Our friend Herman took Dyeyo and me out on his little boat this morning to a rookery in Polk County. It was so amazing! Unlike the Gatorland Rookery and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery, this one is totally wild. There were hundreds of birds there, most of them sporting their breeding plumages. We saw Great Egrets, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Black-Crowned Night Herons, White Ibises, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Anhingas, and more.
I’ve enjoyed going to other rookeries in previous years, but I’ve never gone early enough to see many Great Egrets still in their mating and nest-building phase. They have such pretty bright green lores and lacy feather fringes.
There are a couple of Great Egret nests with less-than-week-old chicks in them, and more are expected to hatch everyday. You can find the nests with chicks very easily – just listen! The baby birds make repetitive (dare I say annoying) calls to their parents all day long…
The Wood Storks are busy building their nests, with some incubation already started. They are fun to watch as they gather the twigs for their nests. I observed a bird grabbing a twig of half his own size, wrestling with it to try to remove it from the tree. Other birds would pick up their twigs, drop them, pick them up again, drop them again…it was as if they knew that photographers were waiting for them to fly away with that twig!
As the sun came up I was able to get better and better flight shots. I usually shoot in AV mode, at my widest lens aperture. Today I dialed in between –2/3 and –1 EV exposure compensation, checking my LCD frequently to make sure I wasn’t overexposing. I used some fill flash this morning also, to try to fill in shadows in the bright sunlight.
There are several Brown Pelican nests in this rookery, and Herman says they are a few of only a handful of documented nests this far inland. Normally Brown Pelicans nest closer to the coast. They are repeat nesters at this rookery, though, and a new nest was under construction this morning. I guess word is spreading among the birds about this great nesting site!
We saw some brightly colored Brown Pelicans, like the one above, and then others that had more subdued coloring. I did some reading online tonight and saw that these softer-colored bird are the juveniles.
I had a lot of “keeper” flight shots of the Brown Pelicans from this morning. I couldn’t decide which ones I liked better. This one is cool because of the nesting material that the bird is bringing in. The really good photographable nest site is well-lit by the afternoon sun. Herman says he may have to plan an afternoon outing, and Dyeyo and I said we’d be happy to go along! I bet the baby pelicans are cute with their little pouches. :)
A bunch of Double-Crested Cormorants nest year-round at the rookery. If you look at the rookery location from Google Earth, you can see the trees stained white, and those are the trees where the Double-Crested Cormorants roost. One very brave Wood Stork stood underneath them, perhaps unaware of what surprises might drop from the nests above! This Double-Crested Cormorant was away from the main nesting area, sitting peacefully on a twig sticking up from the water. Herman edged the boat around to optimize the lighting angle and background for the bird.
A couple of Cattle Egrets have started to show up in the rookery. Most are not in breeding plumage yet, but this guy is well on his way to full color. I love the bright oranges and purples of these birds!
Dyeyo and I both enjoyed seeing all the Black-Crowned Night Herons, which aren’t a common bird in our experience. This one was in full breeding plumage. His bright blue lores (patch behind his bill) is really impressive in person. I’m not sure my pictures does this bird justice!
The Snowy Egrets have already started nesting. They seem to like to make their nests in the dead fronds that stick out from trunks of palm trees. I really like it when they puff up and show off all their lacy breeding feathers. This was a horizontal shot, but I cropped it vertical to minimize the distractions of the surrounding branches.
There is a single Great Blue Heron nest. Dyeyo and Herman caught these birds mating the other day. When the bird on the nest stands up, it’s a good sign that the other bird may fly in to “change the guard”. We waited for that today, and when it happened, I had my 400mm prime lens on and I was too close to get the good shots! It’s great when you’re in a place when a 400mm is too close! :-D
Anhingas nest at the rookery year-round too. I’d never noticed the bright black spot behind their beaks in their breeding plumage. I got a fun shot of an Anhinga flying right at me, but it wasn’t in great focus. This one is focused and shows off those bright breeding colors:
We were getting ready to leave, and Herman said, “But we haven’t gotten any great Roseate Spoonbill shots today.” So just as we left, a Spoonie came out to pose on a branch for us. How nice of him! The Spoonies appear to be nesting already, deep in the trees of the rookery. I wonder if these birds have any clue how pretty they are, or how much photographers would love to get a glimpse of those tiny pink babies? :)
So it was a totally awesome morning. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Herman!!!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Polk Rookery?
Check out my Polk 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!