Sunday, July 4, 2010

Return to the Biscayne Bay Rookery...finally

For the past 2 years I've been visiting a rookery on the bay beginning early May until mid-August or so. Today was the first visit for me this year. For various reasons, I just have not been able to get out to Biscayne (one trip to Blackpoint in May). Let's see, The Deering launch site didn't open until late May, i was out of town for half of June and the dang winds (20-25 knots most days) have been never ending, and so has work. To top all that, my roof rack was stolen, AGAIN! Second time this year that's happened. Seems the hoodlums are taking a strong liking to Yakima racks. At the end of the day, I came out even in the matter of $ and I had a permanent track drilled into my car roof. It's been a learning experience but finally, I think the rack that carries the canoes is theft-proof.
The 1.5 mile paddle to the rookery islands began at about 6:30 am, still dark with the full cloud cover over the rising sun. On que, the large ibis colony that spends their nights on the island in front of the Deering Estate began their daily flight across the bay in a southerly direction, to where I have no clue. I paddled in very calm waters as the tide slowly went out at a half moon pace. At one point, I spotted some tails in the water (bonefish maybe?) and soon after, I saw the tell tale dorsal and caudal fins of a bull (or nurse?) shark. I gave the shark a bit of scare as it scouted for food and headed right toward my boat. About 3 feet away, it finally took notice and in a split second, turned and bolted away.

Finally, I arrived at the rookery with a veil of gray covering the sky. This would be fill flash day for sure. Before getting to the rookery island, I had the camera out, defogging along the way. I got my anchor system ready to go and I attached the flash and better beamer; all this before getting too close to the birds. The less noise I make, the closer they let me get to them. Several cormorants were fishing and some let me pass quite close. They looked young, perhaps less wary than their adult parents would naturally be. I crossed the deep channel and came within about 100 feet of the island where several cattle egrets speckled the south end. Unlike 2 years ago, this particular island is not housing as many egrets; instead the primary occupant here was the cormorant. And there were hundreds of them, adults mingled with adult-sized babies still needing to be fed. Many get into the water and you can watch them practice their fishing and flying skills.

While crossing the channel, I noticed that the other rookery islands that sit on the edge of the channel closer to the main shoreline were loaded with white birds. I decided to head over there where I could set anchor and get on the other side away from the channel where I would not be disturbed by boats. The lighting was such that a frontlight really didn't exist with the cloud covers. A good day for the flash.

The islands were hustling with little birds. Lots of flying in and out, both cattle egrets and cormorants. There were some tricolor herons in there as well. I tried to anchor but I guess it was too deep, so I had a difficult time staying still. This was not ideal, I'd much rather go back to the less busy island where it was much shallower. There, I could anchor and use the stake out pole.

I headed back and paddled around the island a bit, stopping here and there. Finally, I settled in a spot where the white birds were more numerous. The east wind had picked up a bit, so I anchored in a spot where I could get a good angle on the incoming birds. Birds land and take off against the wind, so this would give me some front views of the birds and with the flash, I wasn't worried about the side light coming from the meager sun.

I stayed on with the family of egrets and cormorants. A few anhingas were seen, but they are much too shy to get any shots of them. After a little time, I figured out the flight pattern of the egrets. I learned this a couple years ago when I first visited this rookery. When you see one bird take off from the rookery, others soon follow, within seconds. Then, after about 5 to 10 minutes, they all start coming back, sometimes with sticks. and they almost always use the same course. Today, none came in with sticks, so it must have been food they were going after. They fly to somewhere just south of the Deering launch site. Cattle egrets do not fish, so where they go for food is unknown to me. Some high ground place where they can dig up worms and yummy insects I suppose.

I had a good time with the rookery today, pretty much ignoring the cormorants. They were flying and swimming about every where. I spotted a couple blackcrown nightherons and a great blue heron in and around the rookery as well. For my first visit back to the rookery, I concentrated on the egrets.
The paddle back was calm as well and I watched my egret friends fly overhead. A couple great white egrets were wading in a shallow low tide area near Deering, but it was time for me to get off the water.

One last post, my visit to Blackpoint several weeks ago was not a great day for photographing, but I did take out my macro lens at one point and played with some of the mangrove seedlings in the water. Here's one of the photos I took that day.

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