Last month, Donna and Jess convinced me to meet them at Gatorland for a morning shoot in Gatorland’s breeding marsh. While Gatorland is famous for their collection of alligators, they also have a very successful breeding marsh that the birds use each year during nesting season. Most breeding areas for wading birds are in areas that make it difficult to photograph them without a boat. Gatorland has a boardwalk that cuts through the marsh which makes it easy for photographers with big lenses and photographers with point and shoot cameras to get nice closeup images of wading birds in their beautiful breeding colors. The birds are used to having humans wander the boardwalk, so they are quite comfortable with carrying on about their daily routine while you watch from just a few feet away.
Gatorland’s breeding marsh hosts a healthy population of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Woodstorks, Roseate Spoonbills and other birds. The birds have different nesting times, so if you go in February, you are likely to see only the Great Egrets displaying and setting up nesting sites. As you move through the spring, the other birds begin their courtship rituals and building nests. By May, the Cattle Egrets are actively on nests which makes a visit anytime from February through June a good time to see courtship rituals, nesting, hatchings, chicks, chicks being fed, and finally chicks fledging from their nests and taking their first flights. Click the images to view larger.
Spring is a great time to photograph wading birds. Their hormones go into overdrive and they exhibit some beautiful colors and feather displays. The Snowy Egrets, like the one above, will get a deep red color around their eyes and their normally yellow feet turn a deep red as well. It’s also nice to photograph one while they go through their courtship rituals. The problem with photographing these birds in the rookery is all the sticks and shadows you have to deal with.
Every now and then, one of the Snowy Egrets will get curious and want to come over and see what all the fuss is about.
The Great Egret is the largest wading bird nesting in the rookery.
These three Great Egret chicks are about to get a meal from dad. They look a little ragged now, but soon they will be as beautiful as the one above.
As dad begins to cough up breakfast, all three chicks clamp down on his bill in order to get a morsel. Survival of the fittest!
Not only do the sticks and shadows provide obstacles for the photographer to overcome, the birds sometimes don’t put themselves on the right side of the light. But that just means the creative photographer uses the light available to create a nice backlit image.
It’s always nice to get an image of a Great Egret displaying. It isn’t always easy, but when one cooperates it’s a nice win for the photographer.
Cattle Egrets are always fun to photograph at the rookery with their colorful faces and spiked hairdo.
There are more than just white birds at the Gatorland breeding marsh. The Tricolored Herons are also plentiful and quite beautiful to photograph.
As I mentioned before, the nests are very close, so it is a treat to watch mom stand up and turn the eggs.
It had been a few years since I had visited Gatorland. I didn’t get an annual pass this year and this will likely be my only visit, but perhaps next year I’ll spring for a pass and make a few visits.