Sunday, May 3, 2009

A frustrating morning at Deering Estate

There is a bird rookery on Biscayne Bay that I have been photographing for over a year. It is between May and August when I spend time there, photographing the nesting cattle egrets, cormorants and a few other assorted birds (tricolor herons, green herons, little blue herons). I have a diary from the summer of 2008 that describes my discovery of this bird rookery on my website.

One of the frustrating things about this bird rookery is that I must paddle 2 miles to get to it, which in and of itself is not so bad. What makes it frustrating is that the Miami-Dade County parks system does not open the gate for the launch site until sunrise. And when it comes to local goverrnment, sunrise is loosely interpreted. So, by the time I get in my boat and paddle to the rookery, the sun is well over the horizon and the best lighting has past me by.

For this summer's exploration of the rookery, I got an idea after mulling over Google Earth and talking to various paddlers. I found that I could walk down to the people's dock on the Deering Estate before the gates open. There is a wide enough opening that I can squeeze my canoe through. The problem is, it's a long walk. To confront that issue, my partner made a canoe carrier on wheels for me with the idea that I could park at the Deering visitor center and go from there, towing my boat and cargo using the carrier.

This morning, we tried it out. Some of the best thought out plans do not work perfectly. I was so determined to find a way to get down to the dock that I completely overlooked the fact that the dock twists and turns before reaching the water for launching. I believe that it was made with the intention of allowing persons in wheelchairs to access a boat on the water. There are so many issues with the design of the dock concerning handicapped accessibility that I don't want to get into it. But all I will say right now is, what was MDC thinking?

My partner and I arrived at the Deering Estate parking lot well before sunrise and began loading our boats for the journey down to the dock, approximately 1/3 mile away. The intention was to roll each boat one at a time. This morning, the gate was wide open as two police cars were sitting near the dock. One officer was photographing the sunrise, the other was sitting in the patrol car, doing God knows what. Anyway, I rolled my canoe down to the dock first and quickly learned that any small deviation from a perfectly flat surface made it nearly impossible to move the wheels of the carrier. So with several adjustments along the way, I finally arrived with my boat and cargo at the dock. The sun was peeking over the horizon by now. At this point in the journey, the handicapped accessibility design confronted me head on. I would not be able to roll my boat to water as planned. Instead, I had to disconnect my boat from the carrier, remove all the cargo and hoist the canoe over my shoulders. I carried it around the twisting dock ramp until finally my boat rested on the edge of the dock. The water was about 6 inches lower than the dock, which is good. However, the dock designers left out a very important component, cleats for attaching your bow or stern lines.

Long story short, by the time we repeated the above with my partner's boat and we were both firmly in our canoes and in the water, the sun was well on its way to burning up the sky. I headed over to a small island in front of Deering Estate to capture some ibises and juvenile blue herons flying about as the sun cast its remaining golden morning light. I paddled the 1.6 miles to the rookery and spent some time photographing the nesting carrle egrets and occasional tricolor heron. The cormorants were in full force as well.

More on the rookery coming soon.