Editor’s Note: It’s nesting season! Photographer Gerry Traucht has been following a nesting colony of Great and Snowy Egrets in Alameda for eight years, through the removal of their dying nest tree in 2018 and their shift to new trees in 2019. About a dozen Great Egrets have arrived so far this spring. As we wait for more to begin nesting, here are Gerry’s photos and observations from 2020.
By Gerry Traucht
The 2020 egret colony in Alameda flashed small numbers in a big footprint, taking over a grove of trees like it did in 2019. There were about 18 nests, each with at least two chicks, sometimes three, and one that seemed to have four. By early June they were at their height of activity and by the end of that month, only a couple of visible active nests remained. In July they left, a very early departure. What stood out was not so much their smaller number, but their strong visual presence that spoke in stirring imagery.
For decades, Alameda’s iconic solo Monterey pine nesting tree overflowed with egrets. The tree finished its life span and was cut down following the 2018 nesting season. There is now a bald space at the lagoon’s edge where the old tree once stood. The new colony is in a grove, essentially in the same spot, but set back from the water. It was always a question as to whether the egrets would return after their favorite tree hanging over the lagoon was no longer there.
Great Egrets often arrive in early March and Snowy Egrets a couple of weeks later. If the colony is large, they may arrive in a stream over several months, sometimes as late as June.
From spring through summer, green pine branches flower with newborn egrets in clusters of white. Parents with large, magnificent wingspans come and go, repairing nests and bringing food to the newborn. As they grow, this sanctuary resounds with hungry chicks in rhythmic, danceable clatter. The clamor of newborn egrets grows wildly louder as they mature. As the colony grows, it develops the feel of a village.
I photographed a dramatic lone bird against dark foliage on June 30. When I next visited in July, the egrets were gone—an early departure. Often the egrets stay well into August and occasionally September.
So far this season about a dozen Great Egrets have arrived, carrying twigs and building nests. The snowies will show up later. Come take a look: It’s an easy colony to visit, located in a grove of pine trees beside Leydecker Park on Bay Farm Island, Alameda. It’s next to the Montessori Seedling Child Day Care Center, and the top of the egret colony is visible above the school’s roof as you approach from the park.
Gerry Traucht’s egret photos will be on display at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda from June 4th through August 6th. The show, called “Egret—Making Contact,” features images of egrets at Berkeley’s Aquatic Park lagoon at the time of a diesel oil spill, as well as the Alameda colony. The gallery is at 1601 Paru Street and hours are 11 a.m. through 5 p.m., Fridays through Sundays. View Gerry’s work online at gerrytraucht.com.