Sunday, December 5, 2010

Choko Bay at low tide

After our first camping trip of the season last week, it felt good to go out for a day trip in Chokoloskee Bay. No camping gear to haul, just the weight of my cameras and me and a few other odds and ends. Last week, I spent the day in Gopher Creek (see previous blog) on a cloudy, rainy day photographing birds. Today, not a cloud was seen in the sky. And it was chilly, low 50s upon arrival (about 7:30 am), but warmed up nicely to mid 70s by late morning. Winds out of the northeast were a bit more than I wished for, made the photography more challenging in this bay.

The low was scheduled at 8 am, and it was a negative one with the new moon. This is a good and bad thing. The bad is that lots of oyster shell mounds are exposed and can easily scrape the bottom of my boat as I attempt to get close to the wading birds that feed on those shell mounds. And that's the good news, there are plenty of birds around. Nothing exotic today, no roseates, no oyster catchers; but plenty of white ibises, gulls and white pelicans.

I paddled toward the pelicans where they were congregating in their usual spot. At first, there were only a dozen, give or take on the shell island, and they were quite wary of me, more than usual. I had little choice as to where I could paddle toward the birds, given that I was trying to get the sun behind me for optimal lighting. I paddled as close as possible, hearing the annoying screeching noise across the the boat haul. I couldn't get any closer while sitting in the boat, so I staked out and got out. My presence became more looming for the birds, now I was standing much taller than them. One by one, the got into the water and moved farther away. I attempted to walk the shell mound but they were moving away with every attempt I made to get closer.

I walked back to the boat and walked it out of the shallowest area before getting back in. I decided to try my luck at some other birds. One small mound was covered with royal terns and cormorants. The cormorants booked as soon as I began my approach. The terns took off too, but unlike the cormorants, they circled around and came back. Such are the gulls and terns, they seem to mind humans the least of all the birds. Ibises and brown pelicans come in a far second in that regard. The ibises ability to tolerate humans or a human with a boat varies, depending on their mood. I noticed a few of them at a near by mound, so I headed there. Once about 150 ft away, it became shallow enough that I could put the paddle down and manuever forward with one foot on the ground. I don't mind doing this because it gives me a lower profile, less movement and noise. I stopped whenever the birds took noticed. They stop feeding and stand erect, looking and listening. If I remain still, they go back to feeding in a few seconds. Finally, they allowed me to get quite close. They were busy, seems the morning breakfast was lizard fish. One after another, I watched each ibis catch and eat a fish.

I looked around and noticed that more white pelicans had joined the other group, that were by now back on their shell mound. I headed back. Water levels were higher now, so I had more room to get around and there was no need to get out of the boat now. The northeast winds were stiff, and never did I feel the need to take my jacket off. In fact, I felt a bit chilled most of the morning despite the full sun. The pelicans were now in great number, I estimate about 70 of them. I noticed a few flying in and flying out. About half of them were in the water. Now I could attempt to photograph them as I approached as close as possible, probably no more than a 200 ft. The sun was too high for my taste, but I'd take what I could get.

I noticed in the distance a great flock of turkey vultures swirling around. This is not unusual, but what is interesting is that they fly around, but never land anywhere. Then all of a sudden I noticed several of them above me. Hey, I'm not dead yet! I watched them for awhile. They were low enough that I thought I would attempt some shots. I metered off the sky and compensated about +1. The sun was shining down, illuminating the tips of the great birds feathers, a pleasing sight. Now I noticed more and more vultures. It was a path that they seemed to be taking from the southwest heading toward Chokoloskee Island behind me in the northeast. They kept coming and coming. On a few occasions, all of a sudden I noticed white pelicans among them, only flying lower right above me. Awesome sight!

Finally, the vulture show stopped and I put away the camera. I decided to paddle around for awhile. I came upon my fishing friends and hung with them for awhile. The incoming tide was very strong, especially through some narrow passages between oyster mounds.

At about 11:30 I headed back to the marina. On the numerous pilings were brown pelicans, herring gulls and royal terns. The sun was directly overhead, so what was I thinking. I thought I would experiment with some backlighting and fill flash. I didn't know what to expect, but I have seen some amazing photos of backlit birds. So I gave it a shot since the birds were landing toward me. If I got lucky, I would capture a tern or gull with wide open wings, backlit all around. I set the flash between +2 and +3 and went for it. Well, they didn't turn out as good as I would like, but considering the conditions, it was a good experiment.

1 comment:

  1. Nice shots Connie! We still have to make a plan and go thru the augar hole one of these days