Monday, December 31, 2007

Snowy Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons

Yesterday I grabbed my camera and took a bike ride to the bay near Shoreline Amphitheater. To be more specific, I took the Steven's Creek trail in Mountain View (see the City of Mountain View site for more information including a map). My goal was just to get some exercise and find something interesting to take some pictures of.

The good news was that it was cloudy and the sky wasn't a boring blue. The bad news was that it was cloudy and cold. And the other good news was that I found plenty of birds for pictures.

The first bird I encountered while riding out to the bay on Steven's Creek Trail. If you don't know the trail, it is a relatively narrow path at the top of a large embankment (dike?) with office parks and a tree farm storage area on one side and a small stream with a dirt path beside it on the other. As I was riding, I saw a large white bird in the stream so I went down to check it out.

It turned out to be a Snowy Egret. During my first approach, it got scared and flew 20 yards up stream, but in that area, there was a bank with long grass between the path and the stream, so I was able to creep up without disturbing it. That was how I got the image that started this post (as always, click the images to see them larger).

Then, this kid rode up with his family near behind and spooked the bird. They eventually took off the direction they came because they weren't able to cross the runoff that was joining the stream at that point, but the damage was done.

At least I got a decent shot when the egret took off (honestly, I'm amazed that my camera locked focus in time for the shot). Of course, that's the Canon USM for you on my Canon 70-200mm F/4 USM, which isn't really a birding lens, but works pretty well for the large birds.

A bit further down, I climbed up the embankment and gathered my stuff to continue once more when I realized I had just walked by a rather large bird sitting in a tree. It was this guy:

So, back down the hill to check it out... Originally I thought it was a Great Blue Heron, although it seemed a little strange to be sitting in a tree and I don't remember GBHs having red eyes. For the record, I only boosted the saturation on the image -- the eyes really are that crimson. Turns out, it isn't a GBH, it is a Black-Crowned Night Heron, a nocturnal bird of genus Nycticorax. BCNHs are pretty common in this area and they roost in groups during the day and eat at night, making a sound loud cawing sound like a crow. I think I finally solved the puzzle of these birds!

After that, I moved on, although I encountered another Snowy Egret at a distance -- with white plumage they stick out like a sore thumb in the drab bay marshes. So I grabbed this shot which I'll leave you with:

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