The Little Blue Heron is born as a stark white bird, and it gradually develops those vibrant slate blue feathers as it matures. If you were not aware of that color change, you might wonder about the identity of this unique bird when you see it in the Everglades.
Standing on one leg, the heron rests the other while silently watching the water for fish. “Little” is a relative term, as it can grow to 29″ and have a wingspan of 41 inches. It is only “little” when compared to the tall “Great Blue Heron,” that can stand 4.5 feet high.
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!
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.
This mostly white bird seen in the southwest Florida swamp stumped some experienced bird watchers who were guessing its identity. What do you think? Yes, it looks like a heron with that long beak, but it’s not blue…at least not yet.
My first guess was the Wurdemann’s Heron, a mostly white mutation of the Great Blue Heron, that I had recently learned about and sighted in Rookery Bay. Don’t we love to put our newly found knowledge to work? But the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary naturalist gently corrected me: this is a juvenile Great Blue Heron.
If you have some birding knowledge to share, please leave a comment to this blog. I’m happy to start a conversation.
The Great Blue Heron is my favorite bird to watch in Florida. I love the dusty blue color, the impressive size (4 feet tall perhaps), and its graceful movement. The heron typically stands still like a statue in shallow water, then slowly takes long, deliberate steps and snatches underwater prey super quickly. He will often fly if a person approaches him, so getting a good photograph can be a challenge.
I sat quietly in the grass while observing this Great Blue Heron recently. He stalked through the water and grabbed a fish. Then he kept taking giant steps until he paused on the shore. As he stood tall to look around with those brilliant eyes, I made this photograph.
As the great blue heron took a giant step back, this large alligator silently swam past. The heron and the gator eyed one another, but the gator seemed to have set his sights on a school of catfish just ahead.
In Shark Valley, there is no shortage of enormous alligators, but most of the time you see them sleeping in the sun in the middle of the day. I enjoy biking the trail in Shark Valley, even though I find the 15-mile loop very tiring.
When the alligators are on the move or sitting near the path, you need to take precautions to stay away from them. If you’d rather not risk a close encounter, you can take the National Park Service tram.
Standard advice when shooting wildlife: focus on the eye. Not always possible, such as when the subject is moving, and the photographer is panning. On this day in the Florida Everglades, I had enough time to focus on the great blue heron’s eye while hand holding my Nikon D800 with a 200mm lens.
Recently in the Florida Everglades, I shot a series of images of this blue heron as it took off and landed. I was pleased to see this magnificent bird with its wings outstretched. In order to freeze motion of wildlife, I usually increase the ISO on my camera making the sensor more sensitive to light. That way, I can still get a good exposure with a very fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. In this case, I increased the ISO to 2000, anticipating the bird’s flight. (I was just explaining this formula to my daughter who will be traveling to Africa to enjoy a safari in a few days.)
I also made a conscious choice for the f stop setting. A lens is usually at its sharpest in the mid-range (f/7.1 here), and the depth of field is forgiving — keeping the bird in focus for the split second between the time I focus and the shutter releases. Had I opened the lens aperture wide (to counter balance the fast shutter speed), it would have been very difficult to keep the flying bird in focus. You can see, the image is successful, as long as you don’t mind a little grain, resulting from the high ISO. I will share some of the other photos in the series in subsequent blog posts.
At first I thought the Great Blue Heron had just caught a freshly hatched baby alligator. I didn’t dare to creep any closer, not knowing where the Mama Alligator was. My best judgement was to focus and shoot, focus and shoot about 6 times after I observed the heron snatch his prey with silent quickness.
I took this series of photographs while the heron juggled the prey ( fish perhaps?) in its beak, getting ready to swallow it.