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May 2011: Great Egret, Florida

"This great egret was making trips back and forth..."

From the Photographer...

Kent Mason

Photographing the rhythms of nature is my passion, which leads me to wondrous wild places where nature thrives. One of those places is the Florida coastal areas during the months of March and April where hundreds of thousands of birds come to breed, nest and raise their young.

This photograph is of a great egret in breeding plumage that is carrying nesting material back to a mate who in turn takes the stick and carefully places it along with many others to complete their nest.

This pair of great egrets was nesting on a small island covered with willow thicket, about fifty feet from the water's edge. Their nest is in a mixed rookery with other herons. The nest is a flat, loosely made platform of sticks where 3-4 pale blue-green eggs will be laid.

I took this photograph in mid-April, within an hour after daybreak. The early morning hours are full of activity as the birds feed, make their nest, breed and bring food to their young. This great egret was making trips back and forth with nesting material for its mate.

I followed the great egret as it flew across the water, panning my camera lens and shooting short bursts of 4 or 5 images when the bird filled the frame and the background looked uncluttered. This image was captured with a Canon 20D digital camera and a Canon F4 500mm lens, at 400 ISO and 1/3200 of a second at f4.

For me, exploring and photographing our natural world is an inspirational journey of renewal where I can create compelling images that can connect with the emotions of others and hopefully engage them in the preservation and conservation movement.

About Great Egrets

As depicted here, the great egret is a large white heron with a heavy yellow bill and black legs and feet. The green feathering between the eye and the bill indicates the breeding status of this majestic bird.

Note the long plumes that trail from its back and extend beyond the tail—these 40-50 plumes can be spread out like a fan in their breeding display. The nuptial plumes develop on the backs of both sexes during the breeding season and are highly valued by plume hunters. The populations of great egrets were greatly reduced by plume hunters in the late 1800s and early 1900s and great egrets became a rarity in the United States during this period. Conservation groups opposed the decimation of this species and laws were passed protecting them. Today they are common over most, but not all, of their original range.

Preservation of habitats where these majestic birds can feed and breed is key to their long-term survival. The Nature Conservancy, along with other conservation and like-minded groups, has protected thousands of acres of Florida coastal and wetland areas which in turn will go a long way to ensuring the long-term survival of this and other species.

Kent Mason is a landscape and nature photographer and a conservationist. He is currently creating a photographic environmental study of extraordinary wild places in the highlands of West Virginia. See more of his images at

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