Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Great white herons at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

with 53 comments

On the roof of a shelter at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on October 6th we saw a great white heron, Casmerodius albus. Half an hour later I got a lot closer to one that was unfortunately behind branches which had me struggling to aim through them for a clear shot. The busy background also fell short of ideal, but we photographers sometimes have to take things as they come to us. Now that I think about it, having my first and last initial come to me in the form of a heron’s neck isn’t so bad.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2019 at 4:33 AM

53 Responses

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  1. beautiful


    November 5, 2019 at 4:42 AM

  2. Excellent shot, my friend. I have always liked bird photography, but I cannot afford the lens.

    • My lens zooms to 400mm. People who specialize in bird pictures have even longer and heavier lenses.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2019 at 6:26 AM

  3. To be honest, I like the contrast in the second photo between background and bird. Darkening the busy tangle of growth emphasizes the bird in a pleasing way. It’s a tiny detail, but the green of the growth (especially to the left of the bird) and the green on its bill are almost perfectly matched, helping balance a contrast that could have been a little stark.

    Just for kicks, I went back and did a quick survey of birds I’ve photographed while they were perched on that shelter roof: great blue heron, grackle, snowy egret, great egret, Caracara, cormorant, vulture, black-bellied whistling duck. I wonder if there’s a sign-up sheet, or if it’s first come, first served?


    November 5, 2019 at 7:30 AM

    • That’s funny about the many birds you’ve documented on the shelter roof. With all that you’ve seen there, and will again, I understand why you didn’t mind not taking pictures during our visit.

      In the second picture, the big contrast in brightness between the bird’s dazzling white and everything else meant that the software rendered the background rather dark in comparison to the heron. I darkened the background some more to make it less distracting while still leaving plant forms visible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2019 at 7:54 AM

      • I revisited this entry for a reason you’ll find in my next post, and noticed for the first time that you called this a heron rather than an egret. It does get confusing, but Great Egret, it is. There is a Great White Heron (currently considered a form of the Great Blue Heron) that’s restricted to peninsular Florida and is rare north of there. Here’s a page that I’ve found useful several times.


        June 23, 2021 at 5:29 AM

        • I seem to remember that Tanja Britton called that to my attention, too, or maybe it was Shannon Westveer. What complicates the situation is that all egrets are herons:
          Still, I take your point that birders and other people customarily refer to this bird as the great white egret, so I’ll try to remember to use that name if I do any future posts about this species.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 23, 2021 at 6:24 AM

    • LOL That’s a great thought, Linda. I’ll bet I have a similar collection. Someone should hang a sign for them: ‘Free portraits. Just stand here and pose.’


      November 17, 2019 at 8:24 AM

  4. Do you know, with all the herons and egrets we are blessed with in this area, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one of these. It is breathtaking.


    November 5, 2019 at 7:30 AM

    • Even in Austin we have some of these. I’m surprised you’ve never seen any in your area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2019 at 8:17 AM

      • It is possible that some of the egrets I see are in fact white herons but I don’t think so. Egrets have a stance that is distinctly different from herons. It is surprising.
        Incidentally, I spoke with the steward of Illinois Beach State Park last night at a meeting. He told me that in the area where I was up to my knees a couple of weeks ago he was up to his chest a few days ago! He’s lived here all his life and he said that never in his 70 years has he seen it like this.


        November 5, 2019 at 9:24 PM

        • (See Tanja’s comment, below.) My understanding is that an egret is a type of heron:


          How strange about Illinois Beach State Park. I’m imagining the whole place under water.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 6, 2019 at 7:40 AM

          • You are imagining correctly. And the worrying thing is that the water has been there for months, not hours or days, and so I’m wondering how many species will be lost.


            November 6, 2019 at 7:42 AM

            • So is the hotel flooded, too?

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 6, 2019 at 7:44 AM

              • It sure is. When I was there they had pumps running already, and that was before the water rose to chest height. The camp ground is closed…it isn’t just that the Lake is extremely high, although it is, and the beach has been swallowed and the sand churned way. Also the water table is vey high, and so the flooding is everywhere in the park, not just at the edge of the river and lake.


                November 6, 2019 at 7:53 AM

                • Yikes!

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 6, 2019 at 8:00 AM

                • I know. The scientist in me is fascinated…the rest of me is wringing its hands.


                  November 6, 2019 at 8:01 AM

              • Have I mentioned that you can no longer walk the bog at Volo? There as well the water has risen, and the boardwalk is entirely under water.


                November 6, 2019 at 7:54 AM

                • No, this is the first I’ve heard of that. What a shame. Maybe visitors could go around in a rowboat.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 6, 2019 at 7:58 AM

                • Ha, that is a good idea. I know that the young man who used to monitor butterflies there did so from a canoe.


                  November 6, 2019 at 8:02 AM

  5. Photography can be at times very challenging. But your effort to get a good shot at the heron paid off, Steve. I like the S-shape of this beautiful bird.

    Peter Klopp

    November 5, 2019 at 8:14 AM

  6. Beautifully rendered to show the intricate detail of the plumage.

    Michael Scandling

    November 5, 2019 at 9:47 AM

    • As you’ll understand, getting a white in the second picture that retained details and wasn’t blown out anywhere took some doing, especially when I had to try to compensate for the changes that first jpeg and then WordPress would make to the image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2019 at 11:10 AM

  7. Steve, you’ve captured a true beauty.


    November 5, 2019 at 10:04 AM

  8. Great shots! I’ve never seen one of these. Upstate NY gets white egrets pretty commonly now, I guess they hear “snowy” and flap on up, but this heron is an impressive bird. And as someone with a chronically stiff neck, I really envy their flexibility.

    Robert Parker

    November 5, 2019 at 11:44 AM

    • Ah, but would you trade your chronic stiffness for a neck as long as this heron’s? What a sight that would be.

      You’re right that these birds in upstate New York would be both showy and snowy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2019 at 12:16 PM

  9. Such a beautiful bird, Steve. Just curious-why did you call it great white heron, instead of Great Egret?


    November 5, 2019 at 9:03 PM

    • Probably because, as little as I know about birds, I’d learned that egrets are herons. The Cornell page that I linked to does call it a great egret. I’ll always look to you and Shannon for what’s right when talking about birds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2019 at 7:32 AM

      • Best look to Shannon, Steve. Since I’m not a native English speaker, some bird names don’t actually carry a meaning for me-II have to learn every single one.
        As it is, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are in the same genus, which is not the case for some of the other herons and egrets.


        November 6, 2019 at 9:53 PM

        • I suspect you know a lot more English-language bird terminology than many native English speakers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 7, 2019 at 6:44 AM

  10. These birds are so elegant looking!!


    November 6, 2019 at 7:18 AM

    • That’s an appropriate way to describe them. The word is closely related to elect, meaning ‘chosen [from a group].’

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2019 at 7:35 AM

  11. An elegant bird by any other name would be as lovely! Both images are stunning, but I thought, ‘That looks just like the Great Egret that we have here in Ecuador…’ I barely remember the “Is it a heron or an egret” question, and I think that the Great White Herons have yellow legs and the Egrets have black ones… I checked my Costa Rica book (Skutch) but it doesn’t show the Gr. White Herons.

    An old window jumped off the track so I won’t be doing much research today – thankfully it’s not raining, and the ‘fixers’ will arrive tomorrow at 10. For now running errands then home and off line again

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 7, 2019 at 3:42 PM

    • As you said: That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Apparently most people call this bird a great egret, even if I used the more descriptive phrase great white heron. The article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Ecuador, which lists the birds of Ecuador, does indeed include Ardea alba, which is the older classification for what is now Casmerodius albus.

      Your use of the word fixer sent me back to the days when I used to move pieces of exposed photo paper from developer to stop bath to fixer to running water.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2019 at 3:54 PM

  12. I forgot to mention, your nature photos are stunning, which does not surprise me at all. One of my favorite ‘go to’ sites for South American bird ID is Nick Athana’s ‘www.antpitta.com’ —-

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 7, 2019 at 3:43 PM

    • Thanks for your vote of confidence. In the next post I’ll be featuring a critter whose English name comes from Spanish el lagarto.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2019 at 4:12 PM

  13. Most herons and egrets – especially this one – are so simple in color, that I don’t mind a busy background at all. It gives some context and contrast. Fantastic photographs!


    November 8, 2019 at 8:14 PM

    • Thanks, Lynn. The background might have bothered you more if it hadn’t been so dark. Contrast came in handy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2019 at 4:55 AM

  14. And re the identity – for the Latin name you give I would always say “Great egret.” We get Great egrets all the way up here once in a great while and I used to see them around NYC occasionally. I always thought there was a white morph of the Great Blue heron down in the southern FL, but I see it’s more complicated than that. https://www.sibleyguides.com/2007/11/great-white-heron-not-just-a-color-morph/


    November 8, 2019 at 8:24 PM

    • My reaction after reading that article was: like one of the birds, look what I waded into! It’s often much easier to photograph something than to figure out what it is. I’m grateful for any help I get from people who know more about these things than I ever will.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2019 at 5:01 AM

  15. Super shots Steve …🙂


    November 9, 2019 at 8:54 PM

  16. I love that you didn’t blow out his feathers by shooting slightly under-exposed.


    November 17, 2019 at 8:22 AM

    • One good thing about shooting in RAW format is the large leeway it allows in usable exposures. It’s rare that I blow out the highlights.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 17, 2019 at 9:21 AM

  17. […] the water’s edge; eventually, that bird’s photo appeared as an entry on Steve’s Portraits of Wildflowers […]

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