A Good Gator

In my opinion, a good gator is a motionless gator. I always try to keep my distance from an alligator, especially one that is watching me, because I have seen how lightening fast they move, when they bolt. This gator was floating in the fresh water of the Everglades. You can see its leg dangling in the water.

Alligator floating with legs dangling in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park. He seemed to be watching me while I photographed him with a zoom lens from at least 15 feet away. Thankfully, it did not feel threatened or make a move toward me.

Watch Your Step, Heron

Dear Beautiful Heron, Please watch your step as you tiptoe silently through the long grasses and past the purple thistle. Do you remember those baby alligators that you like to eat? When they grow up, those big alligators might take a bite out of you. If they catch you, they will eat you whole, feathers and all.

Great Blue Heron tiptoes slowly and silently through the tall grasses and the thistle in the Everglades, March 2021.

Also silently lurking nearby in the grass is this large alligator. If he is hungry, the Great Blue Heron could be his next meal. Yikes! The food chain is merciless.

American Alligator, lying in wait for its next meal near the water where wading birds feed. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, March 2021.

Eight Wood Storks

On my annual trip to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, I witnessed something for the first time. Eight wood storks were roosting in a single tree! I frequently see one or two in Pelican Bay or on the golf course, but I have never seen so many of them together, and I had never seen them in a tree. This remarkable scene was a distance away, but my Sony lens has a 400mm reach.

Eight wood storks roost in a tree in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park. It was an overcast day in March, right after a rain shower, Sony a7rIV, 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

Brown Pelican Party

These two Brown Pelicans met in the mangrove shortly after sunrise. Perched alongside one another, they looked identical. A few minutes later, they were splashing in the water nearby, breaking the silence of the early morning. Were they competing for fish, or showing territorial behavior? I honestly don’t know, but I said to my friend Marjorie, “It’s a Pelican Party over there.”

Golden morning light on two Brown Pelicans, perched in the mangrove at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, February 2021.

Gator on the Move

I made a sunrise trip to Ten Thousand Islands near the Florida Everglades hoping to see roseate spoonbills, but instead got a good look at a very large alligator. He was old, long and big bellied, yet still looking for his next meal. As he swam parallel to the shore, I followed him down the trail for about 15 minutes, getting a good look at him at each clearing. He was looking at me, while I was looking at him (her). Do you see the sunrise reflecting in his eye?

With my Sony 200-600 mm lens, I could stay at a safe distance, but get a close look at this gator’s face. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Southwest Florida, February 2021.

To give you an idea of the length of this alligator, here is a second photo showing its length. As he cruised the marsh, pelicans, cormorants, anhinga, and a variety of herons flew off to safety.

Some shoreline grasses blocked my view of this 10-foot alligator, but I didn’t want to approach this dangerous creature, as they can move very fast when they attack. Here, he seemed to be crawling on a sandbar.

Born White, Turning Blue

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.

This juvenile Little Blue Heron shows some blue feathers coming in around the neck. The bill is taking on its blue hue as well. The white branches underline its ghostly visage in the swamp. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, 2019.

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.

Is Blue Your Color?

The Great Blue Heron stands out in the marsh with its blue feathers, long and sharp beak and distinct yellow eyes. I love to bike in the Everglades to get a close look at these elegant birds.

Examine the delicate neck feathers of this Great Blue Heron. The yellow eye and beak stand out with their complimentary color. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, 2019.

This Great Blue Heron (below) shows his breeding plumage. The male bird wears the eye catching “dress” to attract a mate.

In profile, this Great Blue Heron shows his crown feather and delicate neck plumage. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, 2019.

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.