Sunday, June 5, 2011

The seagrass bed of Biscayne Bay

The shallow bay grasses serve as a nursery to many marine species including crab and shrimp. As you paddle in the crystal clear water, you can see the grass covered sea floor quite clearly. Many living things hide in these grasses and often you see them. Occasionally, I come up on a southern or spotted stingray and I will watch it dart away gracefully. Recently, I watched a few infant bonnethead sharks swim around and follow our boats as we paddled north between Blackpoint and Chicken Key. Shark are a frequent siting here, much more often than dolphin and manatee. Last year's freeze killed many marine life. This year, things seem to be getting back to normal; I am noticing many more blue crab this year. This is good news for Biscayne Bay and all the life it supports.

Where there are shallow grass flats, there are birds. Today, I expected high easterly winds, but with the low tide at about 7 am, that would not pose a problem. The grass was exposed for an extended distance from the mangrove shoreline, meaning that the birds had lots and lots of space. This is more challenging for photography and sometimes, I wish I carried a 600mm lens on the boat (that would require a tripod). But then again, part of the fun is trying to see how close a bird or birds will let me get to them.

Today, there were a few cooperating birds, each very much involved with catching crab, shrimp, puffer fish and tiny bait fish. There were a handful of ibises at first, but then more began to congregate in an area near the shoreline and quite far away from me. Some yellowcrown nightherons (both immature and adults) were scattered about. One great white egret started my day as it fished at the edge of the low tide grass.

I focused in on a yellowcrown nightheron that has chased down a blue crab and caught it in its beak. For quite some time, the bird worked on the crab and would drop in in the grasses and then proceed to jab it with its sharp beak. Eventually, the bird had only the crab's body and soon would have it cracked open. I was not able to get close to the bird, maybe a 100 feet eventually (pushing my boat in very shallow water), and this photo below is cropped about 50%.

Almost camouflaged in the mangrove silhouetted waters was a green heron. It was working a small area and allowed me to come within 20 feet. I got as low as I could in the canoe and followed the little heron for about 30 minutes as it caught tiny bait fish.

One of the challenges with capturing birds in these shallow grass flats is to get a clean area surrounding the bird. As you can see in these photos, there are all kinds of grassy debris and mangrove sprouts interrupting the water. On the otherhand, the grasses can offer an interesting scene and after all, it is naturally where the birds are on this bay. I try to find a combination of clean and natural composition, one that illustrates the true Biscayne Bay. Enjoy these photos of Biscayne Bay grasses and the birds that thrive in them.