Christmas Eve

It was a strange Christmas Eve. We did the usual Christmas Eve candlelight service in the Main Hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA) — but the only people there were Amy, the senior minister; Paul, the camera operator; and me. The music all had to be pre-recorded, and I set up my laptop next to my lectern (Amy and I each had our own lectern, about twenty feet apart from each other) so that I could join the Zoom call and be able to hear the music. The strangest part was not being able to see anyone: the whole point of Christmas Eve for me is seeing being able to see people, including the young adults who come back to Silicon Valley for the holidays.

Yes, it was a strange Christmas Eve.

But something that happened in the afternoon made the rest of the day bearable. I was taking a break from checking email, and walked out to the edge of UUCPA’s campus to look down into Adobe Creek, which is routed into a large concrete channel for the last mile or two before it reaches the Bay. By fall, there’s always sediment that has accumulated during the summer, when not much water flows through the channel. This year, there was a luxuriant growth of what was probably water cress, and the last rain had been enough to cut some winding channels through the greenery, without washing everything down stream. The usual Mallards were paddling around, and then I noticed a Snowy Egret crouched behind a thicket of greenery; it lashed out with its bill, and appeared to spear something from the water.

I know Snowy Egrets are good at finding food anywhere, but I was a little bit surprised to see one in that particular urban channelized stream. There must have been enough prey to make it worth the bird’s time and effort; it’s a fairly sterile environment, so perhaps it was finding organisms washed down from upstream. Whatever drew it there, it certainly gave me a lift to see it.

Nesting colonies

It’s nesting season, and this afternoon I managed to take some time out of a busy day to visit two nesting colonies. The first one I visited was the California Gull nesting colony at Baylands Nature Preseve in Palo Alto.


The gull chicks still have their downy feathers, but they are looking pretty big, about three quarters the size of the adults. A few White Pelicans sat along one edge of the colony, seemingly ignoring the gull chicks stumbling around near them.

From there, I drove over to Mountain View where there is an egret nesting colony along a street lined with corporate offices. The only nests I saw had Snowy Egrets on them; but I also saw Great Egrets and a Black-crowned Night-heron, along with the usual suburban passerines. The nests look like Great Blue Heron nests, untidy piles of twigs jammed into tree crotches; and just as with heron nesting colonies, it’s strange to look up thirty feet in the air, and see birds that you’re used to seeing stalking through swamp water.

The sounds coming from the nesting colony were varied and interesting. It turns out egrets make a wider variety of sounds than do Great Blue Herons, everything from raucous cries like you’d imagine a dinosaur would make, to low burbling noises not unlike you might hear at a gull nesting colony.

Definitely a pleasant break in an otherwise too-busy day!