Wading bird rookeries are without a doubt, one of the undisputed champions of springtime wildlife photography. Many of these communal breeding sites harbor mixed species and therefore not only provide you with a seemingly endless variety of photographic opportunities, but also a diversity of different species at the same time. From flights shots to nest building, courtship displays to feeding chicks, photographing rookeries is something you need to be doing RIGHT NOW!
In Florida, many of the rookeries are well known by photographers all across the country. Locations such as the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine and Gatorland in Orlando have reached nearly legendary status. Other locations, such as the spoonbill rookeries along the west coast of Florida are less known by those who live outside of Florida primarily because of the need for boats to access them.
Despite the fact that Florida is the undisputed king of wading bird photography, you do not necessarily need to find your way down to the sunshine state in order to take advantage of these epic springtime photography opportunities.
The National Audubon Society has for many years kept tabs on what they call Important Bird Areas (IBAs). For each state, both the national and the local chapter of the Audubon Society keeps lists of these key areas along with such information as what species are breeding there and the numbers of birds for each species.
The best way to get your hands on these lists is to simply do a Google search for Audubon your state IBA. Some Audubon Chapters have gone as far as creating user friendly websites with interactive features. Others have created eBooks that you can download. Other states where “birding” is far less prevalent tend to just keep basic lists on their websites that will remind you of little more than simple spreadsheet lists.
In North Carolina for instance, you can download an individual pdf file for each region. Here is the link to the Coast of North Carolina so you can see an example of how these IBAs tend to be put together.
In my book The Photographer’s Guide to the Outer Banks, I included a section on a little known, yet extremely important egret rookery in the Currituck Sound called Monkey Island. If you look up this location in the pdf link above, you will quickly learn that not only is this North Carolina’s most northern rookery, but it is also the MOST important egret rookery in the entire state! The listing goes on to give specifics on numbers and the percentage of the State’s population of that species that breeds there. So for instance under great egret, we find that as of the last census 751 breeding PAIRS (so 1,502 individuals) nested on this little island. This number makes up a full 36.4% of the entire population of North Carolina’s great egrets. Likewise, there were 332 pairs of little blue herons comprising 29.6% of the state’s population. Similar numbers are given for all the different species that live there. All totaled, we know that there are 1,327 PAIRS of nesting wading birds on this 14.8 acre island.
Let’s stop and consider the implications of this for a moment. The island is not even 15 acres in size. Yet on this small island there are well over a 2,654 (1,327 x 2) nesting egrets and herons piled up here. This is truly significant. This is the absolute mecca of wading birds for the state of North Carolina.
Just along the coast of North Carolina there are 98 Important Bird Areas listed and described in this pdf. 98 bird photography hot spots. I would wager that most bird photographers in North Carolina only know about 6 of these locations. This means that the vast majority of locations along the coast of North Carolina that could potentially offer truly epic photography opportunities are completely unknown and un-visited by photographers. Are your gears starting to turn yet?