Thursday, March 17, 2011

Return to the Rookery: Part 2

Attention is drawn to the great white egret. The great white egret as well as its cousin the great blue heron are as much a symbol of wild Florida as the alligator. So often, the long necked bird shares center light with the ancient reptile in just about any Florida brochure or advertisement that includes the Everglades. We've seen so many photos of the egret standing upright gazing ahead, that we barely take a second look when we see the real thing. Seasonally monogamous, the great white egret is currently nesting. Courting has been going on at the rookery and soon, the results will be seen. For now, paired egrets tend to the nest, which may or may not have eggs yet. The male egret works hard throughout the day, continually flying away and coming back with a stick to offer its mate who waits patiently. Every once in awhile this ritual is interrupted with egret sex which lasts about 10 seconds. This is long enough to shoot several frames of the act. I did manage to capture a mating scene, but not as well as I would like. Last year, I captured a couple in the act and both the male and female were cleared of mangrove leaves and branches that all could be seen. This time, the female was hidden mostly. The rookery was full of great whites, mostly paired, but some seemingly alone. I focused on a couple that was in good position for photographing. One of the challenges with photographing this rookery is isolating one or two birds from all the others that surround them. The pelicans' large beak makes this even more difficult. Nevertheless, I found some birds that I could target with clean surroundings. I mentioned in the last post how calm the brown pelicans seem. To the contrary, the egrets are nervous and loud, which makes some of their behaviors easier to capture with the loud bird squacks that forewarn you something is about to happen. The male egret coming in with nesting sticks gives his mate and everyone else fair warning that he is about to land. The other thing that makes that particular behavior easy to capture is that they are on a very tight schedule and rarely waver from it. I can time their fly-ins with precision, they are that predictable. Such is nature. With these white birds, as with any white bird, care must be taken to not blow out the whites with too much exposure. Always shooting in manual mode, I use evaluative metering and find that with the mangroves and sky dominating the scene, I can stop down about 2/3 to get the white feathers exposed well. I tend to err a bit in the direction of overexposure with the intention of recovering some of the whites in post processing. This way, I can capture the scene with enough brightness to make the birds "pop". At times, the sun was veiled with thin clouds, enough to change the exposure by at least 2/3 stop. Here's one shot with the clouds. I had to do a little dodging on the bird feathers to lighten them a bit. I also visited the cormorant island behind the egret's area. Many of the young cormorants are no longer cared for by the adults and about a dozen of them were resting in the tree. Many still remain in the nests however. Here's one shot of a young cormorant that only a couple months ago was too small to leave the nest. I hope to be back to the rookery in April, and by then, babies should be there in number.

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