Posts Tagged: Great Egret

Swimming, Perching, or Strolling at the Horicon Marsh

Killdeer at the Horicon Marsh


This fluffy adult Killdeer keeps watch on the rocks along the edge of the Horicon Marsh. Two juvenile Killdeer are nearby. You can see one hiding in the rocks behind the adult.

Juvenile Killdeer at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Killdeer

This juvenile Killdeer has not developed the red eye ring yet. The double dark neck bands are becoming visible.

Common Moorhen Chicks at the Horicon Marsh

Common Moorhen Chicks

These little black fluff balls with red beaks and crowns are Common Moorhen Chicks. Their parent stays nearby and occasionally holds up a wad of marsh vegetation for the chicks to munch on.

Common Moorhen with Chick at the Horicon Marsh

Common Moorhen with Chick

It also uses marsh vegetation to build a platform for its nest.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes tilt their heads back and call in between feeding. This was the only pair in the area.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

The Great Egret prefers to quietly stroll in the shallow water.

Tree Swallow at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Tree Swallow

This juvenile Tree Swallow prefers to perch higher. He hasn’t developed the bluish green upperparts and he has a partial breast band.

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon

Perching even higher is this juvenile Peregrine Falcon. Peregrine Falcons may reach speeds of up to 200 mph when swooping or diving for prey according to Chris Earley in Hawks and Owls of Eastern North America.

Whether swimming, perching, or strolling, the diversity of birds at the Horicon Marsh is amazing!

Sway for Prey

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

The Great Egret slowly swayed his neck back and forth as if remembering a song and having to move to the rhythm.  He was surveying the wildflower area for prey.  He needs to work on his moves since he was unsuccessful in retrieving  a tasty morsel for dinner.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

He soon moved on.  He had plenty of room to roam since it was a quiet evening for birds at the Horicon Marsh.

Bird Body Language

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

I’m not sure what this bird posture means.  He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.”  He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”

Great Egret Preening at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret Preening

He may just be stressed because he is molting.  He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.

Red-winged Blackbird at the Horcion Marsh

Red-winged Blackbird on Common Mullein

Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory.  They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory.  This may be the most abundant bird in North America.

Mallard at the Horicon Marsh

Male Mallard with Summer Plumage

The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.  He has his nonbreeding plumage.  He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.

Itchy Birds

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

Itchy birds are the norm this evening at the Horicon Marsh.  The heron family entertained with its avian antics.  Great Egrets are a part of the heron family.  They itched, stretched, and ate fish as they waded in the water along Highway 49.

Great Egrets at the Horicon Marsh

Call of the Wild

They have tremendous balance as they stand on a single skinny leg.

Great Egrets at the Horicon Marsh

Egrets have elegance,

Great Egrets at the Horicon Marsh

and fluffiness,

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

and comical agility,

Great Blue Heron at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

which is also shared by another member of the family, the Great Blue Heron.  These family members like to scratch because they have unique modified feathers on their chests that continually grow and fray.  These feathers disintegrate into a fine, white powder. Herons comb this powder down with their middle toes.  The powder helps to remove fish slime and other residue.

Great Blue Heron at the Horicon Marsh

It helps keep their plumage looking fabulous.

Sandhill Crane at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Crane

I have never seen a Sandhill Crane sitting down.  Usually, they like to stroll through the marsh or nearby fields.  Perhaps, he just had to sit down and enjoy the entertainment.


Pelicans and a Game of Chicken

American White Pelicans at the Horicon Marsh

American White Pelicans

A large flock of American White Pelicans swim and scoop up fish for breakfast at the Horicon Marsh on this warm Monday morning.  Grayish coloring on the head and neck is typical in the postbreeding adult.

Pelicans and Egrets at the Horicon Marsh

A Game of Chicken with Great Egrets

A nonverbal bird social dynamic was evident.  Two Great Egrets stood and watched as the flock of pelicans moved en masse toward them.  In the avian game of chicken, the egrets decided to take off.  When the game was played between the pelicans and a Great Blue Heron, the heron stood his ground.  The pelicans swam within several feet of him and the entire flock made a 180 degree turn.

American White Pelican at the Horicon Marsh

An American White Pelican Comes in for a Landing and Joins the Flock

Pelicans soared overhead in a coordinated aerial display.  Their wingspans can stretch over 9 and a half feet.

Female Hooded Merganser at the Horicon Marsh

Female Hooded Merganser

In contrast to the social pelicans, this petite female Hooded Merganser floated alone.  She only weighs about a pound.  Her nest would be in a tree cavity or nesting box.  Hooded Mergansers are usually done nesting in June.  The Hooded Merganser is the only Merganser restricted to North America.

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt

The Merganser didn’t have any little ones nearby, but the Black-necked Stilts are still raising their broods.  This juvenile had white-edged feathers in a scalloped pattern.  He enjoyed wading along the auto tour.

Black-necked Stilts at the Horicon Marsh

Black-necked Stilt Family

His parent kept a watchful eye while he enjoyed his outing with his sibling.

You never know what you will see on an outing at the Horicon Marsh.  If you have a Monday off, this is a relaxing place to spend it.

Manual Mode

Hornet's Nest at the Horicon Marsh

Hornet’s Nest

It is amazing to me that this papery swirl of a home is made from wood pulp and hornet spit.  How do hornets incorporate the leaves into it?  How many trips does it take to go from a tree to get a bit of wood, chew it while mixing it with saliva, and fly back to transform it into a nest?  I don’t know the answers to these questions but it is a work of art to be admired from afar.

Trumpeter Swan with Duck Friends at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swan with Ducks
f8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200

I worked entirely in manual mode with my camera today.  I purposely sought out white birds in the sun in hopes of conquering the overexposure problem.  I set the ISO at 200.  All of the shots I am sharing today are taken at 600 mm.  I set the aperture at various openings.  Shutter speed was adjusted until the arrow on the exposure level scale in the viewfinder was at zero.  After taking a shot, I pressed the “info” button on the back of the camera and looked at the histogram.  I tried to keep the color that was farthest to the right on the graph just to the left of the right margin of the histogram. I adjusted the shutter speed as needed to achieve this.  I was much happier with the results of the shots of white birds that I took today compared to shots taken previously.  There is more light and shadow and more detail is preserved in the feathers.

Trumpeter Swan with Duck

Trumpeter Swan with Duck
f8, 1/500 sec., ISO 200

Tweaking needed to be done depending on how much of the white bird filled the frame and whether there were dark birds nearby.  As long as the photo data stayed just to the left of the right margin (for JPEG), detail was preserved and I could adjust shadows in Photoshop Elements during post processing.  If data climbed up the right margin of the histogram, detail was lost.  It could not be recovered in post processing.  I’m guessing the swans were loosening aquatic plants and the ducks were benefiting from the swan’s efforts.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret
f8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200

Manual mode isn’t quite so intimidating now.  I’m excited to continue to play with and to learn how to improve my exposures even more.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret
f13, 1/400 sec., ISO 200

Overexposure Strategies

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret
f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 400

This ruggedly handsome Great Egret is adorned with his white breeding plumes cascading over his tail.  The plumes are present only in spring and early summer.  Both male and female egrets have them.  Once valued for use on hats, egrets were almost hunted to extinction.[1]  Great Egrets are aptly named since they are the largest egret.

It was a highlight to see this beautiful bird roosting in a tree today, but, as you can see, I blew the highlights.  Some of the white feathers are overexposed.  Once that happens, there is no getting the detail back in post processing.  What can I do to improve this photo?  Here are 6 strategies to deal with overexposure on white birds.

  1. I took this picture at 5:05 p.m. central time.  I could come later in the day, or earlier in the day, when the light is more golden and there is less contrast.  If the only time I have to shoot is in the middle of the day though, I’m still going to go out and take advantage of that.
  2. I could change my angle to the bird.  With the light behind me and on the front of the bird, it makes the bird look more flat and creates fewer shadows. Shadows add depth.  If I could change my position so the bird is lit from the side there would be more detail. I was stopped on the shoulder of Highway 49 and changing my position wasn’t an option.
  3. I was shooting JPEG images and using aperture-priority mode with my Canon 7D.  These are my typical choices.  I chose a 7.1 f-stop.  The lowest aperture my 150- 600 mm lens allows at 600 mm is f/6.3.  I wanted to keep the f-stop low to blur the background and make the bird stand out.  The lower the number the more wide open the aperture and the more light that is let in to the camera.  This decreases the depth of field so the bird is sharp but the background blurs. The camera set the shutter speed at 1/250.  I set the ISO to 400.  This setting let in too much light.  I have several choices if I want to stay in the aperture-priority mode.  If I increase the f-stop to f/16 to increase the depth of field, the camera will automatically change the shutter speed to compensate.  A change in one control causes an equal change in the number of stops in the other control. I would get the same amount of light.  The aperture is like the diameter of a garden hose.  The shutter speed is how long I turn the water on.  If I have a hose with a large diameter, I only have to turn the hose on a short time to water the garden.  If I decrease the diameter of the hose I am using, I have to turn the water on longer to get the same amount of water on the garden.  Either way, it’s the same amount of water (or light, in this case).  If changing the f-stop in this mode doesn’t help, what else can I do to change the exposure?  I can change the ISO.  ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light.  Sadly, changing the ISO in aperture-priority mode also causes the camera to change the shutter speed to compensate.  My garden is getting the same amount of water.
  4. The option to use, if I want to stay in aperture-priority mode, is the exposure compensation feature.  The scale for this feature is found in the lower bar in the viewfinder.  I have a dial control on the back of my camera that I can rotate until the arrow on the scale lines up at “0” indicating the exposure is correct.  In this case, I may have to adjust to -1 or -2 because the majority of the photo is darker trees and cattails (prior to my cropping it).  If the photo was mostly the white egret, then I may have to go to +1 or +2.  Exposure compensation only works with automatic exposure modes.
  5. I could leave the comfort zone of aperture-priority mode and enter the scary territory of manual mode.  Now I can set the large aperture I want, set the ISO, and change the shutter speed to a faster speed until the exposure scale is at 0.  That doesn’t seem too scary.  But how do I know the exposure is giving me the detail I want in my photo?  I can check the dreaded histogram.  Actually, that isn’t so frightening either.  I press the “playback” button, then the “info” button three times and the RGB histogram is displayed.  When shooting JPEG images, I want the color that is farthest to the right to be a half stop from the right margin of the graph.  In RAW, the color farthest to the right should touch the right margin of the graph without climbing up the margin. So I can take a shot, check the histogram, and adjust my shutter speed or ISO as needed.
  6. There is one last strategy.  I should turn on my highlight alert feature.  This is found in the menu.  Push the “menu” button.  Search for “highlight alert” and enable it.  Now when I view my images in the playback mode there will be blinking black areas where I overexposed the bird.

I am excited to try these strategies and stop overexposing the abundant white feathered birds at the Horicon Marsh.  I will let you know how the strategies work in a future post.

If you would like to read an excellent article about the manual exposure mode written by John and Barbara Gerlach you can find it here. You might also like their book Digital Wildlife Photography.  Their chapter on exposure strategies will give you more details and examples.

What strategies do you use to keep from overexposing your shots?  Join the discussion in the comments section.

[1] John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh:  Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA:  Stackpole Books, 1999), 200.

Covert Mom

Pied-billed Grebes at the Horicon Marsh

The constant peeping drew my attention.  These Pied-billed Grebe chicks seemed always hungry and never satisfied.  They never left Mom Grebe’s side.  Where she swam, they swam.

Pied-billed Grebes at the Horicon Marsh

She looks like she’s smiling, but after a while, their incessant cheeps drove her to the breaking point.  She dove underwater and resurfaced in an undisclosed location.  I couldn’t find her and neither could her chicks. The dazed chicks became silent and drifted in bewilderment.

I moved on and drove further down Highway 49.

Great Egret and Snowy Egret at the Horicon Marsh

How fortuitous that these two egrets crossed paths!  The larger one is a Great Egret.  His legs are black.  His bill is yellow.  The Snowy Egret is, obviously, smaller.  He has black legs with yellow feet and a dark bill.  There is a reddish orange area in front of the eye which is typical during breeding.[1]  There are a number of egrets on the south side of Highway 49 today.  I might not have noticed the Snowy Egret in the mix if he hadn’t posed next to a Great Egret.

Great Egret and Snowy Egret at the Horicon Marsh


[1] Donald and Lillian Stokes, Field Guide to Birds:  Eastern Region (Boston:  Little, Brown and Company, 1996), 35.