Sunday, May 1, 2011
At last, the babies are here! I paddled over to the rookery yesterday morning, with northeast winds blowing briskly and increasing slightly during the morning hours. Got to the rookery at about 8 am with cloud covered sky. This would be a challenging light as large dark clouds mixed with thin clouds, all passing quickly from east to west. For some short periods, the sun was uncovered but always a slight haze filled the sky. North of the Tamiami trail somewhere in the Big Cypress a fire burned and this created a thick fog while driving to Everglades City. While on the water, the east winds blew that smoke over the bay.
One mangrove island seemed to favor the pelicans over the egrets. Here, there were at least a dozen pelican nests with various sizes of babies. Some barely big enough to see their triangle shaped heads over the nest, others were big enough that they were already flapping their wings (barely feathered) widely. In most the nests were 3 babies. Finding a nest with a clear view was not easy and most of the well seen birds were located on the west side of the island. This would have been a perfect set up as it was also an area protected from the strong winds. Unfortunately, it is the least desirable for lighting. I moved to the other side and with the sun behind me, I tried to stake out so that my boat stayed firmly in one spot while I face the birds. Having a strong wind makes this very awkward. Here's a shot of a nest; in the first photo the parent had a wary eye on me. After a few minutes, she decided I was not a threat and went back to her nap while keeping her featherless babies warm.
I had a challenging day both winds and lighting. For most of the morning, I kept the flash in the pelican case, attempting to shoot when the sun was not covered. I paddled around to various islands, some where most great white egrets were nesting. I noticed something different this year compared to last; there are many more snowy egrets nesting here. The problem with those guys is they hide low in the trees, so rarely do I see a nest clearly. And they do shy away from me moreso than the other birds.
Later, I paddled over to the island that contained the most baby pelicans. I staked out on the west side with the intent of simply watching the babies, as I had an excellent view of a couple nests. An adult flew into one of the nests to feed the starving babies. With that I decided to set up my fill flash to attempt some shots, to overcome the shadows as the sun provided a severe side light. Feeding time is quite an act to see; at times 2 baby heads are inside the parent's pouch and appear to reach far into its neck. It is my understanding that both parents take the responsibility of feeding the babies about 6-8 times a day. Feeding on regurgitated fish, the babies grow quickly and in about 4 weeks from birth are about ready to fledge. That's when it becomes fun to watch them as they learn to fly. I think in 2 weeks, I should see much more fledging activity and if I am lucky, maybe watch a parent teach its baby to dive for food. I read somewhere that this endeavor is so dangerous for a young pelican fledgling that the parent will interrupt its dive before it hits the water if it is doing it wrong. Here are a few flash shots of the feeding scene, not ideal light but at least you can see what is happening.
I will be back in two weeks, hoping to see the baby egrets as well. One thing to add here, I have been audio recording while at the rookery. Yesterday, I captured the loud screeching sounds of baby pelicans. In this audio, you'll also hear a plane fly over, a typical sound. Between the low flying planes and the airboat tours to the Brown island near by, the bird rookery sounds are continually interrupted. Be patient, and try to listen the entire audio (about 4 min). Here is the link to the audio file.http://www.plunder.com/Rookery-4-min-wma-download-4caeebe7c8.htm