Some days are “so so”, some days are average, and some days are amazing. This is not the best time of year to photograph birds at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but July 14 was amazing. This photo of a feeding Snowy Egret was just one of many fine images from the morning. He stabbed at his prey and it came out of the water but not in his beak.
I’ve been to this refuge dozens of times and the shooting conditions vary widely. So I was pleasantly surprised to drive by a pond with dozens of egrets and terns involved in what could best be described as a feeding frenzy. I pulled over to the side of the road and started taking pictures. Lots of pictures. In one frame I counted over thirty birds and that frame included just a small portion of the pond.
There was so much activity going on you could point your camera most anywhere. The biggest problem was tracking one bird only to have another bird get in the way.
Before I knew it I had filled up three 8GB memory cards.
I was chatting later in the morning with Bruce, a local photographer who was photographing the same pond. (Meeting other nice photographers is a plus when you are out and about.) We both knew this kind of activity was very unusual and we were quite fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
I was back at the same pond the next morning. What a difference a day makes. There was not a single bird there. I happened to take photos both days with my iPhone. I did pick up a clue to the feeding frenzy the day before. As I sat looking at the birdless pond. Every once in a while I would see hundreds of tiny ripples, evidence of hundreds of some kind of tiny creatures swimming under the surface of the water. So where were the birds? Cloudy days aren’t usually good for finding feeding shorebirds. I drove the whole two mile length of Marshland Road and counted only three Canada geese, one Great Egret, one Snowy Egret, and one cormorant. That was it. Just six birds in the water and a few gulls flying overhead.
I came back again this morning July 16. The sun was out but the shorebirds were feeding elsewhere. The surface told the tale, no ripples on the water. The unusual circumstances that made July 14 so extraordinary were both special and rare.
Did the Snowy Egret in the photo at the top succeed in eating his meal?
Yes. The sequence of photos I took show his prey in his beak 0.2 seconds after the photo at the top of this article and then down the hatch.