Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My old nemesis: The Reddish Egret

I refer to the reddish egret as my nemesis only because it is one bird that has evaded me too often. I believe the reddish egret to be among the most popular and sought after wading birds to photograph. Why? It displays a crazy collection of running, jumping, weaving, head tilting, feather ruffling, wing spreading and so forth. All of this can be observed within a few seconds as this bird can be extremely hyperactive while it hunts small marine animals. Many photographers have captured very well the antics of this audacious wading bird, but not me.

In 2007, I purchased my first DSLR, Sony alpha100 and attached a relatively inexpensive telephoto lens (55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DT) to it. Two days following that purchase, I took a workshop from award winning bird photographer, Jack Rogers. We spent one of our two days at Fort DeSoto and it was here that I photographed my first reddish egret, a white morph. I was amazed at the bird's speed. Not having any experience with continuous focus and shooting more than 1 frame per second, I clumsily attempted to capture the action. Although the experience resulted in some average looking images (being totally intimidated by my camera, I shot in jpeg rather than RAW), I did not realize how privileged I was to have had that opportunity. I was close enough to the bird (along side a half dozen other photographer) that it required only 250mm of focal length to frame it. The bird offered full frontal wing spread and probably caught a fish every 10 seconds or so. Here are two images, unadulterated, out of the camera.

From that day on, I figured I would have more opportunities to capture this bird with all the following -  better camera equipment, cleaner surroundings, excellent lighting conditions and a full frontal wing spread. I was wrong (except for the better camera equipment). I can count on two hands the number of times I have been able to photograph the reddish egret from my canoe; a few times on Biscayne Bay and a few times on Florida Bay. And each time has been an exercise in futility. The dang bird is quick. It runs in and out of good light faster than you can hit the shutter button. It doesn't mind that the surroundings are messy, nor does it care if it spreads its wings facing the opposite direction to the camera. No, it just keeps dancing around, while I attempt to maneuver my boat while focusing on the bird. The excellent shot has eluded me.

The other day, I had a rare opportunity to photograph a reddish egret while I stood (eventually sat) on mud next to the water. I did not have to move as the bird was about 50-60 feet away and stayed within good range. But, once again, the light was not ideal as the bird was often shadowed as it continuously moved around. The strong wind was a negative factor making the water difficult to work with, and it appeared that the bird mostly faced into the wind when it spread its wings; so consequently it faced away from me much of the time. And it is just so fast!

It is not enough to simply snap, snap snap away as the bird does its thing. Rather, I want that catch light in its eye, I don't want to see shadows on the wings and I would love to see its prey in its beak before it consumes it. Oh yes, water action is good too, I want to capture as much of that as possible. The moral of the story is that the reddish egret is one beautiful bird, but to capture it beautifully is very difficult. Many have and I admire them for that. But, it takes practice, it takes getting to know the bird, and it requires you to not settle for less than optimal conditions.

A tribute to my nemesis, the reddish egret. I will hunt you down and one day...

No comments:

Post a Comment