Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chokoloskee Bay: hot and cold, day 1

A three-day weekend felt like luxury as we headed west on the Tamiami Trail by 5:30 am on Friday as most Miamians were waking up to another workday. This was a holiday for me and I couldn't think of a better place to spend it than on Chokoloskee Island. For the weekend, we stayed in our friend Mike Stubblefield's newly acquired trailer located in Chokoloskee Island Park, the place I want to kill time when I finally reach my retirement years. I could live in a small trailer, store my canoe on the screened patio and wheel it down to the marina where I could launch onto Chokoloskee Bay any damn time I pleased. In the evenings, I could drink a cocktail as I watch the sun set over the Everglades National Park. My friend Mike is living my dream, but fortunately for me, he offers his place whenever Vivian and I want to stay on the island for the weekend.

The tides would be good all three days, an outgoing early morning, and with a new moon, the oyster flats would be revealed for the birds feeding on crabs and other marine edibles. On Friday, we drove a hop, skip and a jump over to Outdoor Resorts where we could launch on the east side of the bay and head toward the mouth of the Turner River. The lighting is not the best for me as the sun rises over the mangroves and leaves much in the shade where I would likely see most of the birds. I could always paddle around to the other side so I wasn't too bothered by this so much. What did bother me were the no-see-ums that were in full force at the launch site. We were getting no breeze to speak of and on this side of the bay, would likely not get much while on the water. With mosquito net attire, I headed out to the bay and couldn't take the netting off for awhile as the tiny bugs swarmed around my head. This was not a good sign.

After awhile, I was cleared of bugs and decided to get out the camera and attach the flash. I may get lucky as I looked for birds in the area where they likely would be feeding or flying overhead. I did find some ibises and a couple young little blue herons still covered in white feathers. Where I found them was in a small lagoon completely shielded from any breeze (and the sun) and typical of their nature, the no-see-ums were there to greet me. I couldn't stand it any more. It was hot, humid and I was itching like crazy. I paddled out into the open and realized I was going to need a dose of benadryl. This happens occasionally out here as I am quite sensitive to mosquitoes and no-see-ums. We always carry children's benadryl, the version that doesn't make you sleepy. I radioed Vivian who was carrying the emergency kit; she was there to deliver the drugs in a matter of minutes.

I guess I should mention the sky and the clouds. We expected a cold front to come blasting in sometime this weekend, but from Friday morning on, we would see very little blue sky. The clouds forming in the sky were varied and it became clear that a storm would be blowing in from the southwest before our morning was through. I began to paddle toward the oyster flats that litter the bay on the south end of Choko Island, near Rabbit Key pass. The western sky was now very dark and the sun rising to the east barely had enough opportunity to shine without cloud cover. Interesting sun rays were shooting down toward the water as cumulus clouds passed over the sky. I hung out with a cormorant drying its wings on a channel marker, surrounded by dark clouds and light sun rays shining down like stage lights illuminating the water all around the bird's perch.

I paddled toward the oyster bars where there were several gulls and terns and a few ibises. The dark sky was a perfect backdrop for the birds and the water as I paddled to a spot where I might photograph some of them. A flock of royal terns spooked by a power boat passing near by flew up into the dark sky before circling and landing back onto the oyster flats. So beautiful it was as the sun behind me cast brilliantly on the birds, contrasted against the dark sky. A flock of about 15 snowy egrets flew overhead, heading toward some refuge no doubt as a storm was forming in the gulf. I anchored and sat for a moment attempting to find the best angle for some photos. I heard a loud and odd sound from the distance. It sounded like rushing water. I looked over toward the west side of the bay and rain was falling hard near its edge, about 1/4 mile away. The water was gray and misty where the rain was contacting the water. It was coming toward me fast, so I fumbled to get the camera put away. Just as soon as I did, the rain was upon me and the wind picked up to a very brisk 10 knots. The waves were sharp across the shallow flats and my boat was in a precarious position with the anchor pulling from under the hull. I got the anchor out of the water and just let the wind blow the boat.

The scene was fantastical as the water surface all around me was punctuated with hard driving rain. The sun was still shining behind me surprisingly as so many clouds were formed in the sky. The rain drops on the bay water were illuminated by the sun and with my polarizer sunglasses, a golden hue cast across the entire bay. By now, a rainbow had formed and at one point, the bow of my boat pointed in a direction where the rainbow curved up from the water on both sides, almost forming a complete circle. Oh, how I wanted to photograph this amazing scene! I started thinking of how I might rig an umbrella or some kind of bimini on my boat for these occasions. For the time being, I sat, completely soaked and watched the storm theatre, without camera.

After about 5 minutes, the rain stopped and the wind died down. I was drenched and a bit chilly. I put my rain jacket on. The sun continued to shine and after a few minutes, I took advantage of the lighting and captured a few photos of the terns perched on some pilings near the channel. The wind picked up again and continued to drive my boat as I attempted to anchor in the deep channel. I couldn't keep the boat in one spot so it became futile to continue photographing the terns after some minutes.

The morning started out hot and humid and by the time I got off the water around 11 am, the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees and the wind had picked up steadily. I thought I could get back out in the afternoon, but the winds picked up again and although it did get hot and humid once more, the winds never died down. It's not worth the trouble in those conditions, so I would wait until the next morning. In the meantime, we relaxed and enjoyed the remainder of the day on the island, hanging out with our friends knowing we would be on the water tomorrow morning without the long drive beforehand.

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