Sunday, September 6, 2009

Laboring on Biscayne Bay

With yesterday's constant rains, the odds of having a clear-skied morning on the bay were practically zero. Mornings are usually better than afternoons and evenings, so I was hoping for a window of opportunity before any storms came rolling in. Low tide at about a full moon was to be about 5:30 am, perfect for Matheson Hammock.

As we drove east, it was still dark at 6 am, but the rain had stopped. But soon, the rain started again. We decided to drive over to the Deering launch instead of paying the 5 bucks to get into Matheson. The plan was to go to Deering tomorrow anyway, so we would just reverse the order. Old Cutler Rd was dark and long, and the passing cars were many. Where were all these people going at such a time? Leftovers from Saturday night maybe? We arrived at the launch, as did a couple paddle boarders and a hobie kayak fishermen. The sky was almost completely black with a few holes puncturing the horizon and shedding some morning light. And there were the ibises, right on cue, but only a small single flock this time.

The winds were calm and I couldn't help but notice that low tide looked nothing like low tide at all. Once out in the openness of the bay, I noticed the small mangrove island in front of the Deering Estate. It was covered in white, birds that is. Birds roost on this island and today, I was on the water early enough to see them. Usually by now, they have flown off somewhere, but I guess the cloudy darkness made them sleep in a bit later.

I got out my flash and beamer and thought I might be able to anchor somewhere in the relatively calm waters (easterly winds about 5-10 knots I suppose) and capture one or two flying overhead. I like the shadow effect of the combined flash and slow shutter speed, but one must be still to get sharp focus on the head. I wasn't necessarily confident of my prospects but if I managed a good shot, it would be an accomplishment. Soon, the white flock was mostly in the air, coming toward me and over the mangrove shoreline. They were ibises and close enough that I heard the loud swooshing noises of their flapping wings. I tried a few shots but without success. It was too dark for focusing. I continued on in front of the Estate and by now, almost all the birds had flown away. There were about 2 dozen ibises feeding in the grasses near the Deering Estate and I paddled over and hung out with them for awhile. In the meantime, stormy clouds were covering the eastern horizon over Chicken Key. I took out the wide angle and captured some of the 3-dimensional display.

After about 30 minute or so on the water, the winds started to kick up. I paddled over to the mangrove island where several comorants could be heard and occasionally seen flying in circles. I spotted an anhinga or two and one in particular was in clear sites. I captured the graceful female anhinga as she stretched and yawned. With the flash, I captured a few more shots of the cormorants. But these shots were not easy to get. The wind was forceful and the water was a good 4 feet deep. I had not prepared my anchor system and had only my stake out pole to anchor the boat. It wasn't adequate and while trying to get a shot, the current would drive my boat toward the mangroves at full force. Enough of that, this would be no more photo taking today.

I put away all the gear and decided to paddle into the wind and get some practice. The east by northeast wind was coming at me easily at 15-20 knots. Some wave water actually made it over the bow of the Vagabond and it reminded me of our trip to Camp Lonesome last winter. We crossed several large bays in head winds stronger than these and with 300lb of cargo, my boat kept me dry completely. I stroked forward 3 at a time on the left, 3 on the right, short quick stabs in the water. This style, as I kneel leaning forward about 45 degrees on the downstroke gives my boat enough momentum to slice through the water sharply. This is a good feeling to have as we approach our next camping season in the Everglades.

The daily storms are getting old and I am begging for clear skies on the water. Maybe tomorrow. Today progressed into a sunny day and the mass of storm clouds moved further off shore into the Atlantic. Tomorrow, we will go to Blackpoint for some good reasons, but not the best area for photographing wading birds.

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