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Wading birds my photos, my words

I’m in areas year round where I can see wading birds. There’s Ohio’s “north coast,” the parks and wetlands along Lake Erie that we visit in spring to photograph migrating warblers. Central Ohio, where we spend our summer months, has numerous parks with lakes and ponds. And there are the swamp or wetland areas in Southwest Florida where we spend our winter months.

So my photo files include many shots of a variety of egrets, herons and other wading birds like limpkins, cranes, spoonbills and ibises.

Great Egret tossing a fish before eating, Slate Run Metro Park, Canal Winchester, Ohio.

One clarification up front: I mentioned I have a variety of shots of egrets and herons. Scientifically, that’s a redundant statement. Egrets belong to the heron family, but they have white plumage (not color like herons) and develop fine plumes during breeding season. According to numerous bird sites, egrets have the same build as other members of the heron family and are not a biologically distinct group.

A Little Blue Heron wades in water in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

Wading birds are much easier to photograph than the smaller bird species I usually chase. Size is part of it.

Unlike warblers and other birds I photograph, which may be six inches long or smaller, the wading birds I’ve photograph range from about 22 inches (like the Snowy Egret and the Night Heron) to about five feet tall (the Sandhill Crane).

A Green Heron stands above the water in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Fla.

Behavior is the other part. Many wading birds use the same hunting style. The bird will remain motionless for a long period of time as it watches fish swim nearby. When it makes a choice from the watery menu, the bird begins the almost imperceptible process of lowering its head before striking quickly to catch a fish.

It will hold the fish in its beak for a few minutes, occasionally tossing it in the air and re-catching it to position it before swallowing. Then it returns to the methodical hunt.

An Ibis looks back while perched in a tree in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

The challenge is getting a wading bird in an interesting pose with an attractive, uncluttered background.

An egret's (or heron’s) eye-beak coordination is incredible. A captured fish will wriggle, trying to escape, which makes it difficult to swallow. The bird will often toss the fish in the air several times, catching it in its beak in different positions until it gets the fish in the right position for swallowing.

A pair of Great Blue Herons share a nest in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

When people think of herons and egrets they visualize the tall, long-necked, graceful Great Blue Heron or Great Egret. But some of my favorite herons to photograph are the stocky, less graceful heron varieties like the Black-crowned Night Heron, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron or the Green Heron. Unlike their long-legged, long-necked cousins, these herons have shorter legs and are usually seen with their necks tucked into their bodies, which creates a hunchback appearance. These herons are often seen perched on fallen logs or low limbs above the water, watching for potential meals.

Some wading birds have different diets. Limpkins eat snails and, fortunately for the state of Florida, limpkins eat the varieties of invasive apple snails that are thriving in the Everglades region. The apple snails can grow as large as five inches across. Ibises will eat insects and can be found walking in groups across lawns and golf courses in Florida, picking insects out of the grass.

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Created By
Pat Hemlepp
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All photos and text © Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved.