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Peacock’s Herons

Bird watching goes with the territory - and the game - here at Peacock Gap. It’s hard to imagine a golf course this side of Paradise that offers a richer and more varied assortment of winged creatures - shorebirds, gulls and cormorants, ducks and divers, wetland waders, meadowland and perching songbirds, swallows, hawks and kites, crows, vultures, the occasional eagle or pelican, and certainly not least, geese.

Easily the most striking of the lot - what you might call the Gap’s signature birds - are the various members of the Heron family:

Herons

Our local Egrets come in one color (white, naturally) and two varieties - the smallish Snowy Egret, distinguished by its black bill, yellow feet, and gorgeous, wispy mating plumage; and the much larger Great Egret, with its yellow bill and black feet - just the opposite of the Snowy Egret. Like most herons, Egrets nest in trees, and one of the favorite moments of my day is watching the fly-over of the Great Egrets, one by one, just about twilight, from their foraging stations in the Corte Madera wetlands to their roosts in the centuries-old redwoods across the way from my house in Larkspur. It’s a ghostly and beautiful sight - like a flight of homing angels.

The Black-Crowned Night Heron, with its short neck, black beret, and stocky frame looks like a grumpy old Frenchman crouching at water’s edge, grumbling about the poor fishing. The juvenile Night Heron (up to one year old) has its parents’ stocky conformation, but instead of the beret, he/she wears a mottled brown and white herringbone cap and jacket. Both adults and juveniles are often spotted near the bridge on No. 16. We’re told that the pine trees on the island just off the 16th tee were once a popular heron rookery.

Rarest, smallest, and, to my taste, the most exquisite of our local herons, the Green-Backed Heron stands only about 18 inches tall, but has much the same stocky, short-necked conformation as the larger Night Heron. During mating season it sports a brilliant blue-green crown of fringed feathers which, along with its matching wing feathers and semi-iridescent, plum red neck plumage, gives it a dressed-to-kill look that must be irresistible to the ladies - or gentlemen. Like most herons, Green Heron males and females are virtually indistinguishable, except, one would assume, to other Green Herons.

Granddaddy and patriarch of the local heron family, the Great Blue Heron has a six-foot wingspan and stands a good four feet tall when its graceful, serpentine neck is at full stretch, as it generally is when he’s on the prowl. Yet, amazingly, a full grown Great Blue weighs just a little over five pounds. The Blue’s extraordinarily light wing loading helps explain the big bird’s seemly effortless flight and that silky way it has of gliding into a feeding station, giant wings leveling just a few feet off the ground, then pirouetting in mid-air and landing, soft and silent as a snowflake, facing in the opposite direction, ready for action. For years, one old Blue had the corner of the pond on No. 9 staked out, and just about every time we went by, he’d be there, staring straight ahead, a model of single-minded concentration.  We don’t see him or his kin much any more - just every so often. Whatever wicked things the Golf Gods are doing to my game at the moment, the sight of him always makes my day.

Bill Braznell

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