Decided to head down to Flamingo yesterday to catch the early morning low tide and take advantage of the relatively "dry" conditions we've had lately. The difference is most noticeable on the car at 4:30 am when normally, moisture covers it like a blanket. Not this morning, it was as dry as can be in south Florida. This would be a hot day without the early storm clouds to scare us off the water.
We arrived at the marina at 6:45am, exactly at low tide. With mosquito jackets on, we loaded the boats and headed out. The bugs were not too bad, there was a slight wind to keep them at bay somewhat (about 10mph). I headed toward the mud flat that is southeast of the channel and directly west of the small island that sits about 500 ft from the marina entrance. The sun was already well above the mangrove canopy, but the sky was white with haze. It remained that way all morning with a few small clouds here and there. It was as if the sky was covered in parafilm, barely noticing any blues today. I later learned the haze was the result of the African dust; imagine that.
I approached the flat and pulled out my retractable paddle that I use to push through the mud in about 1 in of water. A lone white ibis and reddish egret were present. The egret was on the other side of the flat, well away from me. The ibis was closer so I lined up to get some shots of it. In the meantime, several plovers (or sandpipers) and a few dowitchers were foraging about. I noticed the dowitchers digging up some marine edibles. I wasn't sure what they were catching until I looked at the photos on the computer. They were tiny horseshoe crabs. Horseshoe crabs spawn on mudflats at high tide during spring and summer months. This is where females deposit the eggs. So these little crabs that the birds are catching must be the recent results of this.
The white ibis didn't take long to fly away to the mangrove island behind me. I decided to try to get closer to the reddish egret that was frequently demonstrating its dancing moves. It jumps crazily with outspread wings and will do this for a few seconds. In between that display it will concentrate on the water with beak pointing vertically toward it and then spread its wings with the hovering pattern it is notoriously well known for. I wanted to get as close to this as possible. It would be very difficult with the low water levels, but by now, the tide was incoming and it seemed to be doing so very quickly. It became easier and easier as the morning wore on to paddle around the area.
I spent the next hour chasing the dang egret around. With patience I would sit in one spot and it seemed to get use to me and would start to come closer. But every time it did that, it would head toward the sun and I would lose my lighting. The background is tricky as well with frequent power boats motoring through the channel, and the park buildings lining the shoreline. I managed to get some shots of its flamboyant fishing talents with a clean background but still a couple hundred feet away from me. Finally, it walked past me toward the sun within 50 feet of me and stood as a silhouette for some time. I thought I could capture its silhouette while it displayed its wing spread but it never produced. Instead, it decided the tide was too high and flew off to the mangrove island where it would hide during the remainder of the day until the next low tide offering.
I paddled around the island and started noticing several young osprey flying about. This place is crazy with osprey. Within this area of the park, I've counted 6 nests and those are the most noticeable. Two of these are located on manmade structures and clearly seen by all visitors. Now, this years crop of fledglings look almost like adults as they soar and dive. I watched them practice their diving maneuvers and its clear that the learning curve for these birds is very steep.
More than I've ever seen before, there were several manatee showing their snouts around the bay. I noticed some shark fins also. The waters were alive with life, but my paddling partner would not catch any redfish today. The sun was blazing and it was hot. A slight breeze kept it comfortable but the sun exposure was intense, despite the haze. I paddled to Snake Bight and turned around at the point and headed back to the marina. Heading back, something very large was seen in the water about 60 feet in front of me. I figured it was a manatee and veered to the left of it, trying to give it some fin room. All of a sudden, something very large spooked about 5 feet from my boat leaving a very large wake path moving away from me. Whatever the animal was, it stirred up the mud fiercely and left my boat rocking. I didn't see a manatee head and thought maybe it was a crocodile.
Off the water by 11:30, I had spent the past 4 1/2 on the water unsheltered. Despite the little opportunity for photographing, it was the only place I wanted to be. Despite the economy, the Everglades exists and I'm lucky to have access to it.