The rookery is definitely full of activity in its first month. Not all of the species have arrived in full force yet, but many are here. A few even have some chicks already. Some of the early Great Egrets have had chicks hatch. You need a lot of nests to find some photos. Since the rookery is surrounded by water, you are standing on a boardwalk and all your photos must be taken from here. There are probably more than 20 nests that aren’t photographable for every one that is. Fortunately there are a lot of nests, so there are plenty of good opportunities for the finding. I was enamored by how this chick decided to copy its parent and preen at the same time and in the same pose.
If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll remember that I mentioned that the alligators are necessary for the success of the bird rookery. While most of the time, I’m looking up at the birds, from time to time I look down at the alligators. This particularly large American Alligator was doing what alligators do best – sitting and waiting.
There are a lot of rookeries around. In fact there is one about 10 minutes from my home. So why did I drive all the way down to Florida and not just photograph there? Not every rookery is the same. This rookery is a fantastic opportunity to get close to the birds whereas in most places you would disturb the nesting birds by getting so close. Also, rookeries have different species. The one closest to me mostly has Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and White Ibis. This rookery has eight species. One of the exciting ones it has are the Roseate Spoonbills. This spoonbill is about to launch into a flight to gather some sticks for the nest it is working on.
Roseate Spoonbills are amazing birds. I can never make up my mind which of my impressions is the strongest. On the one hand they have this uniquely beautiful combination of red hues. On the other hand they have one of the strangest looking bills and heads. Their heads become featherless as they age and it reveals their strange skin tones. This time I went in close on the spoonbill to show these contrasting feelings.
Today I wanted to make some use of the numerous flight opportunities at the rookery. You also get some unique angles and perspectives on that birds that you don’t normally have. This Great Egret is busy bringing sticks back to its nest. For shots like this, you need to use a little fill flash to light up the underside of the birds, even on cloudy days like today.
Most of the flight activity at this time revolves around the nest building. The birds are always leaving from and coming to the nest. On the return trip they’ll have a branch or twig in their beak. Late in the season, most of the birds will be flying on trips to get food for the chicks, but not only a few are hatched so far. This Wood Stork was one of the ones busy building its nest.
It’s late March and spring has really started to take off. The herons and egrets are some of the earliest nesters in the area. I made my way down to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida which is about a 2.5 hour drive from where I live. Alligators have a great relationship with the birds, they eat them. Well they will eat a bird if it gets too close, but what they really do is eat anything. That means raccoons, snakes, and anything else that might want to take an egg or a baby bird. So the birds find a place surrounded by water and alligators to keep predators away. In exchange, the birds have to be careful not to fall out of the nest or get too close, but for the most part it greatly increases the chance of successfully raising chicks.
One thing about photographing at a rookery is that it is a very cluttered place. There are ugly branches everywhere and birds everywhere. This makes it very tough to get a clean shot without a lot of distracting elements. One approach to removing the clutter is simply to come in tight on the birds. The birds at this rookery have no fear of people and will come with a few feet of you. This Snowy Egret is raising its plumes in a display to attract a mate. I choose an atypical lighting direction in this case to put extra attention on the plumage.
There is always so much going on at the rookery. It is relatively early in the rookery cycle right now, so many of the birds are busy trying to attract their lovers. Displaying those beautiful plumes requires a lot of work though. It takes a lot of tender care and cleaning to keep the plumes in tip-top shape. The cleaning, as with this Great Egret, can sometimes be as beautiful as the display itself.
For those lucky birds who have found their mate already, it is on to the next step. No, this Wood Stork is not ready to start delivering babies, but it does need to deliver branches and twigs to start building its nest. The sky around the rookery is constantly full of birds flying over. Some are just moving around, but at this time of year, many are starting to build their nests.
Sometimes you just have that kink in your back that you can’t get to go away. Nothing like a good stretch to try and loosen it up. At least that might have been what this Ring-billed Gull was thinking.
As spring starts to take shape, most of the birds undergo a dramatic transformation from their drab winter selves to the colorful forms of summer. The Laughing Gulls are a very common winter bird when they are mostly a dull white and plain gray. In the breeding season, they get a sharp black head and crisp whites. To top it off, they develop bright red bills, throats, and feet. It’s still a bit early, so most are still in winter plumage. This individual was an early spring dresser. It doesn’t quite have the legs and the bill isn’t as red as it will be, but it’s almost there. It found a small Horseshoe Crab to devour.
The gulls only look so-so in flat light. Fortunately the sun peeked through for a few minutes to really show them off.
The light went away again for a while and I moved on down the mud flats. A Tricolored Heron was actively fishing there. From time to time, it would fly off to another spot a few feet away that presumably held more fish. You’d be amazed how many fish they can eat in one day.
Like the gulls, the Tricolored Herons turn it up a notch to impress their lovers. They get brighter colors and long plumes. My personal favorite is the deep blue colors that they gain on their bill to set off their bright red eyes. Just a stunning bird!