I will never forget a chance experience.  We were looking for an adventure that would entertain 2 young children and decided to visit the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL.

We expected to see hundreds of alligators, but the sight of thousands of birds, nesting in the trees, sitting on their eggs, feeding their chicks and the general chaos of the rookery with the alligators “patrolling” under the trees was an unbelieveable thrill.

The birds choose to nest in the tall trees, knowing the alligators below will keep out the predators.

I suspected we had come upon a phenomenon when we spied the many photographers….These were not just tourists with point and shoot cameras or iphones.  These were photographers with large zoom lenses and tripods to steady their cameras.

“The birds in our rookery are completely wild.  We do not feed them or interact with them in any way.  They are free to come and go as they please,” from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s Native Swamp & Rookery brochure.

Daughter Elizabeth and I visited The Alligator Farm in February, but we were a little early for the nesting season.

I asked friend and creative partner, Steve Leimberg for help.

Steve Leimberg,, an accomplished wildlife photographer specializing in birds,  took these amazing photographs at The St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Three Chicks In A Nest

Three Chicks In Nest The Alligator Farm photo by Steve Leimberg

Confrontation- Roseate Spoonbill verses Two Snowy Egrets

Confrontation-Roseate Spoonbill vs Two Snowy Egrets photo by Steve Leimberg

Heron With Neck Turned

Heron With Neck Turned photo by Steve Leimberg,

Here’s Looking At You, Kid (Casablanca) or according to Steve,  Heron Looking At You.

Here's Looking At You photo by Steve Leimberg ,

Heron Portrait

Heron Portrait photo by Steve Leimberg,

Roseate Spoonbill in Bloom

Roseate Spoonbill in Bloom photo by Steve Leimberg,

Living on Amelia Island,  there is nothing better than a flock Roseate Spoonbills soaring over the marsh, their beautiful pink reflecting in the sunlight.

Roseate Spoonbill in Repose

Roseate Spoonbill in Repose Painting/photo by Steve Leimberg, Unseen


Gator photo by Steve Leimberg,

White Alligator Baby

White Alligator Baby photo by Steve Leimberg,

And one of my favorites, Three Amigos, White Alligator babies.  Albino gators.

Three Amigos- White Alligators photo by Steve Leimberg,

After attempting to capture the birds and alligators on my camera, I turned to Steve, the expert and asked for help.

Here are Steve’s pointers.  Enjoy and learn!

“You can get great shots of both “gators” and birds with ANY camera – even a cell phone (Obviously, if you have a better camera with longer lenses, you have an advantage – but it’s not so much about the camera or the lens as it is about the experience and the “eye” of the photographer.  To do wildlife photography – you need to know both your equipment and your subject).

The trick is to “BE THERE”!  There’s no bad day – there’s a prize winning image to be made on ANY day – and ANY TIME OF THE DAY.  But the best times are usually early in the morning and later in the afternoon – the color of the light is more beautiful – the shadows add depth to your picture –and there are generally fewer people and better access to your subjects.

Follow these “rules”:

  • Re-read (or Read) your camera manual before you go. You have to know the dials and buttons or you’ll be coming back with “so-so” results.
  • Hold your camera steady – or better yet brace it on a tripod or monopod or even with your elbows against the railing (and there are railings all over the place).  Bring the camera up to your eye, put your left hand under the barrel of the lens, and tuck your left arm into the center of your chest.  Place your feel apart comfortably – and squeeze (not push) the shutter button.
  • Pay very careful attention to what’s in the background (Is a tree sticking out behind a bird’s head) and if you don’t like what you see there, move until you do – or find another subject to shoot.
  • As much as possible, shoot “eye to eye.”  That eyeball contact brings you – and the viewer of your image – into a deeper connection with your subject.
  • Think about what you are shooting.  If it’s vertical (e.g. an egret), turn your camera vertically.  If it’s horizontal (e.g. you want to show how long an alligator is), shoot horizontally.
  • Be courteous and careful!  Be aware of the creatures in front of you, the people alongside of you, and the people behind you – and watch your equipment!  (Yes, cameras are stolen but more often, cameras on tripods are knocked over!)
  • Don’t be afraid to try different things and shoot a lot.  There’s always the delete key!
  • Typically, the best time to shoot birds and gators is when the sun is at your back!  Also, birds typically sit or take off in the direction of the wind.  So the very best condition is when the sun is at your back and the wind is also at your back.
  • Shooting a bird in flight:  You’ll need a higher shutter speed!  I suggest at least 1/800thof a second and I typically shoot birds in flight at 1,600 of a second or a 2,000th of a second.
  • Having fun – and getting a little better each time – will vastly improve your images.  And be sure to edit!  That means having the strength to delete (back home) the shots the aren’t your winners.

Please take a look at BIRDS and FLYING BIRDS and CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL on my website:

  Many of these were made at the incredible St. Augustine Alligator Farm – where I’ll be shooting again – very soon.”

Thank you to Steve Leimberg and his amazing photographs. Check out his website… to purchase fine art photographs of many subjects, birds, flowers, trees, Iceland…

If you are in the North Florida area, the Alligator Farm at nesting season is a phenonmenon…one you will love…

Come celebrate with me.  I’ll save you a seat at the table.

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