Friday, May 7, 2010

The rookery is thriving

It's been so long since I've paddled in calm waters that it felt like a brand new experience to me. The winds were nothing more than a puff of air today and the sky was cloudless as I got on the water at 7 am. The heavy fog I drove through on the Tamiami had faded quickly as I loaded the boat with mosquito netting cinched around my neck. And it was hot. By the time I got off the water at 11 am, it was 90 degrees.

With an oil invasion threatening the Florida coast, I paddled and enjoyed the pastel colors drawn by the sun on the surface of the calm bay waters. The water was clear and awesome, and I wished for one things, that the container box sent 1 mile below the surface of the water works. I thought of the birds and their future. I wanted them to fly as far away as possible, hoping that they and all the others survive this catastrophe. The gulf waters will not be the same for decades and who knows what all the damage will be. I finally let the visions of tar balls and oil sheen go and began to enjoy the moment. The quiet and peace was exactly what I needed as I paddled gently, but earnestly across the bay toward the rookery islands. The sun was rising fast and I wanted to be with the birds.

As I got closer, I noticed a mangrove island full of off-white birds. Ibises maybe, but not egrets. Ah, even better, they were roseate spoonbills, about 20 of them. I took out the camera in the hot humidity of the morning and my lens promptly fogged up. I paddled, rubbed the lens, paddled closer, rubbed the lens some more and then I dropped the lens cloth. It was exposed partially to salt water and dang if I didn't have a spare. I tried to rub the lens with the dry portion of the cloth but I only made things worse.

The pink birds were resting, not doing much else, so I thought I'd move on to the rookery before the sun got too high for flight shots. From a distance, I saw dozens of white birds intermingled with dozens of brown pelicans. The rookery appeared to be thriving. I wanted to see some baby birds in number. Sure enough, the little pelican I photographed last time was bigger and more easily defined among the mangrove canopy. Mom sat next to the baby, almost always facing away from me, but every once in awhile the baby would prop up and look my way. A little feathery dinosaur, it will be a few more weeks before it starts flying.

The great whites were in great number, and many babies were seen sticking their scraggle heads out now and then, beaks jabbing the air waiting for mom to fly in with food. The sounds of the rookery were over the top. I saw a couple pairs of baby pelicans in another tree (the lighting was no good) and they were quite active and noisy. They became the loudest among the cacaphony of bird sounds; at times they sounded like cows mooing.

The morning wore on and it got hotter. The clouds never once covered the sun, there were too few of them. For the first time since visiting the rookery this year, I was completely alone with the birds. I recorded the sounds for several minutes with my voice recorder, something I play back when at home and wishing to be at the rookery.

As always, the Everglades is full of surprises. Today, I photographed a nesting Wurdemann's heron, among all the great white egrets. A beautiful version of the great blue heron, sort of a cross between the great blue and the great white, it had a nest, but there was no sign of babies yet. If I am lucky, I may get to see them on the next visit.

I paddled back to the launch site with the voice recorder playing back the sounds of the rookery. The calmness was so different from my last visit when I paddled into 20 knot head winds. Head winds, summer storms, bugs, I don't care, bring them on. That's the Everglades, and I hope the Everglades is spared.


  1. Hi Connie, I've seen that morph heron for awhile at the rookery and wasn't sure about it. So it's a Wurdemanns, I look it up in my Sibly book of birds and there it was... Thanks. I believe we are talking about the same rookery?

  2. Hi Rich, as far as the rookery is concerned, you know it!