Up Close with a Reddish Egret
May 12, 2017 ~ Oh, boy! Finding and photographing Reddish Egrets is always fun. They are so unpredictable in their movements, darting here and there, plus their coloration is variable. Full grown adults in breeding colors are spectacular with a shaggy mane of russet colored feathers plus a two-toned bill. But, the younger birds have their own look with mottled slate blue and cinnamon plumage.
(Note: If you want to read about the white Reddish Egret see Dancing White Morphs).
We found several hunting in the shallow marsh ponds in Surfside recently. A strong wind and high tide has flooded areas usually dry and a lot of waders were taking full advantage of the situation.
This is the famous "shadowing" pose used by Reddish Egrets, and other waders such as Tri-colored Herons and even Snowy Egrets. It is thought it reduces glare on the water and helps the bird spot prey. I can testify it is a challenge for photographers since the bird's head and body are shaded and may be underexposed. Shooting in even, overcast light helps immensely with this pose.
In pursuit of prey, they will quickly change directions and are difficult to keep up with. I quickly realized had to remove my 1.4x teleconverter to get him all in the frame. He would often come so close it was impossible. Bill Maroldo quickly switched from his Nikon 600mm rig to using his Sony A99II with my Sony 70-400mm lens.
He was just that close.
This is what I was getting with the teleconverter on - a LOT of headless shots!
And, I want you to know the image above was very popular on the FB site Worst Bird Photographs Ever. It kills me to put up photos that aren't high quality, but... this is in perfect focus, the exposure is great, and there is that great splash trail. There is tension in the image and you have to admit... it tells a story!
I am not sure I have ever been this close to one actively hunting. Sometimes I just sat back and watched him. Tracking a bird at a distance is a skill, but following a big fast bird at 20 feet is no easy task. And he didn't seem to care at all that we were sitting on the bank staring at him. I keep saying "he" but we really have no idea. Could just as easily be "her" as they look the same.
All that active hunting paid off; he continually brought up small fish. I suppose they do eat larger prey, but I have only seen them pluck small fish from shallow water. Wikipedia says they will eat frogs, insects and crustaceans as well. I have certainly seen them eat shrimp.
This one is still young judging by the amount of brown in his feathers. He does has a respectable amount of shaggy russet head and chest feathers. The light gray wing feathers may be just part of the transition from juvenile to adult but could be that he is a hybrid of the dark and light morphs. They do interbreed; a dark and light morph generally produce dark offspring, but we have seen several dark morphs with a scattering of white feathers. The subject needs more research.
Once I ditched the teleconverter I could frame much better. The above photo is barely cropped as he was very close. We had a great time watching him hunt and adjusting for the light (clouds and then not so many clouds) and distance (close and then closer). Occasionally he would fly off and squawk at another Reddish that invaded his clear hunting area. They actually need a fair amount of open water for all that running about.
He was pretty far away here. He landed and ran after a full adult that he evidently didn't care for. Surprisingly, the image is fine without the teleconverter. I am wondering how much image quality is affected with the teleconverter. To be truthful, this is the first time I have shot a session without it.
Wow. I remember looking at this one on my LCD screen that day coming home and just hoping it was sharp all over. Those jpgs the camera makes on the fly to display on the back of your camera can be misleading. Almost anything looks good reduced to a few inches, but it can be difficult to tell if it is in focus all over. Thankfully, it looked good on the computer after I did my downloading. Now I wished I had gotten some of the other guy!
There were a couple of Great Egrets and some Tri-colored Herons in the same pond. And then, they edged away until all we had left to watch were the Willets.
We went by that same area about a week later and it was bone dry. Some of the marsh is tidal and some areas are only filled after heavy rains. It is an ever changing environment; you never know what you will find.
Have you ever photographed a Reddish Egret? Do you think my complaining of having too much lens for the bird is a First World Problem? And do you think we ever have enough gear? Let me know in the comments below.