the nearby flora and was delighted by the many flowers along the trail, particularly since I had no idea what they might be.

The only one that looked familiar was this one, which looked like a dandelion.  I’m not sure it really is a dandelion, though.  If it is, Colorado produces much bigger dandelions than the  Pacific Northwest does.

We’ve gone to Colorado so often in the last twenty years that it seems quite familiar, but it only takes a short walk to realize that there’s still much we don’t know about it. Of course, the same could be true of Theler Wetlands which we walk much more often.