Until this week my relationship with great white egrets was built on stealth and a telephoto lens. We weren’t close. But there I was, walking along the Carmel River State Beach, about 15 feet from the surf, when an egret landed almost at my feet. I froze, a camera hanging from my neck. We didn’t do much at first. I expected the egret to fly away—I’d seen hundreds of egrets walking on the edge of the surf, but never on the sand this far from the ocean. Finally, this tall and elegant bird started walking–I followed, staying about ten feet behind while I took some photos. It suddenly shrunk its body and took a meandering path towards the ocean, eventually stopping on a flat rock exposed by the low tide. After a few minutes it was joined by a sea gull. I got the impression that the gull figured the egret knew where to find a meal. But the egret started preening and the gull went about its business.
I waited for the egret to spread its wing and take flight, but it was content to stand there without making eye contact with me. I didn’t want to startle my friend for the selfish purpose of capturing a graceful departure over the ocean, so I left quietly. Ten minutes later I could barely see the egret through a 300mm lens—it hadn’t moved from the rock. Nice. I went home.