Kittamaqundi Heron Rookery

I understand that there are at least three great blue heron (Ardea herodius) rookeries in Howard County, MD.  A rookery is a colony of breeding blue herons, where multiple pairs nest together.  The Kittamanqundi Rookery is located on the Little Patuxent River, somewhat near the Little Patuxent Parkway and Route 29.

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I took my wife and my youngest son Jeb, for an after dinner hike to find and observe the colony.  We parked near the historic Oakland Manor.  Oakland Manor, built in 1811 was the home of Charles Sterrett Ridgely, the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates in the 1700’s.

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The Oliver Carriage House is where Ridgely stabled his horses and is now a church.  The pastor is my neighbor in Clarksville, MD.

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We hiked to the river, which unfortunately is quite disturbed, as a sanitary trunk line is being installed, north-south, along the east bank.

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The majority of the land is active floodplain and forested wetlands, with no access or trails, other than the temporary disturbance envelope of the sewer main installation.  Based on the looks of the in-stream sand bars and particulate size, the stream looks like it can be quite flashy (urbanized).

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Quietly walking through the woods we listened for heron and watched the skies.  It did not take very long until we heard the loud vocalizations of multiple heron, which sounded like frogs calling from a wetland.  As we neared the rookery, it was obvious where individual active nests were located.

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All you had to do was find an enormous ring of mute whitewash on the ground that was the bulls-eye target of where the nests were located straight above.

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The attached web link is what heron with young sound like.  As you review the sound, please be mindful that it is X-20, a cacophony of brood-rearing, noisy, hungry juveniles.  Listen specifically to “begging of young at the nest.” 

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/sounds

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Heron have 3 to 6 young and only one brood per year.

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Rookeries are usually in rather remote areas.  If successful, the rookery grows and the birds are imprinted, returning to that particular colony year-after-year.  If mortality should become an issue, heron will move to another location to improve the success (fecundity) of their offspring.

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Usually a rookery is a good indicator of relative health.  Heron eat fish, and lots of them.  If the habitat cannot sustain a good fishery, you won’t have a rookery.

One thing that I noticed today was that all of the nests occurred in super-story trees, the biggest, tallest oaks in the floodplain.  All of the nests were way up at the top of the trees.  Adult herons are four-feet tall and have a wingspan of up to seven-feet wide.  They cannot readily negotiate flight through the trees.  They must live up at the tree tops, away from flight obstructions.

I am aware of several other rookeries in Maryland, and the Kittamaqundi rookery is the smallest of the ones that I have observed.   I believe that rookeries are significant and require mandatory, no disturbance setback buffers, especially during their breeding season.  They should not be disturbed.  My walk-in intrusion was to document the number of active nests and then walk away.  Way cool, considering how urbanized the general area is, being in the headwaters of Lake Kittamaqundi and Columbia Mall.  An amazing bird!

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