Thursday, December 2, 2010

Giving thanks

For Thanksgiving, I spent 5 days in the Everglades, paddling from one campsite to the next. 65 miles approximately, in total. But I was able to spend some quality time in one of my favorite Everglades spots, Gopher Creek. I've only been in there with my canoe twice previously. Once was before I owned an SLR camera. But with my P&S Cannon powershot, I was able to capture some shots of birds and gators.

Gopher Creek is an interesting area, situated between the gulf and one of the backcountry bays. Thus, it contains a mixture of tidal waters and backcountry flows from the Big Cypress. In addition, this area was wrecked years ago by hurricane Andrew. Along the creek the hurricane damage is evident with the numerous dead trees that still stand high. These offer lots of perching locations for birds. At low enough water levels, the creek is saddled by mud banks that provide the hundreds of gators places to rest in the sun and lots of feeding ground for the birds.

When I am inside Gopher Creek paddling with the mild flow of water, I feel I am in another world. The birds are plenty, yet they do scare easily as my boat coasts quietly. Gators take notice and will appear quite alert as you pass by. I love to photograph in this place, with the challenges come unique opportunities.

On the one day I had to come in here, it was cloud covered and rainy. The clouds provided a diffuse light making the use of my flash optimal. The rain came in a few times with high gusts, but lasted only 10 minutes each time. By 2 pm, the sky had cleared. By that time, I had been inside creek for about 3 hours. Most of my photos were taken under cloud cover. I was able to practice my fill flash and was quite happy with the results. Using ISOs of 400 to 640, I was able to settle at shutter speeds between 1/500 and 1/800.

Most of the egrets and herons consisted of tricolor herons and snowy egrets. Probably the greatest number of one species was the white ibis, lots of juveniles. I ran into a concentrated area of juvenile woodstorks where they perched high on the dead branches. Green herons were seen, but they were hiding well in the mangroves. The problem today was the relatively high waters and lack of mud space along the creek. Consequently, almost all the birds were perched high or flying to and fro.

Once past Gopher Creek Bay, I saw more birds, including a couple roseate spoonbills and osprey. One of the roseates was feeding along the edge of the water, so I hung out with the pink feathered bird for awhile, until it flew off. I waited for it to jump onto a low branch at which point it would inevitably splay its beautiful wings out. This was a attractive scene to capture, with the dark background contrasting the pink.

Later I paddled to a narrow portion of a baylet where some belted kingfishers were chattering loudly. When I hear that kind of chattering I recognize that to mean that there is more than one bird flying about. I found a good spot to stake out and stay still. I honed in on 2 birds that appeared to be chasing one another. They also appeared to be flying around in a small area, all within good range of my 400mm lens. There were a few highstanding dead tree trunks that provided excellent perching for the birds. The winds were steady and in a direction that meant the birds would be landing and taking off while facing my direction. And, when the sun finally came out, it was too my back. Perfect! I watched the speedy birds and began to follow a pattern with their flights from one perch to another. One would land on one tree and the other would land near by. Then, one would fly over to the other, chasing it off its perch. This continued for some time. This was a new experience for me. These birds rarely offer me an opportunity to photograph them because they rarely stay in one spot long enough. But today, I had a show and lots of photo opportunities.

I was happy with my first attempt at capturing the belted kingfisher. I only wished I had a larger lens to fill the frame with the bird. But, then where would I store it on such a trip? I was also happy with my use of the flash, something I am gradually getting use to, even with white birds. Dealing with the rain was only a minor inconvenience. With flash and better beamer attached, I couldn't put away the equipment, so I covered it with my rain jacket with the camera on my lap. I could have paddled back to the campsite like that if I had to, but thankfully, the rain only lasted minutes. I think for my day paddles, I may bring a large dry bag that can accomodate the flash and beamer with camera so that I can quickly put it all away into safety. In the meantime, this Thanksgiving meant thanking God for the Everglades.

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