Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Be The King In The Rookery
Photographing one of nature’s greatest spectacles
Florida is a constant buzz each spring from the millions of wading birds that form large nesting colonies. The vast majority of these colonies can only be experienced through a 40x power scope. A handful can be experienced up close and personal, however, and one of the best colonies is in St. Augustine. The hundred-plus-year-old St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has a century-old swamp that Florida’s wading birds come to by the thousands to raise their next generation. A boardwalk takes you right through the swamp and up close for a photographic experience you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the world! This is a journey into a world that otherwise only a handful would ever experience.
The biology, the bird’s life story, is what we’re truly photographing. It’s only logical that in order to capture those great images, we understand what our subject is all about. In this case, it’s all about making and raising babies—baby wading birds.
We all know what an egg is; there’s not much mystery there. It requires only a photo or two to tell its story. It’s when those eggs hatch and life outside the egg begins that the photographic story really begins. This means timing is everything in photographing nesting wading birds. The month of May is generally the time to head to the park for nesting bird photography. The date varies every year, but a little homework will quickly determine when to visit.
Once in the presence of the nesting birds, what’s next? Scouting is the key. Check out as much of the nesting colony as you can (with camera in hand). You’re looking to see if, in a number of nests, you can find the entire nesting biology of one species. While you’re scouting, keep in mind that these baby birds are fed rocket fuel. They grow incredibly fast from the cute “baby bird” to the soon-to-be-adult bird. During your scouting, take into account the number of days you’ll be photographing the colony, the age classes of the chicks and the story you want to tell.
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