The third week in April is an important week for bird migration. Millions of neotropical passerines fly over Florida on their way north to their breeding grounds. It’s a great reason to visit one of my favorite places – Fort de Soto!
After a 4:30 wakeup and a long drive, I find myself in the line of cars waiting at the park entrance at sunrise. My first stop is North Beach. Sunrise time is 7:03. Winds are from the east. It’s going to be a good morning!
With the recent storms, tides, and ever-changing nature of the beach, I’d read that the wading ponds near the entrance were no longer there. So as I step onto North Beach, I am happy to find a line of photographers along a wading pool. That can only mean one thing: Big Red!
I have hundreds of images of Reddish Egrets fishing along this beach. But it never gets old. I join the row of photographers, sitting in the sand and watching the show. Then something happens that I wasn’t expecting…
Apparently Big Red has a girlfriend! A second Reddish Egret flies in, and the birds immediately start a courtship dance. The bird on our left thrusts his head high in the air, the bird on our right looks on in admiration, and both birds make low calls to each other. Love is in the air!
Now both egrets patrol the wading pond. I love to watch these birds stalk their prey. They dart around erratically, throwing their wings in the air to cast shadows on the water below. They spot their prey swimming below, then shove their faces into the water to come up with a fish.
I experiment with my camera’s articulating LCD screen. I usually shoot with my eye to the viewfinder, like a traditional DSLR, but that means I have to lie down in the sand to get a bird’s-eye view. So instead I try lowering the camera down to ground level, flipping the LCD screen so I can see it from a seated position, and hitting the shutter button when the action gets good. The technique showed promise but I need some practice!
I love the action at the wading pools. The Reddish Egrets aren’t the only subjects. A Great Egret, several Snowy Egrets, and a juvie Little Blue Heron all join in on the fun. Then I hear a barking call, and yes! it’s a Black Skimmer. He flies back and forth along the length of the pool, with the sun angle perfect for the gorgeous morning light. Everything but the brown background of the tidal pond is a photographer’s dream.
Reluctantly, I stand up after 15 minutes. There’s so much more beach to see. The landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years, and you can now walk past the roped-off nesting zone up to the far end of the sandbar. At low tide, you can wade across to a new sandbar island. There’s so much to explore! Come back next time to find out if these were my best Reddish Egret shots of the day… ;-)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Fort De Soto?
Check out my Fort De Soto 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!