Last week, I was walking back to my apartment from the parking lot. When I entered the courtyard, there was a huge crane/heron-type bird walking around the grass. I ran inside to grab my camera, hoping that it would still be there when I came out. It was, so I started to take some pictures of it. It walked around for a few minutes, when it quickly ducked down low and started walking very slowly, like it was hunting something. Suddenly, it lunged down at something in the grass, and came up with a big fat gopher in its mouth. After exclaiming, “Holy crap!” I took more pictures of it as it swallowed the gopher whole. I watched the bulge travel slowly down its thin neck until it disappeared. Then it just started walking around again. I waited around to see if I could get any pictures of it in flight, but it was apparently pretty happy just hanging around the courtyard, so I left it alone and went inside. But it was a very neat and surreal experience, and again I’m glad for digital cameras. Check out the pictures.
Edit: Thanks to Buddy, I now know that this was a Great Blue Heron, which is a species common all over North America. According to the above page, it uses the west coast as a breeding ground, as well as a place to hang out during the Winter. It also says:
“The Great Blue Heron feeds mainly on small fish less than half the length of its bill, or under 65 mm long. Shellfish, insects, rodents, amphibians (mostly frogs), reptiles, and small birds are also occasionally eaten.”
I guess my sighting was even rarer that I thought, since most webpages I read didn’t even say that they ate rodents!
Edit 2: For those interested, here is a guide to all the animal species on the Stanford campus. If what the heron ate was indeed a gopher, then according to the guide, it was a Botta’s pocket gopher. It seems to look pretty similar, especially the length of the tail, which you can compare to my photo here.
Edit 3: The pics are now up on Flickr