Gorgeous Birds at Gatorland


My last Gatorland post focused on the Snowy Egret that I saw hatch, but I saw lots of other birds last Saturday morning also.  It was a cloudy morning, with a good chance of rain, so I didn’t want to drive for hours and then take a long walk with my Beast.  So I opted for Gatorland, which is closer to home and has rain shelter if required.  I was surprised to find that lots of other photographers had the same idea as me!  The rookery was packed.  There were several photo workshops going on, lots of long lenses, and after 10:00, tons of tourists.  But the clouds diffused the sun, letting us shoot much longer than usual.  Activity at the rookery has picked up considerably in the past two weeks.  When I was there with Debbie, the Great Egrets were the primary nesters.  Now the Snowies and Tricolored and especially the Cattle Egrets have moved in. My goal for the morning was a Cattle Egret in full breeding colors.  I got it!  (Now I want one in sunlight.  Photographers are so picky!)

Cattle Egret_Gatorland Rookery_201304132_copyrightJessYarnell
Cattle Egret in full breeding colors. Gatorland.

I was surprised to find Gray Catbirds everywhere.  They hopped onto the fenceposts of the boardwalk, not caring that I was just a few feet away.  Berries were ripe on some of the bushes and the catbirds love berries.  I suspect we had a small influx of them as they start migrating north.  I’ll have to tell my gray cat that his birds won’t be around much longer!

Gray Catbird.  Gatorland.
Gray Catbird. Gatorland.

Snowy Egrets were in all stages of breeding.  Some had bright red faces and lacy tails as they still look for the perfect mate.  Others were sitting patiently on eggs.  Still others had small chicks already.  That’s the fun part of a place like Gatorland.  You see all sorts of variety.  Set up your camera in one spot and just observe what happens in front of you.  You won’t get bored!

Many Tricoloreds were also in all stages of breeding.  This one delighted the photographers when he hopped to a near branch, with no distracting background elements, and displayed.  Look at that bright red eye!

Tricolored Heron looking for a mate.  Gatorland.
Tricolored Heron looking for a mate. Gatorland.

Some of the Great Egret chicks are getting pretty big.  Already bigger than the adult Snowy Egrets, the Great Egrets are some of the slowest to mature.  The teenagers still have wacky hairdos, and they still beg for food constantly.  The poor Great Egret parents get accosted when they arrive back at the nest.  Lucky for them they don’t have to feed the babies quite as often as they get bigger!

Great Egret juvenile.  Gatorland.
Great Egret juvenile. Gatorland.

As much as I love the adults and their breeding colors, my favorites have always been the babies.  Here’s another look at my Snowy Egret nest, this time featuring the two older babies.  Look at those yawns!  Life is tough when you’re a baby bird…

Snowy Egret chicks.  Gatorland.
Snowy Egret chicks. Gatorland.

One Tricolored nest was pretty well out in the open.  It was too close to focus with my Beast, so I added an extension tube.  Of course as soon as I set up, the silly babies went to sleep.  They slept and slept, and I stood watching and waiting.  They finally woke up, and gave a big yawn… :)

Tricolored Heron Yawn.  Gatorland.
Tricolored Heron Yawn. Gatorland.

It was by far my best morning at Gatorland this season.  I look forward to going back!  I hope the Cattle Egrets are still showing off when I do get back…

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!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!