Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chokoloskee Bay: the clouds own the sky, part 2

On Saturday morning we were on the water by 7 am. Boats were lined up at the marina as we squeezed our canoes onto the boat ramp. A group called "Ladies, Let's Go Fishing" had a couple boats at the marina, one of which was powered by a local captain. The other boat belonged to one of the ladies; both boats were loaded with several fisherwomen, expecting to get as much fishing in before the weekend ended. The weather looked dubious and the wind, coming from the north, had already picked up some. The sky was covered in clouds and what a spectacle they were making. Once on the water, I got out my wide angle and looked toward the north sky where cumulus clouds were brilliantly illuminated by the sun. They appeared yellowish with some blue sky behind them; a beautiful show over the water.

In the meantime, Vivian and her fishing buddies headed across the bay. One of the "Ladies..." powering her own boat must have been intrigued by the kayak fishermen that were by now getting the fish on. The powerboat headed slowly out toward the middle of the bay, away from the channel. I continued to photograph the glorious sky and watched a rainbow form. I took several shots before the powerboat came into my view. I thought maybe the ladies were heading out to the bay toward Indian Key Pass. But, it seemed they were interested in the area where the kayak fishermen were fishing.

I turned my boat around and headed back toward the marina where several pelicans were roosting on the high pilings. Here, I might find some interesting shots as the rainbow remained in the sky. In the meantime, it became evident that the "Ladies..." boat had gotten hung up on an oyster flat. I can only guess that they watched the kayak fishermen succeeding and thought that might be a good location. Problem is, Chokoloskee Bay was near low tide and no powerboat can pass through the bay unless it is captained by a local that understands these waters intimately. The captain of the "Ladies..." boat successfully poled out before getting too high and dry and soon, the boat was back in the channel heading in the proper direction. I wished them a good day of fishing, knowing dang well the gulf was going to be a killer today. Storms were expected and that cold front was looming.

I decided to head toward the oyster flats where I saw the gulls and terns yesterday. Low tide was an hour away but the flats were already seriously revealed. A group of juvenile brown pelicans were hanging out on one of the flats. I had gotten my telephoto and flash ready to go. The flash would be used all morning as the sun remained cloud covered. I anchored near the pelicans and attempted some shots. I noticed several cormorants roosting in the branches of a mangrove situated by itself near one of the channels. I paddled over, but with the outgoing tide and the north winds, the current was extremely strong. I tried to anchor but nothing caught, so I tried to stake out. The strong current was too much and soon, my boat was driving fast toward the cormorant tree. One by one, they flew off. I hate that when that happens! I try hard to not scare birds, but this was a ridiculous situation. I got myself back on track as a few cormorants decided to come back. Finally, I anchored and stayed with one bird who perched in the clear.

I could hear the thunder off in the distance over the gulf and soon, lightening appeared. It looked to be coming this way, so I decided to paddle back closer to the island. The sun was shining with clouds surrounding it and the lighting was interesting over the water. I captured some backlit shots and turned the other way where several storm clouds were now forming over the mangroves and the front light was magical over the water.

I paddled over to the marina where I thought the gulls and terns might be swarming around and fighting with each other over roosting sites. There were only a few brown pelicans. I hung with them for awhile. The storm no longer appeared to be coming this way, but the wind had picked up stiffly. I decided to head north near Outdoor Resorts and the causeway that lines the bay. There, the oyster beds are absent and the bay floor is mud. Several wading birds were lined up along the shoreline and soon I noticed a few roseates. I tried to photograph them, but they had the advantage. They had the entire length of the bay to feed and would move away from me as soon as I staked out and got close enough for some decent photos. I continued to chase them a few more times and soon decided it was a futile attempt.

This was not a good weekend for bird photography, but the storm clouds were worth all the time on the water. The winds got very strong on Saturday and gusted to 20 knots, remaining steady at 10-15 knots the entire day and on into Sunday morning. There is no point in going out on the water in those conditions. The best part was that the heat and humidity was replaced by a mild temperature. We enjoyed the remainder of the gray covered day by driving to Everglades City and spending time in the museum. There, we looked at some paintings by Lorna Brown, Totch Brown's daughter.

That night, the temperature dropped below 60 degrees and we woke up to a chilly trailer. The winds were still sustained 15 knots, so getting back on the water was not happening. From one extreme to another, this is not unusual for this time of year and it may be a sign of things to come. We think about our camping season as we make our drive back to Miami. We will be circumnavigating Whitewater Bay in December. And they don't call it Whitewater for nothing.

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