Gatorland Rookery Great Egrets Put on a Show


I got out with my camera this morning for the first time since early December! It felt so good. I headed to the Gatorland Rookery in hopes of capturing some Great Egret nesting activity. The birds didn’t disappoint!

This morning was my first time taking the Beast to the Gatorland Rookery, and wow! It’s a whole new experience with a 500mm lens. With my 400mm lens I was pretty much constrained to photographing the birds that were right next to the boardwalk.  With my Beast and teleconverters I was able to shoot the farther-away birds, who were easier to isolate with pleasing backgrounds. I’m going to have to try a late Saturday afternoon trip one of these days, to spend some time with the nests that are backlit in the mornings. I saw lots of Wood Storks and Anhingas on the afternoon side of the pond. But on the morning side, today there were mostly Great Egrets. They are in their breeding colors now, with those beautiful green lores and bright red eyes.

There are a couple of Great Egret nests with chicks, and at least one nest with teenagers (those tall gangly babies that haven’t learned coordination yet!) This morning was still rather cold, so the adults stayed on top of the babies more than I wanted. There are still lots of Great Egret courtship and nesting behaviors going on, too. I love to watch the adults with their long breeding plumes all fanned out. Today there were several adults showing off their pretty plumes to prospective mates. They would sit there with their feathers all fanned out, then thrust their heads into the air. I had to take off my teleconverter to keep from chopping off the poor birds’ feet! :)

Each year my non-photographer friends ask me why I spend so much time at alligator zoos. They don’t know that the alligators actually protect the breeding birds from natural predators, like raccoons and possums. Sure, there’s the occasional mishap when a gator gets a bird, but overall the birds have a higher survivability rate with their friends the gators. I haven’t been to Gatorland in a few years, and it hasn’t changed much. I purchased the Photographer Pass that lets me get into the park at 7:30, during the good light hours, and before the boardwalk fills with tourists. I’m looking forward to heading back in a week or two. Next I want to photograph Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets in their full breeding colors!

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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