Monday, November 12, 2012

I'm So Full Of Egret...

This past weekend I made a series of stops at some sweet waterfowl areas around Phoenix. The objective for the day was to see some male Hooded Mergansers, but that is a story for later this week. I've often found that when I set out with a specific goal in mind, I usually get lots of good stuff, even better stuff, on the side.

The partly cloudy, mostly chilly Saturday started off with an elegant Snowy Egret hunting before the sunrise at Papago Park, the first of several Egret encounters I had throughout the day.

This is not the first time I've been able to photograph a Snowy pretty close in the pre-dawn light. Of course, with little light there is little color and little feather detail to pickup in the photos, but as far as dark blue photography goes, I must say that the Snowy Egret is an excellent subject, especially because I always blow the whites with too much exposure in the full sunlight anyway.

I like how the curvature of the bird matches the outline of the rocks behind its head and neck here. Patience paid off for this silent assassin. Every minute or two it'd snap and swallow a little minnow. Alas, high shutter speeds and good light are essential for photographing those moments. Regardless, it's not too hard to appreciate the bird's aesthetic.

Snowies are exquisite birds, but they're not the biggest Egret on the block. My quest for Mergansers took me out to the lovely Fountain Hills Park in northeast Phoenix, and there, where everything is on a magnified scale, there are plenty of superlative Egrets on display.

"Great? Me?"

Like their smaller, snowier cousins, the Great Egrets sometimes prefer the shade too, especially when they need to get their...umm...affairs in order.

The Kayan people of Burma revere those who have very long necks. The women wear neck rings in increasing increments as they grow up, elongating their necks to the point where they can't support the weight of their heads without them. I bring all of this up only to wonder aloud, what might they think about Great Egrets? They've got it goin' on.

These lanky stalkers will stand poised and patient for minutes on end with their heads cocked back, ready to strike. While watching them at times, I even began to wonder if they were really hunting anything at all, or if they were just having a staring contest with their own reflection, and then SNAP!

Torsion, power, speed, and pinpoint precision...I wonder if that little fish's life flashed before its eyes? I suppose, if it did, one day would look much like any other. Egrets are of course not the only animal, bird, or even wader to feed with this quick-fire strike. But as delicate and dainty as these birds seem at times, all of the impressive muscle movements in their lunges are impossible to see with the naked eye, at least for someone with naked eyes like mine.

I enjoyed watching the Egrets hunt, and they enjoyed eating, so it was a win-win at Fountain Hills Park. They're not the biggest type of Heron nor the prettiest, but they're still pretty Great.

I came away with a lot of material on Saturday and I'll be trying to publish every three or four days. There will also be a longer compilation of the day's expedition over at Birding Is Fun on Thursday. Cheers!