Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Glenn Allen Island Rookery

If you're a word-lover like myself, you can fully appreciate the bevy of nomenclature to describe birds and other wildlife: a gathering of crows is a "murder"; a group of geese not in flight is a "gaggle" - in flight is a "skein"; a male fox is known as a "dog-fox", or "renard"; and lastly, a colony of breeding animals is known as a "rookery". Unbeknownst to many people, great blue herons breed in groups, making their breeding site a heron rookery (The term Rookery has also been used as a name for dense slum housing in nineteenth-century cities, especially London).

A heron rookery is a sight to behold.

One great jewel on the city stretch of the Kalamazoo River, and virtually around the corner from my house, is the heron rookery on Glenn Allen Island, a property now in the care of the South West Michigan Land Conservancy.

My neighbor and painter friend, Brent Spink, recently sprung an invitation on me to join him on an outing to make art of the rookery. He painted the scene and I rattled off hundreds of photos.

After the logistics of planting cars, we journeyed by canoe to a shore opposite the island. That brief jaunt on the river is always a step back in time, and a quick remedy for city-speed anxieties.

The rookery and the heron themselves are always a prehistoric image, the great blue evoking the distant and extinct pterodactyl and the rookery being perhaps the closest living example of Lothlorien, or the home of the Na’vi. The scattering of huge nests sit atop a holy looking sycamore, standing out in stark contrast against the gray bark of the other trees in early spring bloom.

If you get a chance, while paddling down the River, just past the bridge at Mosel, about where Allen St. “T”s into North Pitcher, take a right at the fork in the river and you’ll go around the east side of the island. At the north-east end of the island you’ll see a “scattering”, a “sedge” or “seige” of herons taking to the sky as your presence spooks them off their roost.

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