After enjoying the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Bird Rookery, I looked for one closer to home and found the Gatorland Bird Rookery. Gatorland is of course known for its gators, but wild marsh birds regularly make their nests in the “alligator swamp” each spring. The alligators keep their natural predators away while the birds raise their young.
During the breeding season, Gatorland offers photographers and birders the opportunity to go into the park early to enjoy the birds in the good morning light, before the park fills with people. So Dyeyo and I went over at 7:30 to check it out.
The first bird we saw was this Great Egret, in full breeding plumage (look at the green on his face.) He was showing off his feathers and generally posing:
The cattle egrets were also in full breeding plumage. Usually just plain white birds, in breeding season their heads and necks get these pretty orange and pink hues to them.
This shot better shows the pink tones in the beak. This bird was nest-building, and he posed for me in between trips to his nest with fresh twigs.
There was a Great Egret nest in a tree right up next to the boardwalk, and these babies were in it. I think they were some of the most-photographed little birdies in the whole rookery, since even people with point-and-shoots had the focal length to get good pictures. It’s amazing that the birds feel comfortable with the babies being so close to the people, but all the cameras and pointing didn’t seem to bother the birds.
There are an increasing number of Double-Crested Cormorants that are making their nests in the Bird Rookery. Look at this guy perched in the tree with his webbed feet – it always amazes me to see these big ducks perched in the trees as if they were songbirds.
Their nests are high in the trees, and you can see straight in them if you climb to the second and third levels of the observation tower. It’s fun to be close enough to see their bright blue eyes.
This anhinga amused me for over ten minutes as he gathered twigs to carry to his nest. The anhingas are such pretty birds when the light catches the detail in their backs. As I watched this guy, I realized that there was an anhinga nest across the way that had little babies in it. They were so ugly that they were cute, with huge mouths that were very disproportionate to their bodies. I was disappointed that my pictures didn’t come out a little better.
A lot of the photographers at the rookeries focus on trying to get good pictures of birds in flight. I wasn’t particularly trying to do so, but when this Great Egret kept flying in front of me, he was just asking to be photographed, hehe.
All throughout the rookery, there were tri-colored herons and little blue herons sitting on their nests in the trees right next to the boardwalk. You could see their little green eggs when the birds stood up. In a few weeks, the rookery will be full of little chicks!
In the early hours, it seemed as if there were very few babies. All the birds seemed to be sitting on eggs that hadn’t yet hatched. But after around 9:00, the chicks started to wake up. They started poking their heads up over the edges of the nests and shrieking for their breakfasts. “Feed us, feed us! How about a nice bug?”
These chicks were a little bigger than the rest, and they were such funny little guys, poking their beaks into each others’ mouths, looking for food. They carried on for a long time and I got lots of good pictures – it was hard to choose my favorite.
Dyeyo and I walked around the back side of the rookery, and we saw this Wood Stork nest. At first we thought it was just the adults, but then we noticed a couple of little heads poking up. (We got better at picking out which nests had babies – they were the nests with all the loud fussing!) Unfortunately you can’t really see the chicks in the picture.
Even though we see anhingas all the time at Circle B, it’s still hard to resist taking pictures of their heads when they are in good light. There is so much detail.
I’ve often referred to wood storks as the “ugly birds”, and I think this close-up illustrates why!
As we left, this tri-colored heron was carrying on and showing off his wings. With his wings spread out, it’s easy to see why he’s called the tri-color heron.
The people at Gatorland say that the bird nesting is about three weeks late this year, as a result of the cold winter. So it’ll be fun to go back in a few weeks, and hopefully we’ll see more chicks. It’d be fun to take more baby pictures. :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Gatorland Rookery?
Check out my Gatorland Rookery page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!