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The Rookery

Here in Louisiana we have all of the members of the Ardeidea and Threskiornithidae families native to the USA. A wading bird rookery is one of the best places to get shots of these birds because all of the birds are in one place. The birds choose trees or shrubs that are on islands or surrounded by water to help isolate their nests from predators. Alligators usually patrol the surrounding water protecting the nests from invaders and capitalizing on young that fall from the nest. Rookeries are generally historic nesting sites that the birds have been coming back to year after year. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets arrive in January, followed by Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons in March and April, and finally Roseate Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Ibis, and night herons start to show up as late as June.

My first chance to make it out to some rookeries was relatively late in the season. I got out in mid July, so it was mainly cattle egrets and spoonbills active on the nests, with the chicks approaching adolescent stages. The rookery was still very active and presented a lot of photographic opportunities. My rig for the shoot was the Tamron 70-300mm f5.6 and an old Vivitar manual 2x-3 MC Teleconverter. Some people advise against using a 2x teleconverter with a zoom lens, but even my manual Vivtar which reduces the Tamron 70-800 f5.6 down to f11 wide open, with proper technique, gives me acceptably sharp images. Can you tell which of the images in this post were taken with the teleconverter attached? (leave a comment below)
Things to consider when shooting with a teleconverter (especially manually and with a zoom lens)
1.  A tripod is useful to reduce camera vibration when shooting at such a long focal length.
2. I recommend testing your lens to find its sharpest aperture. A test chart is a good method, but a brick wall or anything with a lot of detail works well. Take shots with different apertures and then compare at 100% magnification.
3. A cable release is another good way to reduce camera vibration. Using the self timer on your camera can work, but you lose the ability to catch interesting spontaneous behavior.
4. Use live view to zoom in and achieve maximum focus.
Louisiana is a great place to photograph Roseate Spoonbills, known colloquially as the “cajun flamingo”, it is one of the only places in the country to photograph the species, along with Texas and Florida. Try moving your location to find pleasing, uncluttered backgrounds through the foliage around the nest sites.
While rookeries are great places to photograph wading birds, it is important to respect the biology taking place and the stress of the birds. Increased stress on the birds can cause them to leave their nests, exposing the young to predators and deathly exposure to the sun. If you notice the birds getting stressed and leaving the nests because of your presence, it is a sign that you are most likely to close and you should increase your distance from the rookery or retreat all together. This article addresses some of the negative consequences involved with nest disturbance.With the onslaught of the digital camera revolution and the growing ease and interest in nature photography, it has become apparent that many nature photographers will do anything it takes to get that “perfect shot”, no matter what the consequences. This type of increasing carelessness can have a very detrimental affect on the health and productivity of a species, especially during the breeding season. Remember these birds are also protected under The Migratory Bird Act which can result in hefty fines and jail time when ignored. If you are interested in photographing nesting birds it is a good idea to find a certified guide, or see if there is a local zoological center or bird sanctuary in your area that is open to photographers. At these places the birds are nearly tame and undisturbed by the human presence.
If your interested in photographing wildlife and nesting birds, we offer tours regularly and they can be customized on a case by case basis. Visit for more. Subscribe to the blog or sign up for our newsletter for updates! mtc…
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