Eggs to Egrets

Craig Marsh shares his story and amazing photos of two young egrets born on Harbor Island, South Carolina.

This is a story about the start of life for two young egrets in the  Lowcountry. They were born on Harbor Island South Carolina. I named them Marlene and David.

I tell their story in a photo essay as a way to educate and entertain at the same time. Wading birds have daily rituals and trials just as we do.  They face many hardships and experience bountiful times as well.

Through my almost daily, and sometimes several-times-a-day observations, I have learned many things about Great Egrets and other wading birds that share the rookery with them. Marlene and David have somewhat different personalities and you will see Marlene is quite a character. She is very assertive and looks forward to becoming Queen, and considers David her underling.

In the beginning, there were four eggs in the nest but only three hatched. Marlene is the oldest with David two days behind, and their third sibling, Teddy, was born 10 days after that.  There is not much of a story to tell about Teddy because, sadly, he died on his second day of life.

Documenting the early lives of Marlene and David has been one of my very favorite experiences as a wildlife photographer.


Please use the arrows below to enjoy the slideshow and accompanying commentary provided Craig Marsh.

This is how it all begins, their beauty astounds me.
This is the first good shot of the chicks I have named Marlene and David. David was two days old and Marlene, behind David is four days old.
The chicks grow at an unbelievable rate. Mom is overjoyed to see dad who brought food for her and the children.
Mom takes a break while dad feeds the children.
Photo: The first chick to hatch is stronger and will normally dominate the brood. I sometimes could hardly believe what they swallowed without choking. Their extreme growth rate requires huge amounts of food.
Marlene seems to pose for her week old shot, they are beautiful!
Mom appears to be very proud of her lounging children. She is a very beautiful mother, I have named her April.
The last chick hatched died on its second day of life. The fourth egg did not hatch. Mom is looking at Teddy who died today.
Sadly mom removes Teddy from the nest.
The chicks constantly beg for food.
I thoroughly enjoy their playful moments.
Marlene sometimes refuses to show her best side when I am shooting.
On several occasions I heard them make unique soft sounds that seemed to indicate affection. They were sounds I heard only three times in all my hours of observation.
I am constantly amused by these two, observing them for long periods is something I look forward to each day.
Marlene and David like to play. She carried this stick up the nest limb to David. They played tug of war with it, this interaction was something very special to observe.
They get along fine until feeding time. The next photo was only minutes after this peaceful scene.
Mom has landed with food and Marlene is showing her dominance. David squeals at times when Marlene attacks him.
David ended up with a head wound after their last food fight. I am very concerned that the biting flies may prevent healing.
There are huge gators in the rookery. I hope Marlene and David survive.
The gators hide and wait in ambush.
David just fell in very near a young gator! My heart was pounding as he is trying to escape.
David jumps frantically to get away as the gator snapped at him.
He was very fortunate to escape becoming lunch for the gator.
Marlene’s splashing sounds could attract gators.
Marlene from a different angle.
Marlene has been practice flying for short distances. David appears to be overjoyed upon her return.
Marlene has started taking short flights across the rookery and hunting by herself. Anywhere she lands other close by birds are chased away. I am learning a lot through observation.
This is Marlene’s first flight out of the rookery.
Marlene is surveying a world she has never seen before. She sat in the top of this tree over an hour like a queen surveying new territory.
Marlene appears to have come of age today. She took three victory laps around the rookery before landing back on the nest limb. This was a special moment I felt honored to observe.
I noticed mom had a very close encounter with a predator as her right wing feathers are clipped. Marlene is out hunting on her own, David remains on the nest limb.
David has yet to try sustained flight, he flaps his wings a lot and seems to practice yoga. His head wound continues to heal, but serves to identify him.
I sometimes daydream about Marlene and David’s future. I envision them fishing in the surf.
My day dream sees David bringing sticks to help build a nest next year.
I daydream of Marlene with her chicks next year.
David has finally left the nest and is flying!!
David walked around Harbor for around a month in private yards hunting lizards. He became a local celebrity as many people saw him. He has since migrated to the marsh, I have seen him many times. We have watched Marlene and David transform from eggs to egrets in around ninety days. I can’t express the joy this project has given me!!

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