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Love and death in the treetops: springtime at a Marin rookery.

Love and death in the treetops: springtime at a Marin rookery

A rookery is a raucous affair--like Saturday night in North Beach, or a reunion of a big, noisy family. You can look in on a cacophonous, sometimes quarrelsome, but fascinating avian neighborhood on a visit to the redwood grove at Marin County's Audubon Canyon Ranch, open weekends March through July 13.

You'll see a treetop community containing up to 175 nests of great egrets and great blue herons, scattered amid the redwoods like so much confetti. Sometimes the trees are so crowded that finding nest space looks as tough as finding a parking place in Chinatown.

Created in 1962, the 1,000-acre sanctuary was once a ranch and dairy. Now it offers several hiking trails as well as the rookery, a nest-viewing overlook, display hall, bookstore, and picnic area.

In spring, you witness key events in the birds' lives: courtship, mating, nest building, and rearing young. You may see the silky ornamental plumes of the white egrets puff up in an elaborate mating ritual. While the big herons are building nests and laying eggs, they stage noisy threat displays if neighbors get too close. Both heron parents feed their offspring. The young bird seizes its parent's bill crosswise and yanks the adult's head down into the nest; those too weak to compete for food soon die. You can view the roost from the picnic area behind the old ranch house or, for a better vantage, walk up to Henderson Overlook.

Bring binoculars or a long lens for your camera, and dress warmly. There are six hiking trails (from 1 to 3 miles round trip) into marsh and redwood and fir forests.

The sanctuary is open, free, from 10 to 4 weekends and holidays; groups may come by appointment on Tuesdays through Fridays. It's off State Highway 1, 3 miles northwest of Stinson Beach, about 25 miles from San Francisco. For more information, call (415) 383-1644.

Photo: Great blue heron stands about 4 feet high, sports breast plumes when breeding
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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