Some friends convinced me to visit Gatorland in early April, and I’m really glad I went! I was a little burned out on rookery photography after the past few years, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the crowds on the boardwalk. But the birds were more than worth it. We had excellent opportunities with Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and especially the Cattle Egrets.
The Great Egrets are in all stages of breeding. I saw some several-week-old chicks, some recently-hatched nests, some mating, nest-building, and of course, lots of bright green lores and lacy plumes! I love the feathers on these birds in their breeding colors. It’s fun to try to get good preening shots, which aren’t as easy as they sound. You want the bird’s head parallel to the image plane. If only they would take direction from photographers! :)
This nest of Great Egret chicks was a lot of fun to photograph. The chicks weren’t more than a few days old. The little guys were hungry, and they wanted their mom to know all about it! Much head-bobbing ensued as they tried to get Mom to regurgitate a nice fish for them. (Rookery feeding habits are a little gross, but you get used to it!) With my 500mm lens and an extension tube, I was able to get great head shots of these little cuties.
A few nests down, a trio of slightly older chicks were being fed. You could tell that Mom was coughing up something good as the babies got more and more animated. They positioned their beaks right on top of Mom’s, trying to be the first to grab the fish as it came out of Mom’s mouth. The problem is, with three chicks in the nest, they haven’t figured out how to share very well! It’s a free-for-all as poor Mom just tries to keep from getting her eyes poked out.
Usually at the rookeries I focus most of my attention on the little chicks, but on this visit, I spent more time with the adults. The birds are in such pretty color right now. The Cattle Egrets moved into the rookery a little early this year, and they are busy building nests. Their peak bright pink and purple breeding colors last only for a few days. The bird above has not quite reached peak color, although his orange feathers are quite striking. The bird below is almost at peak color.
You don’t need a long lens to get great pictures at Gatorland, as many of the birds nest very close to the boardwalk. It’s not at all unusual to have a beautiful bird in great breeding colors jump down to the boardwalk right next to you. Keep a set of extension tubes in your pocket, and go! It’s fun!
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!