Yesterday I decided to check out the Monkey Island rookery out in the Currituck Sound of North Carolina. I knew that it would be a little early to catch the action but I wanted to go a head and get an idea of what birds had arrived already and whether or not the great egrets had begun nest building yet.
Thus I embarked in my kayak for the roughly 8 mile round trip to the island. Starting out was like paddling through a dream. I honestly do not know if I have ever paddled on such still and calm waters. The wind yesterday morning was non existent – which rarely happens here (there is a reason that the Wright Brothers choose the Outer Banks to test their flying machine). To say the water was “slick as glass” is almost and understatement. I paddled the 4 miles through a perfect mirror reflection the world where the horizon line was imperceptible and the sky and earth melted into one.
Arriving at the Rookery, which at this point is still more of a roost than anything else, I went ahead and circumnavigated the island to see what birds were to be found and what the numbers where. At this point there are about a hundred great egrets beginning the first stages of nest building, and one couple that has already paired up. Snowy egrets flew in and out of the area several times, but they are still traveling in flocks and therefore I assume it will be a few more weeks before the hormones start to really kick in for that species here. There were also 4 pairs of Ospreys that were beginning to build nests as well.
Let me just say that when it comes to photographing egrets and herons, rookeries are my favorite places to work. The tired old photograph of the white bird standing in the blue water all by itself just doesn’t do it for me. I want action. I want interaction. I want behavior, flight, fights, courtship, nest building, babies in nests. . . Rookeries are the place to be for this sort of bird photography.
Considering that there still wasn’t a lot of action on the island yet, I decided to make the best of the situation I would try and work on unique portraits of birds as I waited for more to fly in and out. This is one of those photographs.
The light being somewhat on the harsh side allowed for me to expose for the highlights of the bird while dropping all the background details directly into deep shadow. Once I had an idea of the type of photograph I wanted to create with this bird and had my exposure dialed in, I simply waiting for the breeze to pick up. On the Outer Banks, the wind works like clockwork… calm in the morning, and then it picks up after noon. The wind in turn tossed the egrets nuptial breeding plumes, or aigrettes (which is the French word that egret is derived from in the first place), across the dark void of shadow.