Sunday, July 12, 2009

A rare siting on Biscayne Bay

Two years ago on Chokoloskee Bay, I found a lone white pelican resting on the roseate spoonbill's oyster bar. It was July. White pelicans migrate from the north to south Florida in October. It's an incredible site to see huge flocks crossing the sky above as they come in for the winter season. Then in late March, they begin flying back north for nesting. Two years ago, the pelican I saw on Chokoloskee Bay was left behind for some reason. I photographed this large white bird, surrounded by the smaller and active roseates. The pelican seemed like it had seen better days. On one wing, a large patch of skin was exposed and its overall appearance was evidence of old age. Clearly, birds do get old and/or sick. In this bird's case, it would spend its final days alone. Above is a photo of the bird.

Fast forward to yesterday, July 11, 2009. I was paddling on Biscayne Bay toward the bird rookery. It was before 7 am but the sun was high in the sky, yet covered in a thin veil of clouds. About 500 feet or so away from the channel, I could see the bird rookery island and the shallow waters that surround it. There was a large figure in the water not far from the island. It was not a brown pelican, it was too light feathered. The sun was backlighting the figure so it was not clear. But I recognized the distinct size of a pelican and because it was not dark, I could only conclude it was a white pelican. Same situation as two years ago, a lone bird in the middle of summer in south Florida.

I paddled around the bird, keeping my distance as I headed toward better lighting. Eventually I came up about 150 feet from the bird and staked out. It became alert to my presence. I did not move closer and took some shots hoping to get enough detail to take a closer look at this bird on the computer. Within a few minutes it flew off to the other side of the channel. It was in the dLinkeep channel water and soon, a powerboat with loud occupants came through. The bird flew off and I never saw it again. In winter, I rarely see white pelicans on Biscayne Bay and the two times that I have seen them, they were small flocks flying overhead. So this was a rare siting, indeed.

By now, the outgoing tide had slacked and soon, several great white egrets were wading in the shallows near the boat channel. I attempted to get close to them, but wow, they were extremely shy. No closer than 500 feet and one by one, about 7 GWEs flew another 500 feet away. I tried it again but once I saw one fly off, I decided to leave them be. In this same area, I have come very close to GWEs. In fact once, a bird kept walked toward my boat with interest and was only a few feet away. With a 420mm prime lens, it was too close for my taste! But today, these birds were too wary and would not have it. So I moved on to the rookery island.

Cormorants were numerous along the boat channel and were flying to and fro. Despite the opportunities for high key shots (facing the direction of the sun), I decided to head to the island. Small sharks (1-3 ft in length) were feeding everywhere, their dorsal fins rippling the water. One got spooked by my boat about 10 feet away, got confused and shot toward the boat bumping it hard before heading in the opposite direction. It was low tide and there was a feeding frenzy going on under the surface of the water.

The bird island was alive as usual and seemed particularly loud today. I hung out for awhile before paddling over to some creeks about 1/4 mile north of the island. After some exploring, I headed back to the boat channel and stayed for 30 minutes or so. I was sitting in the deep waters watching for incoming cormorants when I heard a snorting sound to my right. I looked over to see a extremely large mammal (that would be a manatee) sticking its large snout out of the water about 5 feet from my boat. Curious to my presence, it began moving toward me as I started to focus the lens on it. As soon as it moved in my direction, I realized that I needed to make it stop right away. If there is one thing I am genuinely afraid of in these waters it is having a manatee the size of a hummer come up under my boat. Yes, I know of paddlers who have been flipped by these evil, oops, I mean gentle giants. I put the camera down and placed my paddle in the water. That was enough to divert the animal before it got under my boat. It dove deep leaving its back fin to flip just off my stern but not enough to make a splash. I saw it again as it headed out with the tide toward the busier section of the boat channel. A large powerboat was heading toward it. The manatee was quite obvious making waves and raising its nose out of the water, or so I thought. The boat proceeded toward it. Then it was on top of the manatee! I hear that manatees are fast and it is quite likely that it got cleared of the boat in plenty of time. But sometimes, they don't make it.

I was off the water by 11:30 am. After five hours on the water, I was hot and had enough sun to last me awhile. Summers on the bay, got to love it. No matter how often I come here, there is always something to bring back home with me. Here's a high key shot of a fisherman and his guide.

1 comment:

  1. Love this stuff. I may written before that I am a fourth generation south Floridian and my dad designed Bicayne National Monument for the NPS.
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