Sunday, February 21, 2010

At last!

In the 13 winters that I have lived in Miami, never have I experienced a consistently cold and windy season as this one. With one Canadian blast right after the other, we've had very little reprieve from the cold temperatures and high winds. Other than an overnight to Tiger Key, I have not had my canoe out this year. So when this weekend looked like it would offer us warm temps and calm winds, I knew I would spend a morning on Chokoloskee Bay at the bird rookery.

On that morning as I launched from Everglades City rangers station, all the kayak fishermen in the area headed out to Indian Key for the 6th annual Paddle-In hosted by Capt Wright and his wife Vicki from Everglades Area Tours. As the colorful parade of kayaks headed out Indian Key Pass, I broke away and paddled toward the rookery. The sky was mostly covered with a thin veil of clouds as I headed toward the tiny islands, where I arrived at a very late 8:30 am. I noticed a few white specks on some of the mangroves but it was clear that the majority of rookery residents were the brown pelicans. The long necks were not quite in the prime of nesting yet, but I did watch one lovely egret couple as the morning progressed.

The brown pelicans were mostly sitting and I suspect there were several nests. A few birds were flying in and out to gather nesting material. I watched one bird come out of its nesting area and go to an area not more than 10 ft or so away, break off a small mangrove branch and then fly out and around the island until flying back into its nest. It did this every couple minutes or so.

There was one great white among several pelicans and once anchored and settled into one spot, I found that I had a pretty good angle on the bird. It flew in with a large branch and for several minutes worked with the branch in the nest area. Between working with the branch, it preened earnestly and every few minutes or so it would stretch up toward the sky, forming the letter "S" with its long white body while pointing its brilliant orange beak vertically. I positioned my camera vertically in attempt to capture this behavior. My arms and shoulders ached as I held the camera without support. I didn't want to bother with the monopod so I would hold my place on the bird for a minute until I couldn't stand the pain and would rest my arms awhile. More than once, I missed my opportunity as the bird would shoot upward, splaying its breeding plumage all about. Frustrating as it was, I did manage a shot of its behavior.

And one point, a second egret flew in and stood still behind the first bird. This went on for about 15 min until the second bird flew away. Clearly, one was attracting the other. I hope to see them in their nest the next time I visit.

The clouds more or less burned off and it was a pleasantly hot late morning when I decided to paddle away. The osprey nesting in the area were busy fishing most of the morning. Before leaving the rookery area, I was fortunate enough to spot an osprey hovering close by. I managed to get myself between it and the high sun. Soon it made a dive, close enough that I needed to zoom in with the 70-400mm lens. I was able to capture a few diving shots and some shots of the bird catching a mullet. I managed some well focused shots of the event but unfortunately the bird was facing away from the camera as it came out of the water with fish in claw.

The hot sun felt so good and I did not want this day to end. I stayed on the water a couple more hours just paddling around the bay.