Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Smith Oaks Rookery: Spectacle of Life, Specter of Death

Moving on to the other side of High Island...the other big sanctuary here is Smith Oaks. As a migrant trap, it is better than Boy Scout Woods for many species, but this post is about the awesome, enormous rookery on the east side of the sanctuary. Before visiting the rookery, I lacked a decent photo of a Roseate Spoonbill (how embarrassing)...I no longer have that problem.

The Smith Oaks rookery is sprawling, loud and stinky; a spectacle. I was really impressed with it. The spoonbill show is something else...just look at these things. Why are they the way that they are? We are fortunate to have the world's best spoonbill species here, all of the others are vanilla in comparison.

I think we were too early to see spoonbill chicks, which is too bad. Surely they must look absurd.

It could be sharper, but this crop pleases me to no end for some reason. Makes me think of dinosaurs.

Roseate Spoonbill-Common Gallinule combo. The UTC is a region rich in combos.

Spoonbills are the main attraction, but Great Egrets seemed to be the most abundant species and they are difficult to ignore.

I don't think I've had the chance to sit and watch Great Egret nests close up before....it all felt very National Geographic. Speaking of which...

There are hella alligators at the rookery. This fairly large one slipped into the water and started hunting as we watched.

After some time it reemerged, taking a very direct path towards something...

...which turned out to be a Great Egret chick that had fallen from its nest.

I believe this was the chick's final moment before it went to that great big nest in the sky.

The last crunch.

The gator dispatched the egret chick very quickly and was back in the water in short order. Damn! Was not expecting to watch something like that unfold, let alone capture it all on the crusher. For the egret chick, you might be thinking "life is pain", but if not the for merciful reptile it would have died the slow and brutal death of exposure and starvation. Next time you run across an alligator, thank it for its service.

A couple days later we saw probably the same gator come striding out of the colony with another egret chick, though this time we did not bear witness to the chick's demise. I bet the local alligators hardly eat for much of the year compared to when the rookery is active.

Neotropic Cormorants also breed in large numbers here. In trip bird news, we managed to see all of one Double-crested Cormorant for the whole trip, an immature at this rookery.

These Almost-Geri demanded that Dan stop taking spoonbill photos and take their picture instead. In time, they will expect even more from us Non-Geri. That is the way of things...the way of The Geri.

Though the rookery is incredibly distracting (rightly so), don't forget to keep looking for migrants next to the viewing platforms (tired migrants aren't necessarily put off by throngs of loud Geri and photogs) and along the main rookery path. This glowing Blackburnian Warbler was right next to the observation deck pictured above.

More migrants in the next post!


  1. Woah man!!
    That gator/egret documentation is incredible! I feel like a chump now for paying money for Planet Earth II, should just come here.
    I've never observed gators doing anything except basking in various mediums.

    Spoonbills and Wood Storks are exemplars of when Dinosauric Evolution said, "Fuck it, that's enough" and called it a day/eon.

    Nice of you to throw a little warbler in there at the end too.

    Thanks for this!

    1. I paid money for Planet Earth II and then it immediately became available on Netflix. Sigh...

  2. Just recently discovered your blog. I'm hooked already! That gator eating the Egret is insane. Looking forward to following along.

  3. This is great! I read something a year or two ago that basically said herons/egrets might choose to build their nests where there are gators. I guess their presence deters other predators from coming in to climb the tree and really eff up the nest, so it's worth it to sacrifice a chick or two for Good of Country. Any merit to this idea?

    1. There could certainly be some truth to that, but at the same time there are gators pretty much everywhere there is fresh water down there and these colonies undoubtedly attract additional gators from the surrounding areas, so it seems difficult to prove.

  4. Holy shit, was not expecting this at all. Even though it's basically in the title. Well done.

    1. The first egret-eating event was a cause of much eyebrow-raising and saying "holy shit!" repeatedly.

  5. Thank you for all of that! Spoonbills are definitely cool birds. Gators are scary, but interesting. Glad they don't live up here in Wisconsin though. Looking forward to the next installment.

    1. The next installment is coming soon! In the next couple of days, hopefully...blogging is not as easy as it used to be.

    2. I will take what I can get & be grateful for it.