After hearing about all the roosting roseate spoonbills at the St. Augustine Farm Bird Rookery, Dyeyo and I decided that it would be worth the three hour drive to go see the spoonbill nests.
When you first enter the rookery, you are on a boardwalk in between several large oak trees. In the tops of those trees, the wood storks have made their large nests. A little farther down, the great egret chicks are getting older, and they constantly dance around, begging for food. It’s only in a rookery like this that you can take mixed-species pictures like this one:
Dyeyo says he gets tired of the great egret chicks, and doesn’t find them particularly cute. But there’s something about their long beaks and mischievous antics that I really enjoy. It’s hard to get good photographs of them, though, because they don’t often sit still, and very rarely are they posed in a picturesque manner.
It’s clear that the St. Augustine rookery caretakers cut back branches in order to enhance nest visibility, which is much appreciated by the photographers. It’s funny to hear the tourists talking about “what’s with all these people with the huge fancy cameras?” when the photographers in turn are asking themselves, “why did these tourists come to just see the alligators?”
There were a bunch of really little tri-colored heron nests today. Some were easy to find (they were surrounded by photographers!) Others we found by listening to the cries of the babies. Dyeyo and I stood photographing this mother/baby pair for a long time, from many angles, and I really liked this result:
The mother was keeping the baby close, but Baby was determined to get some fresh air!
There were many roseate spoonbills roosting in the rookery. Supposedly there are at least three nests with eggs, but we couldn’t find them. One of the photographers with the really fancy lenses told me that the nests are far back and not easily photograph-able. Apparently these are the first spoonbills to nest in the rookery, and the birders are really excited.
The spoonbills tended to flock together, mostly in the trees halfway through the rookery. We saw quite a few pairs of birds, so maybe more nests are coming.
There was a set of trees with several tri-colored heron nests and several snowy egret nests. We spent a good portion of the morning going back and forth between the nests there, taking pictures of the babies while the mothers stood up briefly. (Of course, I’d often have just focused on the babies, when Mama would decide to sit back down!)
The above nest was hidden very well in some bushes. You had to step back a way and focus on one opening in order to peek in. The babies were fussing like crazy (which helped me find the nest). Every time Mama put her head down, the babies got all hopeful, thinking that they were going to be fed.
Below, these baby tri-colored herons were seen hatching from their eggs just this morning. When Dyeyo and I first saw them, one was still all gooey from his egg. Their mother was very protective and spend most of the morning sitting on them, but I did manage a couple of good pictures. Yay for fill flash.
In a nearby nest, this tri-colored heron chick was the biggest and most active in his nest. Eventually even he got tired, and rested his head on his mother’s leg.
The sun started to get high in the sky, and then more spoonbills moved in. It was hard to get decently exposed pictures of these pretty birds.
I had really wanted to get some good pictures of the snowy egret chicks – they are so cute! Around lunchtime, more and more little snowy heads were popping out of nests (nests we thought just had eggs, not babies). Most of the nests were not very visible, though, and I wasn’t getting any keeper pictures. Then as we went to leave, we saw this mother had finally stood up, and all four of her chicks were feeding.
It was fun to watch the babies swallow fish that were bigger than their own heads. I got one picture with the mother’s beak most of the way down a baby’s throat. Of all my shots, I think this is my favorite close-up of the babies.
So we had a great day, and I think Dyeyo agreed it was worth the drive. Overall, though, we decided that we liked the Gatorland Rookery better. While the St. Augustine rookery has more spoonbills and better nest visibility, the Gatorland rookery is bigger, has more species of babies, and has the distinct advantage of being closer to us.
Want to learn more about nature photography at Alligator Farm?
Check out my Alligator Farm 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!
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