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Stalking at Dusk

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. —Anais Nin

One of the birds I most enjoying watching in our wetlands and swamps is the Great Egret.  It’s hard not to be captivated by these creatures — the epitome of ethereal beauty, grace and strength, they wade, stalk and fly in our waters with balletic poise. They’re the largest egret in the Old World — thus the great of their title. In the New World however, Great Blue Herons win the size competition. I recently watched one lovely Great Egret hunting at dusk in our nearby Everglades preserve.

Great Egret Hunting in the Florida Everglades

Boasting brilliant all-white plumage, the feathers of the Great Egret are stunning, almost unreal; sadly, these beautiful birds were hunted mercilessly towards the end of the 19th century — nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers decimated by 95 percent. Their breeding plumage was especially prized, and their treasured feathers were used in hats across the globe. During the breeding season, the Great Egret displays long, elegant plumes on its back, which are used in courtship displays. During this time, the lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) also turns a vibrant green (see The Greening of The Great Egret).

Great Egret Wading in the Florida Everglades

But with conservation measures enacted, their numbers grew throughout the 20th century. While wetland habitat loss is once again threatening their existence, these birds have a high adaptability to human habitation. Of course, the loss of wetland ecosystems remains another issue altogether for other wildlife and flora….

In 1953 the Great Egret was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, the environmental organization formed to protect birds.

National Audubon Society Logo — The Great Egret in Flight (Courtesy of The National Audubon Society)

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stunning pictures. We have many egrets where I walk my dog – I feel lucky.

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I’m always captivated by these lovelies… I’ll sit and watch them for a good amount of time. Very calming!

      August 13, 2012
  2. Pam #

    Beautiful!

    August 13, 2012
    • They’re such amazing creatures…!

      August 13, 2012
  3. You’ve taken some amazing photographs!!
    Love the Great Egret!! I see them fairly often around the beach here, but never tire of watching their grace and beauty!

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks so very much!!

      I adore these guys — they’re thoroughly captivating. I spend lots of time just watching them; it’s very soothing to the soul. Their bright white gleaming against the swamp is magical. You’re lucky to be able to do the same!

      August 13, 2012
  4. Beautiful – Happy Monday:)

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much!! Hope you’re having a lovely beginning to the week…. 🙂

      August 13, 2012
  5. Love the first shot 🙂

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much — They are the best fishermen!

      August 13, 2012
  6. Interesting that you mention size and the use of Great in the common name. Size does seem to play a role in the very confusing and changing taxonomy for the family Ardeidae. Herons are larger (Great Blue Heron as you mention) and generally are of the genus Ardea and Egrets are smaller — genus Egretta. But the Great Egret or Great White Egret seems to be caught in the middle as even its genus is Ardea not Egretta. If egrets are the herons that have the aigrettes or tufted gauzy breeding back plumes….then the Great Egret is the largest of those. Sooo size matters!! 🙂 Taxonomy is supposed to unify science but like the species it tries to define, it evolves too.

    Gorgeous pictures of a beautiful Great Egret!! People are fascinated with the elegant white birds of the wetlands.

    August 13, 2012
    • You explain it very well, THANKS — and it’s odd how they’re caught in the middle like that, like you say… The classification changing throughout the years. They don’t know where to put these guys, do they?

      I love seeing their stark whiteness against the swamp / wetlands, especially as the sun sets… Pure magic. ♥

      August 13, 2012
  7. The second photo is just fabulous. What a fantastic, crisp capture with the reflection.

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks!! I adore the span… I’m always entranced with the strength and delicacy of these birds’ wings and feathers. Amazing creatures.

      August 14, 2012
  8. I love that second one, too! Just stunning.

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much!! I really do love when they span their wings — such a demonstration of the muscular strength, and simultaneous delicacy of the feathers. Amazing creatures…

      August 14, 2012
  9. Great photos of them!

    August 14, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I adore their wingspans — the simultaneous strength and delicacy of the musculature and feathers.

      August 14, 2012
  10. A beautiful bird and a great hunter. You can sense the poised, ready to strike tension of the Great Egret in your first photo. Watch out frog, or whatever was on the menu!

    August 14, 2012
    • They’re such amazing hunters…. Incredibly patient, and fierce. Those bills will stab with a ferocity that belies their graceful demeanor — and I’ve sat watching them for up to a half-hour as they’ve spied the same spot. I wish I had that patience… 🙂

      August 15, 2012
  11. Your photos of the egret are excellent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve returned home after photographing egrets only to discover that I’ve blown out all the highlights. DOH!!!

    August 15, 2012
    • Thank you! Their shocking plumage is definitely tough to photograph — I have a few of those images as well, heh!! But I have soooo many opportunities to practice on these guys, a few gotta come out decently every now and then. 🙂

      August 15, 2012
  12. I wonder what it would be like if people had necks like the one in that first photograph.

    In the second picture, the egret is so bright that the resulting photograph almost seems black and white. It’s great that you caught the bird at the moment of takeoff.

    Steve Schwartzman
    http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com

    August 15, 2012
    • Hah!! I think of ballet dancers when I see these guys sometimes… Some of the herons will actually choke to death in attempting to swallow critters to large for their delicate throats, though. Eyes too large for their stomachs!

      The timing was perfect for the second image (it’s actually the same bird)…. Late dusk. Background wetlands worked well to blend into the dusk lighting, creating that black and white image – you saw exactly what I was seeing. 🙂 Their plumage is such a brilliant white, it stands out even more starkly against our swamps…

      August 16, 2012
  13. This is one of my favorite birds, too. I like the way they appear to move in slow motion. ❤

    August 17, 2012
    • SO elegant, aren’t they? They stalk so slowly, then with lightning speed… They’re amazing predators!

      August 17, 2012
  14. aubrey #

    So beautiful! In California, we have Snowy Egrets – they are so small and light, they balance on patches of kelp in the middle of the ocean, waiting for the unfortunate fish.

    We’ll see them on the shore as well, mingling with seagulls, trying to gauge the tides, trying not to get their fabulous bright yellow feel wet.

    August 19, 2012
    • Ah yes! We also have the snowies, here… They’re gorgeous! I love them. The ARE very delicate things — and I love how you describe their fabulous fishing techniques, hee!

      August 20, 2012

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