Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Storms in Chokoloskee

I understand how Clyde Butcher capitalized on the Everglades skies with his camera. Especially with the summer storms, the cloud formations are monumental and breathtaking. When you are paddling on the waters, they can become overpowering. And they are unpredictable. Nevertheless, the fascination with them is that the clouds appear alive, and take on all kinds of dimensions and splay out in various directions with varying intensities that if you turn away for 10 seconds and look back again, you will see a very different image.

This past weekend was a Chokoloskee Bay weekend. High tide was about 7:30 am on Saturday, an hour later on Sunday. Certainly not ideal for wading bird photos but I thought I could find the roseate spoonbills somewhere in the mangrove shorelines or various islands near Chokoloskee Pass. The humidity didn't seem so bad in the early morning and even better, the bugs were not out enough to be thought of. This weekend, we would stay over one night capturing another morning on the bay. We were on the water before 7 am both days and at that time, the sky was nearly clear of clouds. Within an hour, thunder could be heard rumbling in the west on both days. From my location, I could not see the western horizon that was hidden by the high mangrove canopy, but the sky above gradually became darker and busier with cumulus clouds. Behind me was the morning sun without cloud cover.

I found the roseates as usual, and stayed with a batch of them for some time. The background sky against their powerful pink feathers was quite pleasing and I had the sun directly behind me for most of the birds. Unfortunately, they were not doing much of anything, and mostly had their spoonbills tucked away. Every once in awhile, one would become more alert and do some stretches or yawns, providing some interesting pose. As the western storm approached, the birds became more nervous. Soon, several of them would do a head stretch, straight up, like a bugle blower. Sounds were made, squacks that appeared to be some kind of warning perhaps. After a time of that, one by one they flew over me toward a distance mangrove shelter where they would hide the remainder of the day as the southwesterly storm blew through. There was some opportunity here to get some flight shots, head on with a beautiful background. But, still getting use to the zoom lens, I struggled to capture them well enough as they flew overhead quickly.

After the birds all disappeared, I put away the telephoto lens and got out the wide angle. A rainbow appeared on the edge of the storm that seemed to be moving northward but never directly on top of us. By now the outgoing tide was relatively strong in Chokoloskee Pass as the thunder became louder. I had yet to see any lightning so I wasn't too worried. I decided to capture several cloud photos as the tide moved me out. The clouds began to loom over me and appeared to be coming in darker and more boisterous. The lighting was marvelous with the sun still uncovered and brightening up the mangroves that were surrounded by dark clouds with magical formations. The winds were still relatively calm, so I was able to take several images with little problem. Lining up the shot can be challenging when mangrove shorelines are not perfectly perpendicular to the camera's lens. I will always take several shots from the approximate same angle with the hope that one will come out fine. Usually, a little straightening is all that is needed. Some shots are taken with the boat in the foreground, but IMO, it's very difficult to get the fullness of the sky AND the boat in the same photo. Plus, the boat often appears angled and doesn't blend well with the straight horizon.

Despite the heavy clouds and darkness, it never rained on Chokoloskee Island that day until about 7 pm. At that time, the edge of the storm passed over the island with a strong northly wind and torrential downpours. Within minutes, the winds clocked around until they were blowing from the south . We sat on the patio overlooking the bay and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. It rained the remainder of the night but we were awakened to yet another clear morning on the water.

A near perfect weekend in Chokoloskee Bay. I find that July and August are relatively interesting for photographing birds here, especially with the roseates. But the best time to come is on a low tide, this weekend was not that. Come September and October, the terns return in force and I have fun with them near the marina where they roost with the brown pelicans on the numerous pilings sticking out of the water. I anchor and sit with dozens of birds surrounding me. I can usually capture some other birds at low tide, ibises are common, there are yellowcrown nightherons and oystercatchers as well. We'll see what the next visit will bring, but there is always something to be photographed here. My paradise.

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