A couple days ago, my mom and I woke early to go kayaking. I set my alarm for 5:15 and we were out the door an hour later. We pulled into Milton Landing just after sunrise to the song of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Mist still clung to the surface of the water as the sun had yet to rise high enough to burn it off. We slid into the river across the gelatinous mud and began to paddle downriver. The mudflats of the low tide shined blue in the early morning light and Ring-billed Gulls patrolled the banks and the sky. A Great Blue Heron stood sentry far ahead, a sillhouette against the rising sun. We paddled the first stretch and rounded the bend to see several Bufflehead but still no egrets as I had hoped. A Red-throated Loon surfaced ahead of me and quickly went back under. Scanning in every direction for almost a minute, I failed to see where it had resurfaced. Turning around, I finally spotted him far behind me. Around the next bend and again no egrets in the spot I had them the day before. Several pairs of Canada Geese in the distance honked their annoyance for some unknown reason. At least fifty Double-crested Cormorants worked the waters as a group in front of the bridge. As we approched they began to flush, flying towards us and past, brilliantly lit by the sun. Several flew at the right height to pass in front of a willow in full bloom and made for a beautiful photograph.
Double-crested Cormorant | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 800
Continuing on, we passed the park on the left and went under the Rt 93 bridge. Another Red-throated Loon surfaced nearby and there on the right was finally an egret. A lone Great Egret stood by the edge of the river with two Greater Yellowlegs by its side. As I began my approach, a Snowy Egret came gliding in and landed with the three other birds. Perfect! This is exactly what I wanted. Now all the birds had to do was stay there as I made my careful way towards them. The first step was getting the sun at my back and with that set I let the tide take me slowly towards them so the raising of my paddles would not scare them off. The birds stood their ground and made no sign of flushing. I was at the perfect distance and began to fire off shots of both egrets. The yellowlegs, being more wary, made their way farther down the muddy bank away from me. Both egrets were still for a while and I managed some very nice shots of them against the calm water in the early morning light. Eventually the Snowy Egret began to move about and I took a few shots of it striding through the water with yellow feet slightly exposed. The Great Egret began to hunt and to my surprise I nailed the classic shot of it striking into the water and coming up with a tiny fish. The breeding colors and plumes of these birds were spectacular to see so close. The lacey back plumes and orange-red lores of the Snowy Egret and the lime green lores of the Great were something I had wanted to see for a while but had never managed until now.
Snowy Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200
Great Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200
After this most successful endeavor, a male American Kestrel flying over the river was an added bonus. I picked it out from afar and a dive-bombing Red-winged Blackbird confirmed it as a small raptor before I was able to see the details. A Mute Swan back at the landing proved to be my first of that species there and a nice finish to the morning. The numerous Northern Rough-winged Swallows were building nests and the Black-crowned Night-Herons continue to be numerous in the gorge.