Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Malibu: Communal Nesting in Ficus Trees

In my last post I wrote about the shocking rape of the Malibu Lagoon.  One of my fears has been for the affects on the wonderful members of the Heron family who nest in the two Ficus trees in the car park at Malibu Country Mart.  These are:  the Great Blue Heron, the Black Crowned Night Heron, the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret. When the de-watering takes place, where will they fish for their youngsters?  And if the Lagoon becomes a salt lake instead of a fresh-water wetland where nearby will they find food?

I wrote extensively about these birds in 2010.  I find the set-up totally delightful on two counts: first, that  these four varieties of Herons share their tenement-like habitat and secondly that they nest in the heart of this up-market shopping centre, disregarding the expensive cars parked by unsuspecting clientele beneath the trees...As one shopper said to me, it was great that these birds could nest there for free, when real  estate costs were astronomic! 

From the Pacific Coast Highway, you can see the trees;  I always anxiously look to see if the birds are there.  Below, you can just discern the white shapes of Egrets on the larger of the trees:   

When I first returned to the site early this year, there was the Great Blue Heron staking his claim on top of the large tree.  In 2010 he was a constant visitor but did not nest there- or not when I was in the country.  An advantage I had that year was that the host tree had been heavily over-pruned- something I disapprove of, but in this case giving me fairly clear views of both the Great Egrets and their nests.  This year, however the tree had been treated with more respect, meaning I could really only see the birds when they were on top of the canopy:

Here are the two Ficus':  Previously, I had only seen the Great Egrets nesting in the larger of the trees to the left:

This year, a swarm of Snowy Egrets made their home in the smaller tree.  Below, you can just see one of them: 

 I have always loved the animal-like trunk of this ficus:

The amount of birds in the trees has been phenomenal- many Great Egrets plus a pair of Great Blue Herons nesting in the big tree and countless Snowy Egrets in the little one, and all with chicks.  The noise can be deafening.  When I was taking photos, a regular question from shoppers  was: "Are there monkey's up there?". 

Below is what I describe as the large tree:

And here are a couple of the Great Egret's nests- bundles of sticks:

Here, one of them is about to do some nest repair work with a twig:

And here below is one of the Black Crowned Night Herons about to do something similar with his twig in the smaller tree.  In past years they have nested in a nearby Coral tree but this year I kept seeing them in this tree so suspected they were nesting there, but the foliage was too thick to check.

Here is a nest of some of the noisy Great Egret chicks:

And off flies the parent bird...

As I have said, the birds were mostly in evidence on the top of the trees.  Watching out for them was like anticipating a fantastic puppet show- you never knew whose head was going to pop up next...
Here, a Great Blue Heron keeps an eye on one of the Egrets:

Sometimes, the light was so bright that I could not clearly see what was happening as heads rapidly bobbed up and down and it was only when I downloaded the images that I realized how many heads there actually were: 

I find it fascinating how similar the Great Blue Herons and the Great Egrets are, especially in their neck movements:

I am totally obsessed by these birds and just love watching their interactions- I find it as absorbing as any theatrical performance...

One of the funny things is how ungainly these large birds are in the tree tops as they flop about from one too slender branch to another...

Here one of the parent birds takes off:

When I was involved with a nest of our British Grey Herons a couple of years ago, I was fascinated to watch the squabbling among the young siblings, who often were really vicious to each other.  Similarly, these young Great Egrets had great, noisy battles when a parent bird came with food:

And similarly the Great Blue Herons were constantly breaking out in fights both with each other and with intruders who came too close:

On the other hand, this Great Blue Heron seemed quite happy to let this immature young Night Heron sit nearby:

There were at least two young Night Herons flying from tree to tree, and here is one of them:

I find the parent Black Crowned Night Herons a delight:

I realize I have here rather ignored the pretty little Snowy Egrets, who were always frantically busy in their tree, but I'm afraid it was their larger relations who took my attention over these last weeks.  My final images are of Great Egrets in one of the two trees alongside the Ficus', which I believe are Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla):

Their cones reminded me of those on a Bunya-Bunya tree which are spectacular and can be massive!

This Egret was perched on the very top of the tree, reminding me of a Christmas tree Angel!

And then he flew away..


Hollis said...

wonderful photos! a great way to start the morning, thanks


Thanks Hollis for a lovely comment!

Hollis said...

and thank you, Gillian, for your visit and kind comment :)

Lucy said...

Another world to me. Fascinated by the way these birds seem to 'stand' on the trees rather than 'perch' on the branches.


Lucy, thanks for dropping by- have just been enjoying "loose and leafy"!