Stalking the Mudflats and Shallows – Part 2

Large wading birds have broad appeal and a huge following. They have it all – visibility, beauty of form and color, wings spanning several feet in flight, etc. A sighting is an event, even more so when the species in question is uncommon to the area.

Such is the case with the Great Egret (Ardea alba) in Central New York. Its summer range is extensive, including the Mississippi River drainage and the east coast of the U.S., but typically does not include inland regions like ours. We’re not far from several large wetland and lake ecosystems, including Lake Ontario, so are more likely than most to see one of these lovely birds drifting through. 

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I had the good fortune to observe and photograph a lone Great Egret from a ground blind at a reasonable distance, on the same morning that I captured the Great Blue Herons that were featured in the previous post. These two posts represent one of my most rewarding – and challenging – photographic adventures to date. Needless to say, my head was, at times, spinning, as were my camera dials!

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The large size (about 3 feet tall), yellow beak and black legs are diagnostic.

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The feeding behavior of Great Egrets is much like that of Great Blue Herons. They stalk and spear a variety of food items, including small fish, frogs and aquatic invertebrates. The fully extended body that precedes a lunge is a beautiful sight and seems, like the routines of Olympic gymnasts, physically impossible!

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In addition to the Great Egret, there were three Great Blue Herons, a dozen or so Canada Geese on this site in close proximity to one another. I saw some antagonism between the egret and herons initially but, for the most part, they seemed tolerant of one another.

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Great Egrets were nearly exterminated in the late 19th century due to market hunting for their breeding plumage. Fortunately, they’re adaptable to a variety or wetland habitats, both saltwater and freshwater, and responded well to protection and conservation practices. That said, any species that relies on wetland habitats and some degree of seclusion from people and predators should be on our watch list. I for one have had my eyes opened in terms of the importance of a relatively small wetland site with a few pools and open mudflats. 20 or 30 wetland birds, perhaps a dozen species in all, frequent it daily at this time of year.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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11 thoughts on “Stalking the Mudflats and Shallows – Part 2

  1. Wonderful shots! We have many herons and egrets in our area near the coast, but these big birds are extremely skittish. Perhaps if we had some blinds, but I suspect the hunters would be (are) using them…. presumably to hunt ducks, but I’m sure they startle these shy creatures.

    • I hope you can find a way to photograph some of those birds because the combination of birds + coastal landscape could be breathtaking. I was fortunate in that the wetland was easily accessible, at least some of the birds were immature, and, most importantly, I was able to set up near their feeding and loafing site before they arrived. And of course there’s also dumb luck – I haven’t seen the egret again since I took the photos. I’ll be looking for your post!

  2. Great great egret shots, Nick! And applauding you for using a blond and setting up early! Excellent technique that I wish more photographers would use with wildlife.

  3. Some great captures there Nick, well done! The first egret on the log is my favorite. We have both egrets and herons here on Kiawah and they are actually so acclimated to people that we can get close without a blind. We’re quite spoiled actually! Enjoyed your post very much.

    • Thanks Tina. Glad you enjoyed the post. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a close encounter with something wild that is behaving naturally!? Your situation with the acclimated birds is interesting…a sign of the times to be sure. I don’t recall the exact wording, but I believe it was A. Leopold who said “the recreational value of wildlife is directly proportional to its wildness”. BTW, on a related topic: I left my favorite photo out of the post — there was a soda/beer can in the background. I’m a minimalist with respect to editing and don’t use powerful editing software. But in this case, I might have to call in a favor from a friend and have him make it go away via Photoshop. What would you do?

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