A rookery is an area where the birds nest in a big group, with sometimes thousands of pairs nesting together. Rookeries are often a wildlife photographer’s paradise as the birds display vivid breeding colors along with elegant longer feathers. Best of all, the birds come and go to the same spots as they need to attend to their nest! A predictable place to find your favorite subject, what more to ask for? While Alafia Banks is the biggest rookery for Spoonbills in the state of Florida, there are two very successful rookeries in gator preservation theme parks: Gatorland in Orlando and Alligator Farm in St Augustine. I decided to pay a visit to Gatorland last weekend!
Snowy Egrets display stunning feathers during the breeding season. Their lore, bare skin surface around the eye, turns pink and they grow very elegant feathers that they flaunt during display. Note that the tough part of photographing in a rookery is to very carefully select subjects so that background are not too clustered! If possible chose a bird whose background is far away behind in order to maximize the blur behind 😉 Unfortunately, few people actually think about that. In the photograph above the subject is in the shade, while the background is lit up by the sun, giving a very vibrant image overall. Subject in the shade with background in the sun is one of my very favorite scenario!
Cattle Egrets have surprisingly very bright breeding colors! Note again that I chose an angle where there are no tree twigs flying left and right. Rookeries are chaotic places, where one need to pay very close attention to the layout in order to recognize good photography situations.
The Great White Egret above shows a very bright green color on its lore with red eyes. In a place like Gatorland there is no real need for a long lens as the birds are extremely tame and can be approached from very very close. However, you will still see me most of the time with my 600mm. Why? A longer lens yields stronger background blurs, helping to isolate the subject a lot better. Besides the fact that it is harder to use that type of lens in a confined environment, one needs to remember that the longer the lens, the narrower the depth of field. In order to get your entire subject in focus it is often necessary to decrease the aperture size by choosing f/13 instead of f/5.6 for instance.
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