If you have ever had the good fortune of seeing a great egret you will likely remember the moment forever.
They are glorious birds with pure white feathers, yellow beaks and green facial patches which become very distinct during breeding season. Standing over a metre tall these members of the heron family feed on small fish and frogs which they stalk very slowly in shallow water. They return to Southern Ontario in the spring.
I find Hespeler Mill Pond on the north end of Cambridge, Ontario is a great place to observe them. This pond is really a widening of the Speed River and I often see ospreys, Caspian terns, blue herons and mergansers active on the water while waiting for great egrets to come close enough to get some shots. Like all wildlife photography it’s a game of patience. I can sometimes go hours without a shot. Always, though, I come away having learned something.
This past week I have been out there four times. I wasn’t certain I would see them this early in the year. Last year I had success in August when I would regularly see five or six of them foraging in the water along with a half dozen or so blue herons. Better yet, I found a spot where I could sit at water level and wait for one particular egret to arrive on schedule. My presence made not a bit of difference to its foraging.
Last Sunday there wasn’t a single egret to be seen. I put that down to just how busy the area was. I have never seen so many boats and canoes on the pond nor people walking along the trails. Everyone is anxious to get out to enjoy the fresh air now that the weather has improved. Monday was much better for my purposes as I was lucky enough to see a pair and watch them forage.
On my two most recent visits there was just one egret but it provided lots of opportunities for photos. It should be said that I always check the weather forecast before I head over there. Sunlight really brings out the details in the feathers while a cloudy day often results in dull pictures. I find it great practice and very similar to photographing snowy owls. You really have to pay attention to your exposure or else you risk blowing out all the details due to sunlight.
Although I prefer Hespeler Mill Pond I have seen egrets at various places along the Grand River usually where there are rapids or shallow water where they can spear their catch. I have learned that they will decide to change locations without warning and therefore I must anticipate their movement.
Now that I know these birds are back in Southern Ontario I will definitely be visiting frequently over the coming months. What a great way to spend a few hours?
Please stay well and enjoy nature.