Saturday, November 21, 2009

Biscayne Bay: High winds, high tide

November 15: It had been over a month since I was on the bay, so getting out on a day when the tide was not ideal for wading bird photography and with expected winds picking up to a stiff 10-15 knots did not seem any less appealing than a day of perfect conditions. I missed being in the canoe and I missed the bay. We launched from Deering and I thought I might see some activity despite the conditions; maybe the gulls would be hanging out at the sponge farms, maybe the bird rookery would have some activity, maybe it would just be a good day to paddle. I had no expectations. And anyway, my new Sony telephoto zoom lens was sent in for repairs, the autofocus not working. Thankfully, it is under full warranty.
I thought I would take out the Minolta 300mm today. Maybe I would find something inside a creek or maybe I could get close enough to the gulls with the 300mm. In the back of my mind I think that sometimes it is a useful exercise to take one prime lens and make the best of it. I could have taken the 1.4 TC with the 300mm lens, but decided not to bother. The Minolta is a sharp, fast lens and I thought about how successfully I photographed wading birds close up on Biscayne Bay before I had the TC attached back in 2007. Some of my best shots were taken with that single prime lens.
Today though, there would be no wading birds, the high tide was about 9 am and what a high tide it was. I couldn't figure it out since the moon was only a little over half full. The water levels were high and all the birds were treed. Some of the single birds could be seen roaming around the edge of the mangrove shoreline or flying about. I saw a handful of great blue herons, great white egrets, a juvenile yelloowcrown nighheron, kingfishers, an osprey or two, a few green herons, and several ibises. On the islands, the brown pelicans were roosting and there were several flying and diving the bay. But it was the cormorants that outnumbered everyone. They were plentiful in the island near Deering Estate and they decorated the little mangrove islands that line the channel near Chicken Key. The bird rookery was full of them and they could be seen in great number in the water near the channel.

The cormorants were taking up residence at the sponge farms but as soon as I approached, they flew off one by one. This left room for some ringed-billed gulls and royal terns that came by to perch for awhile.

At one point I passed close to the shoreline where a very large manatee was resting. I came up on it about 6 feet away when the boat scared the animal. It made a strong wake in the shallow water and quickly passed directly under my boat. Geez, that always makes my heart stop. I've said it many times and I will say it again, the only time I am afraid of tipping over is in the presence of one of these behemoths. And there it was, large as a hummer, it's grayness illuminated in the shallow water as it gracefully moved away from the strange monster that appeared out of nowhere. Once my heart settled back into sinus rhythm, I continued on watching the waters more closely.

Today was not much of a photo day, such as it is sometimes on the water. This is a tricky time of year with the high winds and fronts that can pass through on a whim. Now is the time that I spend mostly camping in the Everglades, so getting out for day trips is infrequent. Work has saddled me more than usual. When I will be out here again is difficult to say, but whenever it is, it's going to be low tide early morning and it will be where the wading birds are plentiful.

Now, I am preparing for our Thanksgiving trip, the first camping trip of the season. I will not have my Sony lens back in time for that trip, but that's fine with me. I hope to see the white pelicans, and maybe capture the group in Chokoloskee bay before heading out Rabbit Key pass. In the meantime, enjoy the few photos from this day on Biscayne Bay.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back to the Big Cypress and the Florida Trail Assoc.

The past 2 weekends have been a pleasant diversion from the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, not that I was needing one. For a change, the Florida Trail Association (FTA) was the center of attention. During the halloween weekend, FTA's south Florida regional conference was held at Fisheating Creek. I was asked to give a little talk on the topic of, what else, photographing from a canoe. In addition to the talk, I spent a morning on the creek, one of the most beautiful in Florida.

It was a terribly hot weekend and it didn't help matters that some of our FTA friends came to the conference in their air conditioned travel trailers and vans. By Sunday morning, we were so ready to pack up the hot tent and get back home. We vowed to never car camp on Fisheating Creek again (car camping is an occasional necessary evil in my book). This creek is a gem that must be enjoyed with 2 or 3 days of paddling and remote camping. One of my best nights in Florida was spent on that creek a couple years ago, I still cannot get the sounds of the night out of my head. The beauty of the creek is not just in the water and the cypress trees that grow out of it, but in the nighttime symphony of animal sounds. Read about that adventure here:

This weekend, I was back in the Big Cypress, on the Florida Trail. I helped my FTA chapter that maintains a section of the trail to clear it for use. Several hardy FTA members, including myself, worked on the trail over the weekend, cutting, chopping and mowing the trail. We spent a pleasant and coolish night at the Panther campsite, where I had my Hennesy Hammock set up for sleeping. I hadn't been on the trail in years, and it felt good to be hiking again in the BC where the Florida panthers roam.

No significant photography came out of these weekends. Despite having much of my equipment with me at Fisheating Creek, I was only able to photograph the little time I had on the creek one morning. During the Big Cypress trail work weekend, I took my old point and shoot waterproof Pentax Optio. I thought it would be fun to go back to it, the little camera I once used constantly and with joy capturing photos of these places I love. I carried it in my pocket, my viewfinder-less camera and pulled it out to use on a whim.

I couldn't help but think that maybe I have lost my whimsy with photography since the SLR days of hauling around heavy gear. I still find delight in looking at some of my old P&S photos that were actually pretty good, so I know that Pentax can take decent photos. Maybe I need to inject some of that whimsy and abandonment back into my photos as I pursue a path of acceptance and standards. Maybe I am getting too critical of my photos and am trying to fit a mold. Or maybe I just haven't achieved that acceptable level of artistry and technical know-how. Or maybe I'm just thinking too much about it! Whatever it is, here are a few photos straight from the Pentax, very little postprocessing. I did clone out a bit of tree in one photo and cropped a few others.