My love for wildlife photography was born in the late 2000s, right there along with dozens — perhaps hundreds — of egrets and herons.
My first SLR digital camera, a Canon EOS Rebel iT3, was nothing fancy, but it came with an 18-55mm lens that got me a lot closer to my subjects than the point-and-shoot I carried with me on several overseas trips and daily bike rides around Lady’s Island. So one overcast Saturday afternoon in May 2009, when I had nothing better to do, I drove to a rookery I had noticed through the trees along a busy road.
I didn’t know much about birds or photography, but what I saw compelled me to learn more about both. I crept slowly through the tangle of branches into a low-lying wetland. I didn’t take much care to be quiet, however, since little could be heard over the incessant squawking of hatchlings and the adults in frenetic flight to keep them fed. I drew closer and was amazed to find more nesting birds than I had ever seen in one place. I was doubly thrilled to have a lens long enough to take pictures that didn’t require torturous cropping to showcase the subject matter.
The photos weren’t great, but they were the best I had ever taken. And the subject matter was beautiful. So improving my photography skills and learning more about birds became minor obsessions. Long story short, those hobbies led to the creation of the Untamed Lowcountry blog on The Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet website. I began roaming the Lowcountry with my wife, a lifelong nature-lover, looking for opportunities to photograph birds. I eventually upgraded my camera and lens. (They’re still consumer-grade, though. Camera equipment is expensive.)
Meanwhile, the place where this passion was whetted slowly grew drier and drier. Several springs ago, the egrets and herons I marveled did not return to nest. Perhaps it was several years of drought, encroaching predators or nearby construction. Birds can change nesting locations for a variety of reasons. Whatever the case, my rookery was inactive for several years.
So you can imagine my delight on a drive home earlier this year when I noticed several great egrets roosting in the wetland. Their number grew as the days passed. The rookery was active again, and this past Saturday — another overcast spring day when I had nothing else to do — my wife and I decided to check it out.
There were even more birds than I remembered from before. We spent two hours slowly circling the wetland and saw nesting great egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, tricolored herons and anhingas. A great blue heron and several little blue herons flew in for a look, although we didn’t see any on nests.
Then, a bonus sight: As I trained my camera on a snowy egret pecking at the water’s surface, I heard a something to my right rambling down the bank. An otter had stopped at the water’s edge, only the second time I have ever been close enough to one to take decent photographs of this little mammal.
The otter saw me and my wife, too. But rather than fleeing into the water, she stared at us a while, then began rooting around at the base of a large pine tree.
Then, she curled up and took a nap!
She stirred only when we did. We didn’t want to get closer and disturb her, but I slowly walked parallel to the water’s edge to get a view unobstructed by underbrush. She was roused briefly by a twig snapping beneath my heel or my camera shutter opening. Raising her head to take a look and a whiff, she would settle down again and go back to sleep. This went on for nearly a half hour, until finally she slinked into the water, beneath the duckweed, not to be spotted again.
My wife and I walked out of the woods, rekindled.