Reddish Egrets are one of our rarest members of the heron family with an estimated 2000 nesting pairs in the United States. Like other members of its family, Reddish Egret numbers were decimated by plume hunters in the 1800s. Now protected, the current threat to these birds includes pollution and habitat loss. In Florida, where this photo was taken, these beautiful birds are listed as a species of special concern with currently only 400 nesting pair in the state.
This coastal resident feeds in shallow water and tidal pools. Hunting by sight, Reddish Egrets are known for their entertaining feeding behavior. They run, leap and zig zag through the shallows oftentimes raising their wings before abruptly stabbing at fish. This behavior, called Canopy Feeding by some, is what you see in some of the photos above and is what I had most hoped to photograph while at Merritt Island NWR.
With just a little bit of scouting, I was able to identify a hunting spot favored by several Reddish Egrets. Afternoons provided the best light for this particular location and typically there were several other photographers as well as numerous birdwatchers enjoying these egrets along with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis. The amount of traffic at Merritt Island NWR does have an advantage as much of the wildlife is acclimated to human presence. Vehicles make great photography blinds while birding but these guys were tolerant enough to allow me to set up on the ground at the edge of the pool and gain a better perspective.
This photo was taken with a Canon 1 Dx using a Canon EF 500mm f/4 L lens along with a Canon 1.4x III teleconverter. Shot settings were 1/1600 sec. exposure time at f/11 and ISO 640.