Good Night, Birds

Have you heard of a “rookery island” where dozens of birds of several species flock at sunset to find sanctuary for the night? I have found it magical to observe: as one great egret and eight ibis and three cormorants and six pelicans and a couple great blue heron and even more and more soar in from every direction and land side by side on every available branch of a tiny island of mangrove trees as the sun turns a brilliant orange and the light rapidly fades across the water… and the scene is silent.

I described the scene to my uninitiated friends as a Christmas tree fully decorated with ornaments on every bough, or a crowded church were a few more families arrive late and say, “please make room for us.”

Birds of many species crowd on to the branches of this rookery island for sanctuary overnight. Naples, Florida 2020.

Making Connections: Birds and Humans

Watching a bird preen his feathers reminds me of watching a girl brush her long hair. It’s pretty special to watch wildlife behavior and learn about what birds and other wildlife do naturally. But the cool thing about observing preening — or hair brushing in humans — is that you feel like you catch a glimpse of private time, where the bird (or the girl) takes a few minutes to think of herself and make herself look good and feel good. In a way, it’s intimate.

This Great Blue Heron was taking time to preen before low tide, which is time to hunt for food. Early in the morning, he was getting ready for his day. (I assume this heron was male, due to the breeding plumage, the long wispy feathers in front.) Here are a series of photos:

#heron  #preening, #greatbluleheron, #sanibel, #dingdarling, #preen, #wildlife, #behavior
Great Blue Heron preening, with his neck twisted around into an S curve. Sanibel Island, Florida.
#heron, #greatblueheron,#breeding plumage, #preening, #preen, #wildlife, #behavior
With his head tucked under his wing, this Great Blue Heron’s head is hidden. Sanibel Island, Florida.
#heron, #greatblueheron, #preening, #behavior, #preen, #preening, #wildlife, #birdphotography
With a bit of down in his beak, this Great Blue Heron is preening his feathers. It’s a privilege to observe this beautiful bird up close in Sanibel Island, Florida.

As I photographed this preening session with the Great Blue Heron, I thought of Renoir’s paintings of his red haired daughter brushing her long hair. Are you familiar with that painting? Do you share the connection I make with hair brushing and preening?

He Will Not Be Stepping Back

This Great Blue Heron looks like royalty and he knows it. He lives a great life on Sanibel Island, Florida and he doesn’t mind a few photographers pointing long lenses at him first thing in the morning. In fact, he rather enjoyed it until the photographers got bloody sick of it and packed themselves and their gear in the car to go home. He just stood on the rock, posed and stared us down.

While Prince Harry and his wife Megan will be “stepping back as senior members of the royal family,” this character likes the spotlight and doesn’t mind the paparazzi. This Great Blue Heron is indeed royal.

I loved the close up view of the Great Blue Heron’s intricate feathers, brilliantly lit by the direct sun. We photographers we so lucky that he lingered with us.

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.

Proud Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t you like to start every day feeling this confident — with your face to the sun and your head held high? I will keep this image in my mind.

#heron, #greatblueheron, #breedingplummage, #plummage, #sunset, #sanibel, #dingdarling#tamron, #nikon, #reallyrightstuff, #proud, #lookatme
Great Blue Heron holds his head high while crossing the sandbar on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Standing tall

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.

#heron, #blueheron, #greatblueheron, #eye, #breedingplumage, #standing, #wildlife, #birds, #florida
Framed between to palms, this Great Blue Heron displays his breeding plumage.

Focus on the Eye

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.

#blueheron, #greatblueheron, #heron, #bird, #profile, #wildlife, #nature, #florida, #everglades. #sharakvalley, #nikon, #nikond800, #eye
In this close up of the Great Blue Heron, you can admire the delicate feathers of the neck, the plume, the eye and the well worn beak.

Blue Heron’s Catch

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.

#blueheron, #greatblueheron, #heron, #everglades, #florida, #willdlife, #nature, #nationalpark
Great Blue Heron with his catch. What is it?

I took this series of photographs while the heron juggled the prey ( fish perhaps?) in its beak, getting ready to swallow it.

#greatblueheron, #blueheron, #heron, #prey, #wildlife, #nature, #everglades, #sharkvalley, #nationalpark
The big gulp looked to me like a big mistake.

#heron, #greatblueheron, #blueheron, #florida, #everglades, #nationalpark, #wildlife, #nature
Finished. So, that’s how it works.