Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tricolor Heron Rookery

After several days of constant rain, thanks to tropical storm Andrea, we had a dry day and the chance to get on Biscayne Bay. With the tail end of the storm trailing north, the sky remained cloud covered before sunrise. We arrived at Deering launch site with this scene over Chicken Key.

After the sun rose into the clouds, the glassy calm waters of the bay went gray, not much different from the sky. Here is a shot of my friend Sandy, paddling his new canoe, which is my old Vagabond I sold him a couple weeks ago. I am still paddling a Vagabond, a newer version.

I paddled the 1.5 miles to the rookery, which I had not visited yet this year. The original rookery island where I first photographed the nesting cattle egrets was now inhabited by cormorants and anhingas, and in fact, the anhinga nests have increased in number since last year. Good for them! I spent the remainder of the time near the three little islands in the channel which are now teaming with cattle egrets and tricolor heron nests. Today, the tricolor herons took center stage.

As always, photographing the rookery is very challenging. The channel is deep, rendering my trusty stake-out pole useless. With only an anchor, I positioned myself on the side of the island that is normally backlit. The advantage of that side is that it is out of the channel and more isolated. With the cloud cover today, this was a good opportunity to use fill flash and not be concerned of the angle of the sun. Here is one flash shot of an adult cattle egret.

Quickly though, the clouds dissipated and the backlit side of the island was no longer ideal. I paddled to the opposite side, anchored and tried to set up for some shots of the baby tricolor herons. The wind had increased and I was exposed to it as it came from the south. With a long anchor line, current and wind, my boat moved around every which way. I would have to use my paddle to repeatedly get back into a good position where the boat would stay motionless long enough to get a few shots. The sun going in and out of the clouds made it even more challenging.

But I tried hard because there was so much activity and the birds were cooperating fairly well. In good light and in an open space, I captured a lone out-of-place reddish egret. What was this bird doing here among other species? After about an hour, a juvenile tricolored heron  swooped down next to the reddish egret and began bullying it. See the two photos below. After several seconds of fighting, the reddish egret flew off, no longer welcome at the rookery.

This little juvy tricolor was full of it. Soon after its encounter with the reddish egret, an adult tricolor landed and the little one was soon fighting the adult. It won its second battle, the adult flew away, not willing to put up with the juvenile antics.

Among some of the photo opportunities was one nest where a few tricolor heron nestlings were waiting patiently for mom to fly in and feed them. Here are a couple shots of those guys.

I was happy to see so much nest activity with dozens of fledglings and nestlings in the rookery islands. Seems the tricolor herons have increased in number since last year, providing opportunity to capture some of their activity. The day was magnificent as I soaked up the sun and paddled in calm waters. Not wanting it to end, I did not get off the water until noon, 5 1/2 hours of bliss. 

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