Late Fall, Snowy Egrets

By Gerry Traucht


Editor’s Note: Gerry offers us glimpses of what he sees at and near his home. This unique collection embodies the qualities of the Japanese poetic form, Zuihitsu. Zuihitsu is genre of Japanese literature (since adapted by many Western writers) consisting of loosely connected personal essays or fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings. All photos taken by Gerry. 


Early October a surprise: the Snowy Egrets were suddenly back.

This year, they did something unusual that I hadn’t seen before at the Berkeley Aquatic Park Lagoon. For eight days, morning and afternoon, they stood together in a group by the mud mound, then one by one each egret took off. In an acrobatic flight, they flew in a loop over the water and returned.

Each egret took turns in skuttling, skimming the water in a surface-bouncing flight in one wide loop, each defining the same space of interest. Each egret flew the loop in a low pointed toe, foot-dragging flight before returning to the group, where the next egret was already taking off, to fly the circle with its acrobatics. As each solo flight took place, the group stood, watching, as if judging or learning from the performance and waiting the impulse for the next turn.


The visiting October Snowy Egrets gathered by the mud mound. After a while of standing and watching, one egret took off, drawing a large circle with a wake made of ringlets by skimming, hopping and dragging its extended toes. The others waited and watched. One by one, the egrets took turns, timed like in a relay, one egret taking off as the other landed.

One by one, well-timed, on it went.

Egrets flying the loop


Flying the loop This pic shows the ringlets the circular path the egret is flying designating their area of interest for their acrobatic fishing.

Alternately touching and dragging its toes on water while flying, the egret leaves a circular path made of a chain of ringlets.

An egret up close

As the first egret finishes its circle, it returns to shallow water by the mud mound. The next egret is already taking off as the first is landing. Each egret flies the loop. One at a time, they are orderly. Each flies a single loop.

Fishing while flying

Frame by frame the camera follows the flight. The egret is fishing, sometimes making 3 strikes, catching 3 fish, as it makes its circle loop and returns to the group. One egret made four strikes. Is it a competition? They watch each performance — beauty, grace, style, form, the number of fish.  Is each showing its individual talent, making an impression, maybe winning a companion? Or a place among egrets, stating This who I am.

Freeze frame showing what is actually happening too fast for the eye to see

What is happening too fast for the eye to see, the camera stops the action and reveals the grace as the egret strikes while moving at nearly full speed.

Reaching back in full flight to catch a fish

The egret’s head goes down toward a half somersault as it completes its strike. It does not lose grace or slows for more than a hiccup in its speed. It’s possible to watch the egret for a bit before realizing that the egret is catching fish. The strikes happen quickly and seamlessly.

Pairs of egrets flying the circle together and returning together like dogs in a dog show

One morning after taking solo turns, a few egrets begin taking turns flying the circle in pairs, almost like dogs in a dog show. One pair comes back, the next pair goes out.


The Egrets and Shawnee


It was October 8th that a squadron of Snowys came in before dusk. Snowy Egrets by the dozen! They came in from the north and landed in the north end of Berkeley Aquatic Park Lagoon, the same spot the egrets turned into an event in 2011.

Some revisit annually and in surprising numbers every few years. Some are likely locals, some perhaps from the Pacific Flyway, staying a week before heading on. At the Aquatic Park lagoon they gather like surfers, waiting for a wave. But they are not surfers. They are  skimmers, hoppers, low flyers making their own waves in a circular show.

Spirit of the Way tribute for Shawnee (the added kanji means “soul”)

At the beginning of October we lost our young Gordon setter, Shawnee. It is not uncommon to sense a surprise visit hitched to the spirit of a bird after a passing.

This image above of a snowy egret is dedicated to her. The photo has a title, Spirit of the Way. The kanji symbol is Soul.

The Visit – a familiar presence

A young egret separates herself from the others. She does short back and forth flights close to me, practicing her skill, making sure I notice her. She balances with an all-too-familiar askew grace. Making contact? Who knows. It’s good to see you, again.

The Chase

At the gathering, a few egrets try different games when they take a break from fishing.

Early morning arrivals before the egret games. Two Snowys and two Mallards at the submerged mud mound.

From dawn’s first arrivals to sunset with last egrets. All day long. With a break or two mid morning or mid afternoon.

Two Snowys still here at dusk after the games in the company of the local Great Egret who frequents this northern end of the lagoon.

From early morning with mallards to dusk, the waiting, watching and hunting continue sometimes in the company of the resident great egret whose territory is the north end of the lagoon.

Remembering a companion five years ago. We spent many days together watching egrets at the lagoon.

About Gerry: Gerry Traucht is a Berkeley photographer. More of his work can be seen HERE and in his blogs. You can read this original post by clicking here.