Never in my years coming to Chokoloskee Island in the summer have I witnessed the thick mosquitoes that were there to greet us at the marina. Our friend Mike, who lives on the island, warned us and we took his warning to heart. Before getting out of the car, we put on our mosquito net jackets, and thick knit gloves. At 6:30 am, we loaded our boats with an overcast sky (sun barely peeking out of the east horizon) and absolutely no breeze. The mosquitoes were so thick that it reminded me of the old saying, "you could swing a cup and catch a quart".
There has only been one time that I have experienced mosquitoes as bad as this. Two years ago, I had the privilege to paddle out to Mud Lake, near Flamingo in the dead of summer. After driving the mud-holed dirt road to get to the launch site, I paddled out Buttonwood canal to Coot Bay and then into a creek that led to Mud Lake. In there were a flock of flamingos that a friend had found days before. He guided me out there so I could photograph them. I blogged about that trip on June 29, 2009. To do this trip, I had to completely protect myself from the onslaught of mosquitoes. In addition to the mosquito jacket, I wore heavy knit gloves, sealed my pant sleeves with velcro straps, wore wool socks and sneakers and heavy nylon pants. Knowing that I would not want to expose myself for any second, I froze a Camelback container of water and wore that under my moquito jacket. Not only did the frozen water keep me cool, but I could drink thawed ice without unzipping the jacket. It was well worth the trouble. Check out that blog for photos of the flamingos. Here is one shot of the birds and another of me in the bug suit.
Today, low tide on Chokoloskee Bay was early and with the incoming all morning, I wasn't certain what to expect in terms of waders and other birds. From the launch, I saw none appearing on the exposed oyster beds and decided to head over to the oyster flats on the south end of the island. The sun was rising but the sky was veiled with clouds. I could hear rumbling thunder off in the north distance, but no storm clouds could be seen. I wasn't worried too much about that this early in the morning and figured if I didn't have any luck photographing, I would spend the morning simply paddling around the labyrinth of mangrove islands between the bay and the gulf.
Lots of birds were on the oyster flats but were difficult to see with the back light. I noticed a large number of darkish birds on one small island and attempted to paddle closer to them and get them into front light. The group consisted of about 30 juvenile ibises, brown and white in color, mostly brown. It was quite shallow and the outgoing current was relatively strong. I attempted to stake out about 150 ft or so from the birds, and with that, they spooked and promptly flew away. And that would be how the remainder of my morning with the birds would turn out.
I carefully paddled around the exposed oyster shells attempting to get close to birds, but they would not have anything to do with it. I never bothered to take my camera out. Here is a shot of the bay at low tide from a couple years ago, just to give you a sense of the scene.
Earlier, I had eyed a group of roseate spoonbills near the mouth of Chokoloskee Pass, about 1/4 mile away at this point. I decided to paddle over to them as I was having no luck in my current location. There were about 10 of them, mostly juveniles. The young roseates are distinguishable from the adults with their white feathers covering their head. The adults, on the other hand have exposed skin around the head and you can see their ear openings. The ears look so alien. The birds let me get rather close to them (about 50 ft) , but they did move over to the other side of the tiny oyster flat, rendering several of them invisible from the neck down. A few stayed in place and with the sun barely cleared of clouds, I took the camera out and decided not to bother with the flash. The lens immediately fogged up, as is the case every time I go out this time of year. After awhile, the lens cleared and I took some shots, but without much enthusiasm. The birds were not cooperating much. The photo above is one of a few shots I took and below is another of two adults. I took post processing liberty with this one, for the hell of it. You can really see those ears on these two birds.
I put the camera away and paddled. I was still wearing the mosquito jacket. Having a net over your face is not ideal when photographing, but what are you going to do. There was enough cloud cover to keep the sun from blazing too hot, and with a slight breeze, it wasn't as uncomfortable as it could be. Eventually though, it did warm up enough that I had to take it off. Mosquitoes were still around and never completely disappeared. But, they weren't swarming. I paddled about 7 miles or so as the morning drew on, without taking the camera out. The tide was rolling in and what birds I did see (several of them actually), they were never close enough to photograph. Nevertheless, I had a very pleasant paddle.
I decided to see what was happening at the pilings near the marina. Several brown pelicans and sandwich terns were resting there. I took the camera out and attached the flash (still overcast) and attempted some photos of the pelicans as they preened. All were facing away from me. I was not pleased with any of the photos enough to bother processing. But, one bird did provide me some nice photos. The bird flew off its perch and landed in the water where it sat drifting for several minutes. It wasn't paddling or bathing or anything, just sitting with its beak touching the water slightly. I suspect is was cooling down, nothing more than that. Here are a couple shots of that beautiful bird.
This was not a good day for photographing. I only had a few photos to show for it, about 1/100 of the number of mosquitoes that made it into our car and hitchhiked back to Miami with us. Whatever energy I had left over from the morning I used for swatting the bugs all the way back home. Such is the Everglades in the summer. Got to love it.