Sunday, October 11, 2009

Biscayne: Where the grasses are

I think my favorite place to be is in my canoe drifting along Biscayne Bay near Matheson Hammock near low tide. Today, I would spend the morning in my favorite place. Low tide was scheduled about 10 am, so the out going tide would be perfect for wading birds along the shoreline. Even better, we haven't been inundated with rain these past couple weeks, so the fresh water run-off from the canals would be nil.

We arrived at the launch site around 7 am. The Columbus Day regatta was in full swing. The evidence for this was the countless number of trucks attached to boat trailers parked at various points along the road leading to the launch site; those trucks belonging to people that got on the water yesterday and now were surely sleeping off hangovers while anchored somewhere near Elliott Key. A few cars were parked at our launch site, one with a young couple apparently rounding out an evening of who knows what by watching the sun rise over the bay. Someone had their tripod and camera set up in the water, here where sunrises are captured regularly by the locals. Dark morning clouds were raging across the horizon, just like they always do during those summer days. Above them, higher in the sky were those wispy winter-type clouds, the kind that splay out across the sky like a horse's mane and give notice of impeding weather changes. We look for those clouds during our winter trips when cold fronts and high winds can descend on us at a moment's notice.

This morning, the sun would mostly stay behind a very large cloud for awhile. I got on the water to see the sky about the Miami skyline, pretty enough that I took out the camera with the 70-400mm attached and shot some scenes at 70mm. I captured a few shots of the sun rise and after a few moments, turned my attention to the long shoreline that extends south of the launch site. Here is where I will find the birds and already I could spot a great white egret or two. I paddled over toward the mouth of the creek as I watched a number of brown pelicans diving here and there. The skittish egrets and herons flew off further from me as I continued to paddle in the shallow water.

I found some little blue herons that I could capture in backlit style. They are relatively easy to capture this way because they tend to feed at the edge of the grass flat that extends out from the shoreline a couple hundred feet in some areas. If you get between the bird and the shoreline, you can often get them in undisturbed water where little grass sticks out above the surface. Today, the wind was strong enough to cause a constant ripple effect, so finding that kind of shot would be impossible today. I decided to try my luck at some shots with various lighting. At one point, I set up my flash with better beamer for some shots of other birds that were closer to the shoreline. I managed one shot of the great white egret preening before it flew off far away.

The clouds came and went and for long periods, the sun would shine brightly before being covered again. Most of the morning I wen back and forth between highkey backlit shots to natural frontlight with or without flash to capture the birds feeding in the grasses. The little blue herons and ibises were the stars of the day while my attempts at shooting a tricolored heron or great white egret did not come to anything worthwhile. During much of the morning, the birds and I were punished with the loud and obnoxious music from the boats leaving the marina as they headed toward Elliott Key where an even more obnoxious and loud party awaited them. I felt safe and secluded in my grass flats, where no powerboats could come anywhere near.

Later, I paddled closer to the launch site where a couple of great white egrets were hanging with some other waders, two yellowcrown nightherons, a tricolored heron, little blue herons, and white ibises. I found a good location and stayed there for the remainder of the morning. I noticed that closer to the shoreline the water was not disturbed by the grasses, seemingly a bit deeper in that portion of the flats. Here, I watched the great egrets rumble with the tricolored heron over fish that would jump several feet at a time while being chased by a bird. I watched the egrets and tricolor capture relatively large fish, 6-8 inches in length. In the meantime, the ibises were nervously poking around the grasses and behind me were some little blue herons farther away from the shoreline. At one point, an osprey flew overhead but soon moved on. Brown pelicans were still coming and going.
It got hot today, as it has every day. By 11 am, I was off the water. In October, we are usually spending all our time in Chokoloskee Bay rather than Biscayne Bay. My photographs are testimony to that as I have no October dated photographs from Biscayne Bay, until today. I'm thinking that I may see some new things out here if I can continue to visit the bay before the new year. It's fall season for the northerners and that means more birds for us down here. Photographers have been waiting for this season to come. In the meantime, I'll continue to photograph into the fall season, as I have been doing all summer long in my canoe.

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