Sunday, August 28, 2011
Some appetizers on the bay
Sometimes, the conditions are so perfect that I can spend a long concentrated time in one spot where the birds are cooperating, the lighting is perfect and the wind is calm. Usually, this also means low tide because it is the wading birds that generally provide the most opportunities to photograph birds on the bay. But not every day is perfect of course and that's when I have two choices. I can put the camera away (or not take it out at all) and just paddle, or I can find opportunities somewhere. These may only be appetizers, nothing more than a small bite, but when you have a few appetizers to choose from, it can be good fun.
And so it was today on Biscayne Bay, a few days following Irene, the hurricane that barely brushed us as it stormed through the Bahamas. Most of the time, people up north watch the weather channel as a hurricane bears down on the gulf or lower Atlantic states; but this time, we are watching the northeastern shoreline get pummeled. As the hurricane winds + high tide storm surges flood the Jersey shoreline, we paddle across the bay in calm waters, picking up an occasional piece of debris that blew in from one of the Bahamian islands. The water levels were very high this morning from the combined effect of the moon and the winds coming off the tail of Irene. There would be no wading birds today, but there are other things going on around here.
This particular area of the bay that I paddled today is like a playground to me. There are specific subjects to photograph depending on the time of year, water levels, and wind speed and direction. If it is a negative low tide, wading birds along the shoreline will be in great number not far from the launch site. Further out toward Chicken Key and the channel that comes out near it is the lagoon that contains a cormorant rookery island. As a result, cormorants are always in great number along the channel. It is like a cormorant highway and one can sit in one place and watch them fly by, sometimes in large flocks. Just past the channel are the sticks where gulls, terns and cormorants roost. And last, there is the cattle egret rookery.
My choices today were driven by two things, the wind direction and the extremely high water levels. Since the birds would not be wading, I decided to head over to the sticks. Because of the west winds, the bird would unfortunately be facing the wrong direction. At best, I thought I might try some high key silhouette images of the gulls as they fight for space. When I got there, the sticks were mostly underwater and the few birds that were there, were of course facing west. I wasn't inspired to stay with them, so I decided to head over to the north side of the channel where there would be more protection from the wind (which had started to pick up some) and I could stake out and try to capture some cormorants in flight. On my way there, I captured this immature herring gull that was resting in the water.
Photographing cormorants in flight is difficult when you are firmly on land, even more difficult from a boat. These birds are extremely fast, requiring a fast shutter speed to capture without blur. But what is so cool about photographing them is that they fly low, a few feet above the water mostly. With a backlighting situation, you can capture the bird and its reflection, surrounded by whiteness. In certain areas today, I tried to capture the birds flying over water that was reflecting mangroves and some of the orange colored buildings located in one area near the channel. The colors are beautiful on the water. There was only a small space from which to capture these reflections and since birds rarely fly exactly where you want them to, I was not able to get that image I wanted. Here are a few flyers. Note the branches in the beak of the bird that is flying back to the rookery, still tending to its nest despite it being so late in the season.
After awhile I headed over to the cattle egret rookery. I could see the three tiny islands from a distance and they were covered with white birds. The babies have grown and are learning to fly. Many are still being fed by parents, but for the most part, the babies seem to be independent. In these photos, it appears that there are some juvy little blue herons among the cattle egrets. It was almost impossible to capture these guys; they are skittish with the presence of my boat in the water and consequently move themselves into the higher areas of the mangroves, more hidden from my camera. And the west wind caused all the birds to face away from me. Here are a few shots that at least illustrate the scene. The first photo is one of an adult attempting to feed the young birds.
After a short while, I headed back. The sky has been mostly clear, but there was a storm in the south horizon forming fast. I met up with my fishing companions where we were no more than a mile from the launch site. The storm come over us and we attempted to paddle into 20 knot headwinds. At one point it increased to 25-30 knots and since I was close to the shoreline, I let the wind carry me toward the mangroves where I waited it out for 5-10 min. I can paddle strongly in 15-20 knot headwinds, but when the winds approach 25 to 30, it is virtually impossible for me in this canoe to get anywhere. Fortunately, the summer storms in Florida blow in fast and blow out just as fast. Soon, I was paddling back in manageable winds. Not the best day on the bay, but not a bad one by any stretch.