Monday, October 5, 2015

Post #39 - Interesting snowy egret behavior w/ PHOTOS! Plus herons doing cool stuff!

Two weeks ago I visited one of my "local" spots, Malibu Lagoon. I say "local" since there is zero true local birding where I live (see below). Anyway, on that particular visit, I spent quite a bit of time photographing Snowy Egrets. Beautiful, but sometime overlooked by birders seeking for rarer species, they are incredibly skilled fisherman. They generally hunt by stalking prey in shallow water, relying mainly on patience and lightning fast reflexes to catch prey that swims past them. All birders are familiar with a motionless Snowy Egret, a seemingly spring loaded-neck ready to extend the moment a fish approaches. It's basically industry standard for most waders.

I live at the red dot, smack in the middle of endless sprawl. 
Malibu is the small peninsula at upper left, 41 miles from home
The sprawl goes upwards of 50 miles in some directions.

On my last visit to the lagoon (Sept 20), I witnessed a foraging behavior that I had not before seen. On that day there seemed to be an ever-shifting throng of small fishes at water's surface. However, these fish consistently stayed well-clear of the shore and the half dozen hungry Snowies that lined it. Growing impatient, the birds took to the air to pursue the prey. Flying as slowly as possible, the egrets hovered above the water while they did their best to snatch fish from water's surface. The weren't truly hovering, more like awkwardly flapping as they tried to find a balance between directed forward flight and stalling completely. After a while I realized there was a periodicity to the behavior, and I set up shop to try to photograph it. Though not up to my normal technical standards, here is a series of shots of one bird that shows the behavior really well!

Target acquired

The plunge



Meal time

The shots above were taken once the sun was higher than ideal. I also managed a number of nice single shots from earlier the morning when the light was a bit better.

Snowy Egret fishing "on the wing"
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/6400 at f/7.1, ISO 400

Snowy Egret slowly cruising over water's surface in search of fish
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/6400 at f/7.1, ISO 400

Sprinting after prey in the shallows
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/6400 at f/7.1, ISO 400

Lastly, here is probably the most unique shot I got all morning. How this bird didn't end up in the drink I have no idea. Light was rough as it was late, but its still a keeper.

Here are two particular videos that showcase other clever foraging behaviors. Both are pretty amazing, so take the few minuets to check them out. You won't be disappointed!

Here a Green Heron used bread as bait to attract fish......

and a Black Egret creates shade to attract fish.

Hopefully you have a new appreciated for how clever waders can be. See if you can find a common bird doing something different next time you are in the field!

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