Saturday, September 26, 2009

Biscayne Bay: finally, no storm clouds

Or at least not until after 1 pm, about the time we got off the water today. While launching near Deering Estate at 7 am this morning, we looked forward to being on the water all morning without worrying about the storms that dance all around us in the sky every time we come out here. But not today. This morning as the sun was already above the horizon, cumulus clouds that eventually would burn off roared up into the sky as the sun backlit the scene. The white ibises were flying overhead instinctively toward some daily destination. The calmness was inviting as I began to paddle north toward Chicken Key.

Before heading out to Chicken Key where eventually I would paddle to the sponge farms, I took a detour to the little island in front of the Deering Estate. The island was alive with hundreds of cormorants, many of which were juveniles, not yet adorned with those striking emerald eyes. They were flying about quite actively and would make their landings in the canopies facing the sun, which gave me a good angle for flight shots. Despite hanging out with them for some time, I didn't manage to score a good shot at a shutter speed of only 1/640. I bumped up the ISO to 640, but with a +1 compensation, the shutter speed wasn't quite adequate for these speedy birds. Most of the shots came out too blurry and besides, they were on to me as they would move away to a perch well away from me.

I left the cormorants and headed out toward Chicken Key where I would watch 4 brown pelicans swimming and diving for a short while. The air was calm, but the sun was already high above the horizon at 8-8:30 am. I wanted to head over to the sponge farms just north of the channel that runs past Chicken Key. The sponge farms are nothing more than several large wooden sticks sticking out of the water at various heights. At low tide, many our about 5-10 feet above the water surface. There are a few communities of sticks within a 1/4 mile length of bay. Each community contains about a 12-20 sticks within a small area. I thought I would hang out there thinking that the gulls would be quite active. The stick perches are perfect as most of them are at eye level, perfect for capturing gull interactions. I wasn't sure what to expect because I didn't not see one gull all morning until I finally arrived at the channel. Soon, I noticed many gulls flying about. Mostly laughing gulls, immatures and winter plumage types. I also saw a few herring gulls, mostly immatures and several royal terns.

I approached the spong farms where I watched gulls and cormorants flying about and landing and taking off from the sticks. I noticed once before that the cormorants will mostly fly away with an approaching boat getting too close. The gulls on the other hand, stick around. They do not seem to mind my presence one bit. I suppose they are so use to humans with their docks and boats and frequent hand outs. If one or two do fly off in fear, it is only a matter of seconds before they have a change of heart and come back.

I anchored near one of the sponge farms in the best lighting and background position I could find. And there I sat for probably a couple hours as the gulls entertained me. Gulls are common, no doubt about it. But the gull is a lively subject to photograph, especially when there is precious real estate to fight over. They fuss with each other constantly and make so much noise when one approaches, it alerts me to an impending photo opportunity. The interactions today were perfect as they landed toward me and the sun. This was brilliant for capturing full wing spread as they attempt to land on a stick already occupied by another gull. Despite being "lowly" gulls, they are beautiful and quite fun to watch.

After several hours on the water, I headed back toward the bird rookery island where by now, all but 2 of the cattle egrets were gone. The island was still littered with nesting cormorants, and I watched some adults coming in with nest material. A few anhingas were also spotted as their long necks stood out over the canopy. I paddled back to Deering with Vivian and we met up with our friend David. I had been picking up a few pieces of debris as I always do when out here and today, I noticed a very large white object in the mangroves. I paddled over and found it to be a large piece of styrofoam, about 4 ft by 3 ft, with a few wooden planks loosely attached by 1 ft rusty nails. It was the remains of some kind of floating platform. I managed to pull it loose from the mangroves and I thought I could haul it back. David some how got it up onto the stern of my boat and balanced it as best he could. With the large object behind me and in a slightly imbalanced boat, I paddled back to the launch site. With some help from a stranger, I carried it up onto land next to a garbage can hoping it would get picked up with the other garbage.

It was 1 pm before I was driving out of the parking area. Six hours on the water today and it was brilliant! I am a lucky person to live here.

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