I ventured over to Gatorland in early April to see what sorts of snazzy breeding colors the birds were sporting. For those of you that use my blog to plan your Florida trips, the exact date was April 8. The rookery was filled with photographers and with beautiful birds. All the species were there: Great Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, Double-Crested Cormorants, and Cattle Egrets. I had been hoping for Cattle Egrets in breeding colors, and I got them! Actually all the species were engaged in wonderful breeding displays, even the Great Egrets, who as the earliest breeders already have nests with half-grown chicks.
This bird enchanted me all morning. Positioned high in the Brazilian Pepper bushes, he was still trying to attract a mate. He regularly puffed up all his lacy feathers and thrust his head to the heavens. All his antics didn’t seem to impress the birds around him, though. They were too busy grabbing branches to build their own nests.
This is a different bird. Many of the Great Egrets were past the peak breeding color phase, but this one was still showing off those bright green lores and the red eyeball.
The first Great Egret clutches are already getting pretty big. A few Great Egrets had tiny chicks in their nests. This nest was my favorite – three animated chicks who were begging Mom to regurgitate some breakfast. I loved how the biggest one stretched his wings in his insistence.
The Tricolored Heron adults were also sporting their breeding colors with those crazy hairstyles. Now I see where their babies get their crazy hair from! Of course, one of my favorite shots from the morning was not the typical rookery shot – it was a back-of-the-head shot of this same bird.
The Snowy Egrets were mostly on eggs, some with small chicks. I saw only this one Snowy Egret in full breeding colors. Look at the red on his face! He was showing off in front of a palm tree all morning lot.
But my favorite colors are those of the Cattle Egrets. Our common birds of the cow pastures burst into bright pinks and purples and oranges for just a few days as they attract a mate.
There were several pairs of Cattle Egrets who were in similar colors, all building nests and showing off for their mates. I put on my 2x teleconverter and enjoyed the opportunity for head shots.
As the morning went on, I pulled out my intermediate telephoto and did some flight shots. A Double-crested Cormorant was hunting for nest material, and he flew regularly between a tree and his nest. It’s nice when birds are so predictable!
I climbed the observation tower and found myself looking straight into a pair of Double-crested Cormorant nests. The cormorants were sporting the double crests that they are named for, which are only visible during breeding season.
My other good flight shot of the day was of this Great Egret. I loved the graceful spread of his wings and long stretch of his legs. I enhanced this image in Topaz Glow to emphasize the feathers. It’s cool how you can see both his eyes!
So that was my morning at Gatorland. It’s funny how when I first started bird photography, I mostly photographed the babies. Now I have a greater appreciation for the adults and their breeding rituals. Here’s a parting shot of a Cattle Egret with nesting material. Such a beautiful bird!
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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