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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
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