Great Blue Heron in Flight

Ten days ago, I was biking in the Everglades National Park, working hard to get some photographs of the Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron in flight. I write to you today from my desk in Pennsylvania, because my efforts paid off and I have more images to share!

Great Blue Heron is up and away, spreading those enormous blue wings and stretching out its long body. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.

For you photographers out there, I had to use ISO 2500 in order to freeze motion with a shutter speed of 1/1000 and keep the aperture wide enough to achieve enough depth of field that the heron would not fly out of my focus zone too quickly. My camera is the Nikon D800, with the Nikon 70-200 mm lens, handheld. When birds take flight, it is a challenge to keep them sharp in the final image.

The success of this image reminds me of why I prefer still photography to video: with a print, one can freeze this moment to enjoy forever. All of these camera settings worked to create an image you can enjoy as a 10″ x 10″ print, available on my website.

Encore: Great Egret in Flight

Today is a rainy day in Southwest Florida, and I’m packing up for my own migration back to Pennsylvania. I’m definitely sad to leave. Looking back on my photographs in the Everglades, I found another series of three photos of the Great Egret lifting off from the swamp, showing its beautiful wings outstretched.

Keeping my camera poised on the Great Egret standing, I caught the moment that its feet left the water. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.
Observe the feathers stretched out to create a wide fan shape, as the Great Egret clears the trees. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, April 2019.
Final view of the Great Egret from below, its neck tucked in for flight. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.

Silent and Strong

On my recent visit to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, I challenged myself to photograph the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron in flight. Both wading birds are large and beautiful while standing still or wading in the shallows, but their look is entirely different when they take flight and display their enormous wing spans.

My friend Caroline, who accompanied me on this 15-mile bike trip, noticed the exquisite silence around us as we observed the birds and watched them fish and eventually take flight. I needed to keep my lens focused on the bird, as without warning and without a sound, it would take flight. If I looked away, I would be too late to capture take-off. Freezing action and maintaining focus on the egret in flight was a serious challenge!

Here is a series of three photographs taken in quick succession. I enjoy the brilliant feathers from each angle.

Silent lift-off of the Great Egret in the grass of the Everglades. Shark Valley, South Florida.
American Egret uses its massive wings in a graceful arch to gain more height. Its long black legs extend behind. Everglades National Park, Florida.
Great Egret tucks its neck and reaches for the sky as it flies above the Everglades in Florida.

Threats of Invasive Species

Iguanas are not native to Southwest Florida, and they are definitely the “bad guys.” They climb the trees, as you see here, and invade nests of native birds like Anhinga, Heron, Egret and Osprey and eat the eggs — reducing the population of these beautiful native birds.

This large iguana, resting in a tree on a Naples golf course, has thrived by invading the nests of native birds and preying upon the eggs. It is one of several invasive species that are considered pests in Florida. This one might measure 3 feet or one meter in length.

Other invasive species that disrupt the ecosystem in Florida include the Burmese python and a certain species of frog that is toxic to dogs. Communities as well as National Parks work toward reducing their numbers. For their own safety, dogs need to be leashed to prevent them from chasing and biting one of these toxic frogs.

Friends of the environment in Florida talk about reducing water usage, fertilizer usage and run-off, excessive development. The use of native plants fosters native habitats which encourage growth of native species. Audubon certified golf courses actively work toward these goals and make members aware of how we can protect and preserve our natural environment.

Mama Gator

The small baby alligators of the Florida Everglades are wise to follow their instincts and stay close to their mother, even lying on top of her. Their small size and still tender hides make them vulnerable to a Great Blue Heron or even a male Alligator. I spotted about six babies close to this parent.

Baby alligators like to bask in the sun, lying on their mother for protection. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, March 2018.

A 600mm lens allowed me to capture this close-up photograph, while standing about 15 feet away. It’s wise for humans to keep a safe distance away from this dangerous creature in the wild. While they lie still most of the time, when alligators are extremely quick when they attack.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama Gator. Good luck keeping your babies safe.

White Pelicans Foraging

Two Great White Pelicans foraging in Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve. Got one!

Low tide is the perfect time to observe White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets, Blue Heron and Ibis foraging on Sanibel Island. If you are lucky, you might even see some Roseate Spoonbills. Dozens of these beautiful birds crowded an area where the fish seemed to be concentrated.

The White Pelicans are literally “snow birds” who have flown south to Florida from the northern reaches of the United States for a respite from winter.

At 10:30am, the sun was high in the sky, but the light illuminated the throat pouches on these Great White Pelicans.

Anhinga’s Fresh Catch

This female anhinga caught a catfish that looks almost too big to swallow. She kept adjusting the fish in her beak, perhaps tenderizing it with each chomp, ultimately lining it up to go down the hatch. As she juggled her prey, it was fun to watch.

Female anhinga with catfish in beak, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida.

Here is another view:

This catfish will soon see the inside of an anhinga, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.