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.”
While I treasure a close-up of each species of bird in its exquisite detail, and I get excited about a more rare capture of a bird in flight, the trifecta of wildlife photography thrills for me is to witness a drama between animals — the rare sighting that leaps beyond good color, detail and composition to tell a story.
Such was my luck late one afternoon on Sanibel Island in February. So far the visit to J.D. Ding Darling Nature Preserve had been pretty uneventful, and I was apologizing to my friend Mary who accompanied me. We had planned our trip to coincide with low tide to observe the large birds feeding, but few white pelicans or roseate spoonbills were in sight.
Here is how the action unfolded: We set up my tripod between the road and the water’s edge to observe for awhile when a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron emerged from the brush. About 4 onlookers pointed and whispered to each other as it paused in the gentle afternoon light. At Ding Darling, most bird watchers are quiet and respectful of wildlife.)
This heron took graceful giant strides, and within a few minutes, it had grabbed a crab in its beak and held it up in the light right in front of us. I had to adjust my 150-600mm zoom lens to 400mm to see the entire bird in the frame, and I could not believe my luck with the beautiful light and the chance to witness the scene.
We quietly contained our amazement (oh my God!) as the heron shook and stabbed the crab til its legs and claws came off and the prey was manageable to go down the hatch, right in front of us. I have numerous photos of this drama, and I will share them with you in the next few blog posts.
I’m now grateful that I saved this series of wildlife photos for this quiet time we are all experiencing now. Please share this blog with your friends who may enjoy it too.
Have you ever witnessed a large flock of birds roosting as the sun sets? In Florida, the large wading birds like the heron, egrets and pelicans roost together for protection. They will often find a rookery island where predators like raccoons can’t reach them.
In Six Mile Cypress Slough, a large flock of egrets chose this wooded area along the edge of a pond to roost. As the setting sun sheds warm light on the trees, dozens of these egrets decorate the landscape. It is a special sight to witness, especially for a “snowbird” like me.