I thought I'd post a write up with the shots below about one of my favorite methods for making photos of wading birds. This was written with a wide range of skill levels in mind so no offense to the seasoned shooters here.
I've long been a fan of ground level shooting. The Canon 500mm really shines when it comes to this technique. Many of my favorite shots were taken this way. I mount my camera and lens on my Wimberley and Skimmer ground pod, it's rock solid and allows movement with ease. Sometimes I push it along as I crawl closer to my subjects but on this morning I had a different plan. As always I got out where I needed to be at dawn to take advantage of the warm morning light. Rather than finding the birds I wanted to photograph and working my way toward them I set my sights on a nice, pleasing and well lit background and got down in the wet sand. The tide is a big factor for shooting wading birds. They feed most actively when the tide is down or on the rise since that's when the small bait fish are trapped in the tidal pools and easier to round up. The tide was right, the light was right and the angle was right but not a single bird in sight. I've done this countless times over the years and it's been productive far more times than not so I only needed to wait and be patient. It wasn't long before a group of Snowy Egret showed up and began feeding. They ran around grabbing fish and then scrambling to distance themselves from the others so not to have their catch stolen away. There's usually one aggressive bird in every group (the alpha) and is usually responsible for most of the bullying. I was busy shooting and for a while the group kept their eyes on me as my shutter clicked. Soon they worked their way closer to me. This is when it gets good and more challenging, the more they fill the frame the more challenging the compositions become, not to mention focusing on a fast moving medium-sized bird. Next came possibly the best part of ground level shooting. Five Snowy Egret were less than ten feet from where I was laying. At that point I can't attain focus with the 500mm so I switch to being in the moment and just enjoy the fact that I'm this close to these cool birds that would never allow this if I was standing on my feet. The closest encounter ever was when a young Tricolored Heron walked up next to me and I had to rotate my lens to one side to allow it to walk by, now that's close. I enjoy making photos this way, letting the birds come to me is effective most of the time, being in a prone position removes a great deal of the fear from the birds feeding, Some will stay their distance, especially if they're alone but when there are groups they almost always come close to my position eventually. Some days I walk and look for opportunities and photograph what I find, but sometimes I choose the canvas and let the birds do the painting.