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.”
Did you ever wonder where the pelicans go at night to sleep? Their favorite spot is an island in the bay, safe from land-based predators like raccoons. In this image, shot in Rookery Bay south of Naples, Florida, you can see a large number of pelicans getting settled for the night at sunset.
Our boat cut the engine and floated silently, so we could watch the pelicans and other large wading birds settle in on their rookery island. It was a privilege to watch this natural phenomenon up close.
This rookery island is a favorite nighttime resting place for these large birds — the pelicans, ibis, egrets and cormorants. At sunset large flocks swarm in from every direction and birds land on every available branch, squawking at one another to move over and make room. It is a peaceful and unique sight to witness by boat. This location is south of Naples in the Gordon River estuary.
I hopped off my bike to watch a flock of eight to ten ibis peck around in the swamp water in search of a meal. Then I decided to take a seat on the ground and just watch to see if any action developed. The scene presented a few photographic challenges: the birds were in constant motion. Think: high ISO and fast shutter speed. There were so many of them, that they never seemed to form an orderly or symmetrical composition. Think: I’m going to watch for a composition to form, but most likely crop later. The brightness of the birds and the dark water would foil my camera’s efforts to calculate a good exposure. Think: Meter the exposure directly on the bird; you don’t want the feathers to be blown highlights that cannot be recovered in processing.
The result: I caught a scene with some action. One ibis was acting like the bully on the playground, chasing away his peer. Preparation paid off. With all the prior analysis of the scene, I was ready to catch the split-second ibis drama.
After I captured this image of an ibis taking flight from the beach, I began to wonder what it would be like to take flight to the sky at a moment’s notice. Only birds can do this, but what a gift! I think the closest I can come to that feeling is to glide through the water while swimming. As I glide weightless with the water rippling through my hair and the cool water skimming over my body, I feel that magic combination of freedom and relaxation. I wonder, why don’t I swim more often?