Well Hello, Heron Hatchling

April is the month for baby birds to hatch, and Southwest Florida is now alive with chirping sounds. Of course, we humans need to keep our distance and give plenty of space and security to all the birds in their nests. Let me assure you that I have a long telephoto lens, and I also crop my files to bring you a close up, while maintaining a respectful distance.

This stately Great Blue Heron stands astride an adorable hatchling, just a few inches tall, yet very alert and watching me. The sight of this nest with mother and chick was a very special first for me. I hope the photo brings you a sense of wonder and delight.

Adult Great Blue Heron with breeding plumage stands tall in her nest with two hatchlings at her feet. One is visible in this photograph near Naples, Florida in April 2021.

Prints are available; please contact cathykellyphotography@gmail.com for details. More nesting photos to come!

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.

The Early Bird

What they say is true. The early bird gets the best light. (Maybe the worm too.). Patches of golden light filtered through the trees and lit this Great Blue Heron standing erect in the marsh. An hour later this soft, golden light was just a memory, or in this case, a photograph.

Admire the delicacy of this Great Blue Heron’s feathers as it stands tall and elegant in this serene setting at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Preserve at sunrise.

Colorful Character: the Reddish Egret

Before leaving Florida for the season, I want to share a series of photos of the unique Reddish Egret. It’s a medium sized heron with a mane of elongated reddish feathers, a pink translucent beak and a cool way of dancing while foraging. You can find them in the salt water shallows foraging at low tide.

I observed this adult breeding reddish egret on Sanibel Island at J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve in February 2020. My friend marveled at the bushy neck plumage, asking, “Are you sure that’s not hair?”

#reddishegret, #heron, #sanibel, #dingdarling, #florida, #plumage, #pinkbeak, #birdphotography, #naturephotography, #wildlifephotography, #nikon, #birds,
Reddish egret shows its pink beak and reddish neck feathers in afternoon light, Ding Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island, FL.
#reddishegret, #heron, #preening, #birdphotography, #naturephotography, #wildlifephotography, #nikon, #dingdarling, #sanibel, #florida, #birds, #feathers
Reddish egret having a “bad hair day” while preening feathers and showing its flexibility. Sanibel Island, FL.
#reddishegret, #heron, #pinkbeak, #dance, #forage, #fish, #behavior, #sanibel, #dingdarling, #birdphotography, #wildlifephotography, #naturephotography, #nikon, #egret, #birds, #outdoorphotography
Reddish egrets are known for their graceful dance moves while foraging. They extend a wing to create a shadow to attract fish close to their legs, at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida.

Cleared for Take-Off

Watching and waiting for this Great White Egret to take off, I was rewarded by this sighting of outstretched white wings. With my Nikon camera shutter set at 1/1000 second, I was prepared to capture this image to share with you.

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Early morning sun shines through the white egrets wing feathers, as the egret lifts off from the littoral plants.

Since I also set my Nikon D800 on “continuous-high,” I have two more great frames to share. You can help me decide which one is best. I will submit one or two of these photos to the Royal Poinciana Members’ Photography Contest. The submitted photos have to be shot on the property.

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.

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.

Green Heron, Turn Around

Want to know a fun fact about the Green Heron?

  • The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish. (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)
The Green Heron is a short stocky bird, compared to other herons. I found this one at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at the water’s edge.
As I watched silently, the Green Heron turned around for another view in the sunlight. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples, Florida.

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.