A couple miles from where I live, there is an egret rookery. Located as it is on a busy road near a collection of industrial buildings and down the street from a McDonald’s, many people don’t realize it’s there because they don’t bother to look up. But if you do look up at the right times of year, you will be rewarded by a tree full of Great Egrets – perhaps mating, or in feverish nest-building mode, or being harassed by hungry chicks. During the Egret months, it is a great pleasure to observe the rookery, even if it’s just a glance or two on my way to work or other engagement. Anyone who has ever watched a bird cam of any kind will tell you that to watch their lives unfold is to become hopelessly engaged in their triumphs and tragedies. Before long, many consider these birds family. I have witnessed, at the death of a bird, more outpouring of genuine grief than I sometimes have when hearing of a pet death, or even a human one. If it’s that way with cam watching, I imagine it is even more so when watching in real life.
I spent many hours last year standing beneath the rookery, or across the street, circling around it, angling for different views. For the most part, they seem to be indifferent to our comings and goings, but those of us who bother to pay attention are enamored of them. Of course, I was drawn there to photograph them. When you photograph birds, any situation that allows you closer to them is a welcome one, especially when you have a “lesser” lens, as I certainly did last year. Even with the proximity, though, I wasn’t overly satisfied with my results. But I was immensely satisfied with my growing knowledge of the birds, getting to know them as individuals, couples, and families; becoming familiar with their quirks, gestures, and squawks. Watching them is like watching a social microcosm, studying what it means to be alive and striving.
It is mid-January now, and I am trying to remember when I first saw them in the rookery last year. I know that eagles start nesting and mating in January, but so far I have not seen hide nor hair of an egret in the rookery. I want to say I am patient, but truth be told, patience is not my strong suit. I await the egrets with the anticipation of a parent who has not seen her children in six months. Whenever I approach the rookery, I am eagerly looking – in that tree, in neighboring trees, and then find myself wondering things. Like, when are they likely to return? Like, do egrets ever abandon rookeries? They had better not abandon this one! Will I recognize any of the former babies from last year? Do they come back to the same rookery, or do only adults return? I await them as I await a reunion with a best friend.
And then there’s the photography aspect of my anticipation. I have a newer, better, longer lens now – the Canon 100-400mm lens. Although I was pleased with the photos I was able to get with my old lens, I am looking forward to finding out what I can do with this one. I look forward to capturing my friends more up close, in more detail, with truer texture. While photography is an end in itself, so is developing a “relationship” with the birds. One does not depend upon the other, but they each make the other better and more enjoyable. I am putting up some of last year’s photos, and I dearly hope to keep you up on the doings of the rookery in the coming months, and to have new photos to compare to these. Just give them a click to see more detail.