Beyond the BackyardGatorland Rookery

Lots of Bad Hair Days at Gatorland’s Bird Rookery

Cattle Egrets were all over Gatorland’s Bird Rookery this morning.  It was very hot, and there were only a handful of photographers there for Early Entry.  (Did everybody go to visit the baby spoonbills at St. Augustine?)  So I had the place virtually to myself.  As always, the birds put on a great show.

There were baby Cattle Egrets all over the place.  There are all stages of nests; some mothers are still incubating, some babies looked like they had just hatched this morning, other babies are about a week old, and some are starting to branch-hop as they begin to fledge.

Baby Cattle Egret

Baby Cattle Egret

I was amused to watch two adjacent Cattle Egret nests.  One chick from one of the nests was starting to branch-hop, and the other chicks from the other nest seemed to take it as a territory invasion.  Much fussing ensued!  The branch-hopping baby ended up moving very tentatively back into his nest.  It was pretty funny.

Cattle Egret chicks

Cattle Egret chicks

Most of the Cattle Egret adults are in their post-breeding plumage, so I was surprised to see one pair still in full breeding plumage.  It’s fun to see their bright orange and purple colors.  It looked like they were constructing a nest.  I guess more babies are on the way!

Cattle Egret in Breeding Plumage

Cattle Egret in Breeding Plumage

The branch-hopping and fledging kings of the morning were without a doubt the Tricolored Herons.  They were all over the place!  They’re old enough to leave the nest, but too young to really fend for themselves, so they just spend their days sitting on tops of bushes, posing for photographers.  A couple of them decided to “post-hop” on the boardwalk.

Tricolored Heron Fledgling

Tricolored Heron Fledgling

I saw quite a few nests with tiny babies today, too.  The Tricolored Heron and Snowy Egret eggs continue to hatch, and mothers who look like they are still incubating at 7:30 AM stand up around 9:00 to stretch their legs, revealing tiny bundles of feathers underneath.  This nest of Snowy Egrets had great visibility, and I had fun trying to catch the babies in a good pose.

Snowy Egret nest

Snowy Egret nest

In the past few weeks, the far side of the rookery has been covered in juvenile Anhingas.  A typical nest has up to 7 chicks, and fledglings seemed to come out of nowhere as the babies grew up.   This week those bushes were almost Anhinga-free, and the trees above were full of fledgling birds.

Anhinga

Anhinga

I was pleased to get a decent picture of some baby Little Blue Herons.  These quiet birds hide their nests deep in the trees, and it’s hard to see the babies inside, much less photograph them.

Little Blue Heron babies

Little Blue Heron babies

I made a visit to my little Double-Crested Cormorant, who’s not so little anymore.  Actually at first I confused him with his mother, since they are now about the same size.  The juvenile was branch-hopping, and the tiny nest was vacant.  The way I could distinguish the juvenile from the mother was to look at the eyes – the mother’s eyes are a deep blue color, and the baby’s eyes are still black.  I wonder how long it will be before he flies away?

Double Crested Cormorant juvenile

Double Crested Cormorant juvenile

So as Rich looked over my pictures with me, we agreed that the babies are all cute, but they have one thing in common: they were all having bad hair days this morning!

Cattle Egret chick

Cattle Egret chick