A few minutes after photographing the amazing Saharan Dust Sunrise, a very nice lady pointed out the trio of Least Bittern babies in a nearby clump of grasses. They were so tiny! and cute! I could sit on the bank and watch them without bothering the birds. Seeing bitterns this small was very special, and I returned several times to check on them. I’ll share my favorite images of this special little family. :)
These were my first shots of the babies. I didn’t have my Beast with me that day since I’d been out for the landscape photography. I grabbed my 100-500 and was immediately captivated by these downy little fuzzballs. Even as babies, they were already acting like bitterns. Look at the concentration on these tiny faces!
I returned the next day, with the Beast, tripod, and teleconverters loaded onto my bike. I re-located the small family on the little island of cattails that protects the babies from most predators. At first, I didn’t see the babies. But as soon as Dad flew in with breakfast, the babies came scurrying from all corners of their little island.
After the parents left, the babies settled in among the reeds. It can be very boring to wait for your next meal!
One baby slowly climbed the cattails. His bright white downy feathers showed clearly in the cloudy soft morning light. He ventured higher and higher, then stopped as the fuzz of the cattail rained down on him. Nature’s camouflage is amazing – the bittern babies blend in perfectly with their cattail environment.
Down below, another baby crept stealthily in the reeds. He quietly stalked, honing his hunting skills that will serve him as an adult. After a few seconds, he stuck out his long neck and grabbed at the air. He caught himself a dragonfly for breakfast!
But it’s easier to beg for food from Mom. As soon as she flew in, the babies all threw themselves in the direction of her cattail. The babies eat the food that Mom regurgitates and places directly in their beaks. It’s a very animated process, and I’m not quite sure how it competes without someone losing an eye!
Look at the feet of the dad in this next shot. He flew in to meet two waiting babies at the edge of the reeds. He has one foot on a cattail and one foot just hanging in mid-air while he sticks his beak down his baby’s throat!
Before I left, the oldest baby seemed to have given himself some homework: Learning how to fish! At the base of the island, he hung on to a reed and stretched his long neck, observing the fish in the water below. He didn’t catch anything while I watched, but he sure seemed to be trying!
The babies were even cuter on Day 3. They grow so quickly! Dad flew in with breakfast a few minutes after I arrived. He stood on one of the tallest cattails and the babies came running out to him. The two biggest babies fought to get there first, and the smallest baby hung back, as if he didn’t want to fight with his siblings.
I think Mom and Dad notice the sibling rivalry, and they make a point of flying in to feed the little guy. Mom flew in later to deliver a special morsel…
One of the babies climbed to a high cattail and stood watching and waiting for a long while. It made for a perfect baby portrait.
It was hard to tear myself away from this special little family. As I walked away, I spotted one of the parents flying in the distance, and finally scored a decent Least Bittern flight shot. Several, in fact. I stitched them together to show the flight trajectory of the poor frazzled parents when they aren’t being accosted by their babies! :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Lake Apopka?
Check out my Lake Apopka 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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