Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Egret and Chicks

Since several people have requested for me to discuss the stories behind making my pictures, here it is for Great Egret and Chicks.

Every year, many dozens of snowy egrets and black crowned night herons, and a handful of great egrets, come around the beginning of March to nest in the palm trees by the duck pond at Palo Alto Baylands (previously the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor). Usually the birds nest in the thick of the trees, where views and photography are blocked by palm fronds. This particular great egret nest was positioned so as to be more accessibly viewed than all the others, with only one frond blocking the nest from view. By standing back far enough, and getting up high enough, it was possible to achieve a mostly clear view of the nest behind the frond.

In early Summer of 2005, the mating pair of egrets which resided upon this nest, having already successfully raised one pair of chicks, had a second clutch of three chicks. By early July, the chicks were big enough to stick their heads above the nest, and mature enough to become more active toward their parents and each other. At this point, I came as often as I could, so as not to miss the spectacle. I'd get up early in the morning, put on my Kinesis pack with my 1,200 mm set-up inside (Canon EOS 1Ds Mark 2, with a Canon 600 mm f/4 IS L lens and a Canon 2x teleconverter), carry my eight foot tripod (Bogen 3051) in one hand and a large footstool in the other, and make the short trek to the nest. I'd set up as far back as I could, with the footstool right up against the eroding muddy edge where the land dropped off into the marsh, behind me. Then I'd extend my tripod to its tallest setting, and mount my camera and lens. Once set up, I'd stand on my tip-toes on the footstool, press my eye to the viewfinder, rest one arm along the top of the lens, and wait for the right moment.

For the right moment to happen, several factors had to come together. There was often morning fog, and – for the shot to work – first the morning fog had to burn off. This could happen anywhere from early morning to mid-afternoon. But, due to the direction of the clearing for viewing the nest, it was only possible to get the shots I sought before noon. After that, the nest was in shadow, with harsh backlighting streaking through the palm fronds. If the sun came out early enough, and the wind didn't sway the nest (or my giant lens) too much, then – in order to get the picture I sought – I'd also need the egrets to be active. Most of the time, the chicks napped, while one parent stood guard, and the other parent was out hunting and fishing. When one parent would come back from the hunt, the other would immediately take off; meanwhile, the chicks would wake up, demand food, and be fed (in a surprisingly brief instant).

When everything came together as I liked, I took this picture of the chicks demanding food from the newly arrived parent.

Thanks for visiting.

Great Egret and Chicks (Ardea alba), Palo Alto Baylands, California

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.


diggindigi said...

Amazing story & shot!

D. G. said...

Mike, this is so inspiring. You give all the technical data about your gear but also the time and setup involved. The photo is gorgeous, like something out of Audubon (the San Mateo Main Library has a copy of Birds of America on display). And waiting for them to pose! They are snoozing and grooming 98% of the time, I think.

Mike Spinak said...

I'm glad you both like it. :-)

I'll have to take Miss B. to the San Mateo Main Library, instead of the Redwood City library, next week, and take a look.


Keith said...

Great shot Mike. I also like that you mentioned you pressed down on the lens with a free hand to help stabilize the shot. Thanks for all of the info.

Mike Spinak said...

You're welcome, Keith.

If you liked hearing about pressing down on the lens to stabilize it, then you might also be interested in reading the 6 part series I posted in September about obtaining maximum sharpness:

Adam R. Paul said...

Egret photos are a dime a dozen, but this one is truly spectacular! How many days did you wait for conditions to be right?