“You can observe a lot by just watching” – Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron “dance” on North Beach

Article and photos by Ed Konrad

If you were a baseball fan in the 1950s and 60s, you know about Yogi Berra, 18 time All Star catcher for the NY Yankees. Along with his baseball legacy, he was famous for his Yogi-isms…countless colloquial expressions that lacked logic, but after closer examination, could be quite meaningful. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” to name a few.

“You can observe a lot by just watching” is a favorite Yogi-ism of mine, and can be applied to many aspects in life, including birding and photography. On a North Beach walk last week, my first pass didn’t reveal any photo opportunities. Many shorebirds and seabirds are off breeding, either having migrated north or at local places like Deveaux Bank. But in the last tide pool, an hour before low tide, I came across a Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron doing their fascinating “dance”, one of my favorite bird behaviors to observe through the lens and photograph. I’ve included camera settings I use for bird photography later in article.

The “dance” of these wading birds is a beautiful and graceful feeding behavior, as they run through the tidal pool shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in the air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish. By using their wings as a “canopy”, they shade the water so small fish seek refuge from the sun and become better targets. As these birds move in rhythmic circular patterns, the movement becomes the “dance”. The Snowy, known for its yellow feet, is said to do its dance on golden slippers. The Tricolored Heron will hide its reflection by tucking beak and neck under one wing as it moves to strike a fish. Interspersed with the canopy dance, they use other creative fishing techniques, such as the more patient hunt and peck style, but then with stealth and speed as they strike their prey.

I slowly waded into the tide pool, and spent a 20 minutes by ”observing a lot by just watching” through my lens and clicking away. The Snowy and Tricolored mostly kept to their respective territories in the tidal pool. Occasionally the Tricolored would move into the Snowy’s space, with both harmony and some brief moments of conflict. The Snowy is known to be the most creative of all the wading birds with many fishing techniques, so maybe the Tricolored recognized this and moved in for some easy prey!

Here’s another dance partner to look for. Over the past six years, Aija and I have seen and photographed the Reddish Egret on North Beach and Beachwalker Park, from about late July through September. The Reddish has beautiful plumage, and is fascinating to watch doing the dance. When it arrives, look carefully to distinguish the Reddish from a Tricolored Heron. It will be medium size, with a slate blue body, and reddish head and neck with shaggy plumes. There will be no white on it’s belly. We’ve even observed a Reddish and Snowy doing the dance together in a tidal pool, and mimicking each other’s canopy behaviors and every move. Really! Look for the Reddish and you’ll be in for a real treat.

So, when taking a walk to the point at North Beach when it’s close to low tide, look into the tidal pools for a Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron, and later this summer the Reddish Egret. Take a few minutes to “observe a lot by just watching”!

Included are photos from my Snowy and Tricolored encounter, as well as the Reddish Egret from past years. If interested in viewing more of my photos, my Flickr site is https://www.flickr.com/photos/edkon/ Click on “Albums” on the home page and there is an Album for the many species that Aija has spotted, and I’ve photographed, on Seabrook Island. There are also Albums by species type, and our many birding and photography travels.

Speaking of photos, there are Seabrook Island photographers that read our SIB posts, and we’re always looking to share tips. So here are the settings I’ve learned to use in photographing birds. Certainly not the one way. But these work for me, and have been developed through the years via professional photographer classes and publications, and lots of practice.

I shoot with a Nikon D7100 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens. I usually shoot hand held, but will use a tripod at times for stationary subjects. Also have a second Nikon DSLR that I interchange Nikor 70-300mm and 18-55mm lenses. The settings below work also for point and shoot cameras often used by birders, like a Canon PowerShot or Panasonic Lumix. The vocabulary here is Nikon, but can be easily translated to Canon. And the settings also work great for me in photographing my grandchildren, either stationary or in action!

I try to keep it simple, so I can spend my time looking for and composing interesting photos through the lens vs. getting too deep into the camera’s sometimes overwhelming technology. I always shoot on Aperture Priority, as there isn’t time for me to set Manual as I’m observing the bird’s behaviors for good photos. The Aperture is set to wide open to maximize light on the bird, and create nice backgrounds. With Aperture Priority, the camera does the work for me on shutter speed.

In sun, I’ll stop down to minus .3 or .7 on Exposure Compensation. I vary autofocus settings between Single (AF-S) for stationary or Continuous (AF-C) for moving subjects. I find these give me more consistent sharper images than the Autofocus (AF-A) option. ISO usually stays at 400, and increased as needed for low light situations. White balance is always set on Cloudy, and I find this gives me consistent results for warmth and coolness without having to adjust in Lightroom

In Lightroom, I like to keep the photos as natural as possible, so just make some tweaks. I find if I haven’t done the right job in the field on composing an interesting photo through the lens, and on light, focus, and settings, it’s not worth spending time on a photo when I get home. And after a full day of looking for birds with Aija, and taking photos, I’m wiped out and it’s tedious to sit at my laptop into the night! I make minor adjustments on Highlights, Shadows/some fill light, add some Blacks for richness, a little Vibrance and Sharpening. I Synchronize these common settings to all photos in the file. Then crop, adjust exposure, and make minor adjustments to each image to get a photo pleasing to me.

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Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

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