Alligator Farm

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is an alligator zoo with a boardwalk into a wading bird rookery. The alligators rest below the bird nests, protecting the birds from predators like raccoons. The Alligator Farm caters to bird photographers, clipping tree branches so that visitors can look directly into bird nests. It's not unusual to see baby birds hatching! Roseate Spoonbills have started nesting here in the early 2010s.

Photography Advice

Long lenses and intermediate telephotos are both good here. A flash will provide useful fill light on cloudy days and for flight shots. Consider joining the Photography Program for early entry

Website

http://www.alligatorfarm.com/rookery.html

Alligator Farm Blog Archives

  • Roseate Spoonbills at the Alligator Farm

    Roseate Spoonbills at the Alligator Farm

    An early May visit to the Alligator Farm yielded lots of Roseate Spoonbills, including a very persistent juvenile on the nest with Mom!
  • A Morning at the Farm

    A Morning at the Farm

    After visiting with the Least Terns a week ago, Michael and I stopped by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to check out the rookery.  I can’t believe this is my first visit to a rookery this spring!  Last spring I practically lived in them. It’s prime nesting season at the rookery now.  The Great Egret chicks are pretty big.  Tiny Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets are beginning to hatch.  There are more Roseate Spoonbill nests than ever before.  Everywhere you look, there are birds! It’s fun to see how your photography changes over the years.  The first time I went to the rookery, I took hundreds of images, trying to capture every species I could find.  Several years later, I now spend a lot more time with each nest.  I look for opportunities to isolate my subjects and catch them in unique or interesting poses.  I also take way fewer pictures, hehe. I was of course required to take some pictures of the huge Galapagos tortoises for Rich.  He keeps giving me a hard time that there aren’t more turtles on this blog!
  • "Really Cool and Far Out"

    "Really Cool and Far Out"

    (Rich picked the title.  I hope you agree with him.) This is a Fractalized image of two Tricolored Heron babies taken last weekend at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  The nest was at waist-level and so close to the boardwalk that I had to add an extension tube to the Beast to be able to focus.  I love how these little babies look like they are having such bad hair days, and I knew the Fractalius filter would make their hairdos even wackier. 
  • Alligator Farm Winning Photo!!

    Alligator Farm Winning Photo!!

    I got some good news a few days ago…one of my pictures was selected as a winner in the St. Augustine Alligator Farm annual photo contest! I received a letter about a week ago, but they didn’t tell me at that time which was my winning photo (I submitted several). So I had to wait until they updated their webpage to see which picture won. I was a little surprised it wasn’t my Roseate Spoonbill in flight, one of my favorite shots ever. But the winning one was a different spoonie, a headshot that I worked really hard to get. I had envisioned this shot for several months, and each time I visited the rookery, I tried to find a juvenile spoonbill out in the open to get a nice head shot with a pretty green background. However, most of the nests were buried in trees, and the juvenile birds didn’t come out into the open very often. This shot was taken on my last visit to the rookery this spring, when Michael Libbe and I stopped by after a visit to the Fort Matanzas tern colony. I finally found a juvenile spoonie out in the open, but unfortunately, my …
  • Cloudy Morning at the Alligator Farm

    Cloudy Morning at the Alligator Farm

    After a sunrise with the Least Terns, Michael and I headed up to the Alligator Farm for another few hours of photographing.  For once I was happy that it was cloudy.  It kept the temperature cooler and let me take shots that are usually very backlit in the mornings. The rookery is definitely starting to wind down.  A lot of the birds have fledged, although there are still plenty of chicks and branch-hopping juveniles.  I’ve been watching a couple of Roseate Spoonbill nests over the spring, and a lot of those juveniles weren’t around today.  I guess they’ve moved on to bigger and better places.  I’ve been trying for a juvenile Spoonie headshot all season, but usually the fledglings are buried in a tree (smart birds – there’s shade in there!)  Today a fledgling was posing for us with just a little bit of sun peeking up behind him.  I used slightly stronger flash than usual.  I was ok with the result, but it’s not the picture that I envisioned… Michael and I must have spent half our time at the rookery watching this one nest of Tricolored Herons.  There was one tiny chick, so ugly that he was adorable.  …
  • Birds and Babies Everywhere at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

    Birds and Babies Everywhere at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

    I drove up to St. Augustine this morning to visit the St. Augustine Alligator farm rookery.  There are babies everywhere!  I didn’t spend much time on flight shots today, instead concentrating on making good images of babies.  It’s hard to do that, with all the sticks and branches and nesting material everywhere.  Next time I should try an extension tube to limit the depth of focus. I have a great time watching the baby birds learning how to be birds.  For the first few weeks, their entire world is their nest, and the highlight of the day is when Mom brings food.  The parents have such patience as they sit on the nest, enduring the constant screeching from their offspring.  The chicks are pretty good at letting their parents know when they are hungry… There is one Great Egret nest in the big oak tree, right at eye level with a not-too-cluttered background.  The babies had just woken up when I noticed them, then Dad flew in with breakfast.  Oh boy!  They wiggled just as hard as they could with excitement.  I had a bunch of nice shots from this sequence, but this one is my favorite (and doesn’t it …
  • Incredible Morning at the Alligator Farm Rookery

    Incredible Morning at the Alligator Farm Rookery

    I drove up to St. Augustine to spend my off-Friday at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm‘s bird rookery.  It’s right at peak season and the rookery, and the activity is awesome!  Some Great Egrets are still building nests, others have tiny babies, and still more have fledglings who know how to leave the nest but still haven’t figured out how to feed themselves.  Likewise, the Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons have all stages of nesting/babies/fledglings.  The Cattle Egrets are busy building nests and incubating.  Best of all, there was a set of three Roseate Spoonbill fledglings that amused me greatly with their begging for breakfast.  It’s a long drive to go to St. Augustine, but this rookery is so totally worth it!! I love the Cattle Egrets in their breeding colors, with their bright orange beaks and purple accents.  They are such fun to watch as they go through their courtship activities.  They stick together, sitting on the nest side-by-side.  There were lots of profile juxtaposition opportunities this morning, but I decided that I liked this single bird best: Cattle Egrets were constantly in the air as they searched for nesting material to bring back to their nests.  While I …
  • St. Augustine Alligator Farm…A Preview of Coming Distractions!

    St. Augustine Alligator Farm…A Preview of Coming Distractions!

    I spent the morning at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm photographing the baby birds at the rookery.  There are chicks of all kinds now, and the rookery is bursting with activity.  The baby birds are not altogether unlike humans.  For example, these two Snowy Egret chicks clearly weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on who should get to eat breakfast first… More pictures coming tomorrow!
  • First Trip of the Spring to the Alligator Farm Rookery

    First Trip of the Spring to the Alligator Farm Rookery

    I couldn’t take it any more…after seeing picture after picture on the new Alligator Farm Rookery blog, I had to make the trip up to St. Augustine! My best shot of the morning was this Roseate Spoonbill in flight.  He flew into the “sweet spot” of open sky with perfect sun, and the light glistening off his feathers made my jaw drop when I viewed the image in the camera.  I love the orange on his tail, too.  I’m wondering if that’s a breeding plumage change for them, because I don’t recall seeing it on birds in the wintertime… There were Spoonies all over the rookery this morning!  The big oak tree played host to at least 10 of them.  I think the spoonbills outnumbered the Wood Storks in that tree!  They slept and slept and slept…I was quite ready for them to wake up and stretch their wings for me.  Eventually the Wood Storks ran them off.  But not before I got this picture… Last year was the first year that the Roseate Spoonbills nested at the rookery.  This year there are already Spoonies on eggs, with more pairs obviously getting ready to nest.  I’m looking forward to getting …
  • Editing Experiment

    Editing Experiment

    I went to print one of my favorite rookery pictures from this spring, and it bothered me that the background clutter detracted so much from the portrait of the mother and baby Tricolored Heron.  I love the way the baby is peeking out from under Mama, but it was easy to miss him altogether in my original image. So I decided to break my “I don’t use Photoshop to significantly alter my images” rule.  All I did was soften the background, remove a few twigs from the nest, and crop it a bit.  The result draws your eye to the mother/baby pair with fewer distractions.  Here’s the result:
  • Baby Roseate Spoonbills at the Alligator Farm

    Baby Roseate Spoonbills at the Alligator Farm

    The St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s bird rookery had a record-breaking four Roseate Spoonbill nests this spring.  Two sets of chicks hatched a few weeks ago, but they are not visible from the boardwalk.   The other two nests hatched last weekend, and the little guys are so cute! Dyeyo and I watched and waited for the babies to wake up, and we were rewarded for our patience by getting to watch Mama feed the babies.  The nest is easy to see (in the mulberry bush by the spotting scope), but there are lots of branches in the way of a good photograph.  I liked this pose with the baby’s beak next to the mother’s. There’s another nest on the opposite side of the boardwalk.  The babies in that nest are smaller, and they don’t pop up as much.  I was happy to get this shot: A lot of the baby birds are fledglings now, wandering from their nests and posing at the tops of trees.  There were Tricolored Heron fledglings everywhere.  Dyeyo says the baby birds are more interesting, but the fledglings sure pose prettier! We saw a Snowy Egret nest with eggs, so the hatching isn’t quite over.  This …
  • Spoonbills and baby birds at St. Augustine Rookery

    Spoonbills and baby birds at St. Augustine Rookery

    After hearing about all the roosting roseate spoonbills at the St. Augustine Farm Bird Rookery, Dyeyo and I decided that it would be worth the three hour drive to go see the spoonbill nests. When you first enter the rookery, you are on a boardwalk in between several large oak trees.  In the tops of those trees, the wood storks have made their large nests.  A little farther down, the great egret chicks are getting older, and they constantly dance around, begging for food.  It’s only in a rookery like this that you can take mixed-species pictures like this one: Dyeyo says he gets tired of the great egret chicks, and doesn’t find them particularly cute.  But there’s something about their long beaks and mischievous antics that I really enjoy.  It’s hard to get good photographs of them, though, because they don’t often sit still, and very rarely are they posed in a picturesque manner. It’s clear that the St. Augustine rookery caretakers cut back branches in order to enhance nest visibility, which is much appreciated by the photographers.  It’s funny to hear the tourists talking about “what’s with all these people with the huge fancy cameras?” when the photographers …
  • Baby Birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Bird Rookery

    Baby Birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Bird Rookery

    I read about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in a photography magazine. It’s an alligator farm, but wild marsh birds regularly make their nests in the “alligator swamp” each spring. The alligators keep their natural predators away while they raise their young. So Rich and I drove up to St. Augustine to take some pictures…and found we weren’t the only ones who made the trip! There were some other birds at the zoo as well, much more colorful, but not as cute. Rich was overjoyed to see all the turtles that were at the Alligator Farm.  Maybe the drive was worth it. :) It is an alligator farm, so maybe I should include one picture of an alligator.