Monday, August 9, 2010

Chokoloskee and the tern wars: part II

Two days on Choko Bay. I knew I would have to contend with possible storms, skittish birds, oyster bars and a fast rising tide. So what's new on this bay, one of the most challenging places to photograph birds. After realizing that roseates would not be photographed, I had to look for something else. the storm clouds can often be great subjects if the ligting is right, and it was much of the time (I'll post those on the next blog). I also had to get over the fact that while my gunwales were silenced (see previous post for the meaning behind this), it was the screeching of my boat hull against oyster shells that alerted the birds to my presence. Which is why I decided that Biscayne Bay was the better choice for my stealth strategy. But anyway...

I was hoping that one of my favorite chokoloskee bird subjects would be available this weekend, although I had thoughts that early August might be too early. For the past several years, I have found that the sandwich terns and few herring gulls appear in September after having been absent for some time. With an incoming tide, they turn up near the marina where there are several pilings. The sandwich terns are in great number consequently are continually competing with each other for precious piling space. Sometimes, they clash with a large brown pelican. This is where the fun begins. I was so happy to find that the sandwich terns were back, in full force.

Here's the part I like about photographing the terns in this spot. First, I can set up easily with good light (sun behind me). I am near the marina and in an area where there is no boat traffic, so I have lots of choices for spots to hang out and anchor or stake out if the tide is low enough. Fights ensue constantly as one bird bullies another off a piling. On a few occasions, a pelican will fly in and knock a tern out of the way. In fact, I photographed a scene where this happened, and when I looked at one of the photos, the pelican's foot was clearly planted on the poor little tern that was attempting to get out of the way. Ouch!

By the time I arrived on Saturday, the sun was uncovered but it was high, not a good set up for flying birds. I looked for banking shots but the birds were too fast and often the pilings got in the way. The wind was such that birds were not landing toward me, so getting a good light on the wings was near impossible. I didn't bother with the flash because I was ready to get off the water and I knew I would be back the next day. BTW, it was painfully hot and humid on the water this weekend, lots of no see ums as well.

On Sunday, I got back to the marina much earlier than the day before. The storms were more threatening and were coming closer to the area. I wasn't sure how much time I would have, so I got there as early as possible. I spent about an hour and a half with the terns using my flash. For about half that time, the lighting was exquisite. What made it so were the very dark clouds in the background. The only problem was that it would be down pouring soon and I needed to get off the water before that happened. I still needed to load up the gear and boats and wasn't keen on doing that in driving rain. Soon, even the sun was covered in dark clouds, so no point in continuing.

I managed a few decent shots of the terns, but found it difficult to capture them in flight. The best shots did not come out sharp enough and were promptly deleted. Another issue that popped up on several photos was the ugly piling (notice the one above with the pelican, and that one is relatively attractive compare to others). The two photos below are keepers but keeping to my theme of the week, there are issues with each. The first one was shot on Saturday at high sun. Note the shadows riddling the scene. The second was shot during one of those exquisite lighting moments and the bird's wings are nicely displayed. But, its head is down and its right leg blends with the beak. More separation of the foot and beak and a slight head turn would have made this a better shot. These shortcomings simply keep me coming back, to try, try and try again.

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