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Heron Festival

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  • Kate Marianchild
    A Glorious Weekend at the Heron Festival at Clear Lake State Park by Kate Marianchild The Heron Festival was wonderful! This was my third bird festival, and I
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2006
      A Glorious Weekend at the Heron Festival
      at Clear Lake State Park

      by Kate Marianchild
      The Heron Festival was wonderful! This was my third bird festival, and
      I loved the fact that after we arrived we didn't need to drive
      anywhere. The festival is centered at Clear Lake State Park, a watery
      wonderland right on the lake, with wide slough-like creeks that wind
      around and through it. The festival's offerings include pontoon boat
      and kayak trips with excellent guides, bird and plant walks in the
      park, a wildflower brunch, and top-quality lectures, slideshows, DVD's,
      story-telling, music, and arts and crafts. Parts of the park were
      flooded, and it seemed even more filled with Grebes, Green Herons,
      Redwing Blackbirds, and Orioles than I remember, all preoccupied with
      reproduction at one stage or another. We had great views of a
      relatively low osprey nest on a snag, where we observed feeding

      The birding highlight for me occurred during a pontoon boat trip. The
      captain took us 4 miles west of the park to a heron and cormorant
      rookery, but stopped in a bay along the way that was filled with at
      least a thousand grebes floating on the water. Just seeing large
      numbers of birds close-up is quite thrilling by itself. On top of that,
      on Saturday's 9:30 a.m. trip i saw 20-25 "Rushing Rituals," one
      straight toward us that ended only 20 feet away. In this display a male
      and female, or sometimes two males and a female, swim side by side with
      their wings held back, their long necks arched, and their yellow beaks
      angled upward. They swim so quickly that their bodies are pushed up out
      of the water and they appear to run across the surface. (For a quick
      and easy motion-picture glimpse of this ritual go to

      It's unusual to see so many Rushing Rituals during the Heron Festival,
      as the birds are usually beyond courtship and well into nesting. But
      nesting is late this year because high water is still covering up the
      tule rushes, the material they use for their floating nests. I want to
      go back in a few weeks with a boat to see the nests, and, later, to see
      the grebes floating around with babies on their backs. We saw neck and
      head bobbing rituals as well. Grebes perform 10 or so different
      courtship rituals, which we learned from a print-out brought by our
      informative guide, Dr. Floyd Hayes. At the rookery we saw small and
      half-grown baby herons being fed by their parents. The best place to
      put in to see the rookery is at the Big Valley Mission Rancheria
      (Konocti Vista Casino Resort and Marina) off of Soda Bay Rd. southeast
      of Lakeport. Once in the water the rookery obvious. To see grebes go
      around the point to the east.

      The three-hour kayak trip up Kelsey Creek, led by the encyclopedic Dr.
      Cliff Johnson, yielded Bullock's Orioles, Western Tanagers, Wood Ducks,
      Mergansers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and a Barn Owl roosting in a tree.
      We didn't see the family of otters that lives up the creek and often
      comes right up to the boats. Another birding highlight for me was the
      lowly little Pied-billed Grebe. I had never seen it in breeding
      plumage, nor had I known that it was the bird with the huge haunting
      call that makes local lakes and rivers sound like the African jungle in
      the spring.

      The indoor activities, which take place at the nature center at Clear
      Lake State Park, included a fascinating and fun keynote address on
      herons by Dr. John Kelly, head biologist at Audubon Canyon Ranch
      Bolinas Lagoon Preserve. Another lecture, by Dr. Harry Lyons, told the
      geological and biology history of million-year-old Clear Lake with
      music, humor, and startling facts, dispelling many myths in the
      The visitor center at Clear Lake State Park is an attraction all by
      itself, with a life-size diorama of a beautiful Pomo village set on the
      shore of the lake, with basket makers in the foreground, extraordinary
      domed tule houses, and a tule boat in the background. Clear Lake
      supports an unusual amount of aquatic life and was one of the most
      densely-settled places in North America before the European
      immigration. The Visitor Center also has stuffed native animals and
      birds, including, overhead, an enormous white pelican with a breeding
      knob on its bill. With a wingspread of 9 feet, white pelicans are
      second in size only to the California Condor.

      I highly recommend the Heron Festival for people who love to learn
      about and observe natural history and who enjoy birds, water, wetlands,
      and great information. Many thanks to Marilyn Waits, president of
      Redbud Audubon, Clear Lake State Park, and all the speakers, tour
      guides, and other volunteers who make it possible.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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