During a recent trip to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, I witnessed an incredible mass wildlife event. Hundreds of great and snowy egrets gathered at the edge of a small stream, drawn there by a spawn of minnows. The egrets, seemingly unconcerned by the dozens of people gathered to watch the event, spent hours plucking minnows out of the water. And I spent hours photographing the event, trying to capture compelling images of the acrobatic and showy snowy egrets, which would fly over the water, stirring up the minnows with their talons, and then without warning would suddenly drop their head into the water and emerge with a tasty prize—all while still in mid-flight. The action was fast and furious, and although after several hours my neck was sore and my trigger finger bruised, I didn’t stop until the birds ran out of minnows to catch. Why? Because for every successful shot I got, I had hundreds of failures. The egrets moved so quick, it was almost impossible to successfully lock on with autofocus to capture the moment when they dived into the water. Almost.
The egrets would find a perch which served as a good vantage point to spot minnows, such as a branch sticking out of the water. When they saw some, they would suddenly spring into action, dragging their talons over the water to stir up the minnows, illustrated by the image below.
Finally, the decisive moment would occur! Without warning, the egret would pop its head underwater, emerging a split second later with a minnow in its beak. I must have taken several hundred photos just to get one sharp image.
Once catching a minnow this way, the egret must have felt pretty impressed with itself, as it proceeded to act as if it could walk on water. Oh wait, it is walking on water! It was fun to watch the egrets strut their stuff after a successful dive, and even more fun to actually get one successful image of this amusing behavior.
So the lesson here is that when you find something special, whether it is a unique wildlife event or a beautiful landscape scene bathed in killer light, keep shooting until the magic is over. Because you might never see it again!