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Lots of Good Color at the Gatorland Rookery

Some friends convinced me to visit Gatorland in early April, and I’m really glad I went!  I was a little burned out on rookery photography after the past few years, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the crowds on the boardwalk.  But the birds were more than worth it.  We had excellent opportunities with Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and especially the Cattle Egrets.

Great Egret Preening

Great Egret Preening

The Great Egrets are in all stages of breeding.  I saw some several-week-old chicks, some recently-hatched nests, some mating, nest-building, and of course, lots of bright green lores and lacy plumes!  I love the feathers on these birds in their breeding colors.  It’s fun to try to get good preening shots, which aren’t as easy as they sound.  You want the bird’s head parallel to the image plane.  If only they would take direction from photographers! :)

Great Egret Chick

Great Egret Chick

This nest of Great Egret chicks was a lot of fun to photograph.  The chicks weren’t more than a few days old.  The little guys were hungry, and they wanted their mom to know all about it!  Much head-bobbing ensued as they tried to get Mom to regurgitate a nice fish for them.  (Rookery feeding habits are a little gross, but you get used to it!)  With my 500mm lens and an extension tube, I was able to get great head shots of these little cuties.

Great Egret Feeding Chicks

Great Egret Feeding Chicks

A few nests down, a trio of slightly older chicks were being fed.  You could tell that Mom was coughing up something good as the babies got more and more animated.  They positioned their beaks right on top of Mom’s, trying to be the first to grab the fish as it came out of Mom’s mouth.  The problem is, with three chicks in the nest, they haven’t figured out how to share very well!  It’s a free-for-all as poor Mom just tries to keep from getting her eyes poked out.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Usually at the rookeries I focus most of my attention on the little chicks, but on this visit, I spent more time with the adults. The birds are in such pretty color right now.  The Cattle Egrets moved into the rookery a little early this year, and they are busy building nests.  Their peak bright pink and purple breeding colors last only for a few days.  The bird above has not quite reached peak color, although his orange feathers are quite striking.  The bird below is almost at peak color.

Cattle Egret Showing Off His Colors

Cattle Egret Showing Off His Colors

You don’t need a long lens to get great pictures at Gatorland, as many of the birds nest very close to the boardwalk.  It’s not at all unusual to have a beautiful bird in great breeding colors jump down to the boardwalk right next to you.  Keep a set of extension tubes in your pocket, and go!  It’s fun!

Happy Easter!

Just a quick post today, to say Happy Easter!  I’ve been keeping this adorable Sandhill Crane colt shot for Easter because he is just so cute and so perfect for the day.  This is the same colt that I saw hatch a week and a half ago.  He was about 36 hours old at this point, and the long walk from his nest tired him out!  I still have more to blog about these wonderful little birds, so I’ll leave you with this adorable teaser.

Asleep in the Meadow

Asleep in the Meadow

 

Total Lunar Eclipse – Total Photographer Insanity!

The last time we had a total lunar eclipse, it was a few days before Christmas and I photographed the moon using my old 40D camera and my 400mm lens.  A few days later, Rich surprised me with the Beast!  Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for the next eclipse, so that I could get better shots with my 500mm lens.

When we read that a lunar eclipse was going to happen early Tuesday morning, both Rich and I perked up.  He likes to look at the stars with his telescope.  I like to shoot them with my camera.  I was amazed to realize I could see the rings of Saturn through my Beast.

The only bad part was that the eclipse started around 1:45 in the morning and lasted until about 5:30, which is our usual time to wake up for work.  It was also supposed to be really cloudy that night.  So we debated the insanity of waking up at 1:30 and watching.  We finally decided to try it, since the opportunity rarely presents itself!  I’m glad we did…

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

I loved using my Canon 5D Mark III for this eclipse!  Last time, my 40D couldn’t auto-focus on the moon after it entered totality. Auto focus has improved considerably and the 5D did great.

Last time I took pictures every 10 minutes, and learned that the shadow moves across the moon pretty fast.  So this time I took pictures every 5 minutes.  I was a little disappointed with my totality shots, which turned out pretty dark.  I bracketed my ISO levels, but next time I would bracket my shutter speed as well, because I suspect that I could have used a longer shutter speed to collect more light on the sensor.  Oh well, it’s a challenge to do better next time!  I might also take the laptop outside and shoot tethered, so that I could review the images in real time and make sure that they were good.  Besides, it’d be a good way to keep myself awake between shots! :)

The moon really was red when it was fully in the Earth’s shadow.  It was pretty cool!

I was lucky that the clouds cooperated.  A couple of big cloud banks moved through while the moon was in full shadow, but they moved fast enough that I could pretty well keep to my 5 minute schedule.

I was also excited to hear two fun birds while I was out in the backyard.  I’m getting better at birding by ear, and although I can’t say for certain, I’m pretty sure I heard two new birds: American Woodcock and Chuck-will’s-widow.  Neat!  But they don’t make my life list until I photograph them!

So it was total photographer insanity to stay up so late and then go to work the next morning, but it was strangely exhilarating, too.  Boy did I sleep well last night!  I’m looking forward to the next eclipse…