Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The dazzling white bird with the long S-shaped neck

For the past several years I have visited the nesting great white egret in the Everglades. The bird conveniently nests amongst the brown pelican, which I wrote about in my previous blog. For this writing, the subject is the great white egret. The rookery consists of a several dozen nests (at best guess, there are nearly a hundred nests) When photographing these birds, I attempt to isolate one family (usually one adult and two chicks) from other birds in nearby nests. This is not easy as the nests are close together. But typically, I can identify two or three isolated nests and work with each of them.

For my last two visits to the rookery, I had my sites on a small area consisting of several families of egrets. This made it impossible to isolate one family from another. But it was stunning to watch the activity among the families as more than one feeding would go on at a time. I wanted to somehow capture the entire chaotic scene which might include at least two families. This meant that as many as six or more birds could make up the composition of the photo. 99% of the time, I must photograph a bird at my maximum focal length of 400mm to fill the frame in a meaningful way. But for these subjects, I needed to zoom out and was able to create several compositions at 300-330mm focal length.

Normally, I get away with an open aperture of f5.6. This works well with one bird and more than one bird if they are similar distances from the lens. To capture several birds in the trees, I needed to increase the depth of field; so I settled on f9.0. This seemed to work very well as all the birds appeared to be in focus.

Another challenge that comes with capturing the nesting birds is to make sense of the chaos that is the feeding scene. For long periods, I observe the young nestlings wait for a parent to come back with food. Their skinny long necks allow them to see above the mangrove canopy and they look so forlorn in their long wait for food. Then all of a sudden, an adult comes swooping in. Immediately the little birds begin thrusting their beaks violently upward toward the adult's beak and it becomes a flurry of activity as each chick attempts to grab the adult. Sharp beaks are pointing in every direction among the flapping wings and when attempting to photograph these scenes, I rifle off as many shots as I can. Upon inspection of each photo, I throw away those that could not be possibly identified as a young chick being fed by an adult. The photos that I keep are those that clearly show a feeding chick and perhaps some beautiful wing display. Eye catch and head angle are also important.

Enjoy these photos of the nesting egret families. Bon appetit petit oiseau.

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