Friday, January 6, 2012
Photographing birds on an 8-day trip through the Everglades
Before the new year, we get out for our annual long trip through the Everglades. Usually, we do not get many opportunities to camp more than 2 or 3 days at a time during the season, so we take advantage of our holiday time and get in as long a trip as possible. While I love these trips and there is so much to photograph, bird photography usually takes second seat because of the traveling involved. No doubt, I see lots of birds on these trips. But almost always, I am moving and so are they. On occasion, I come into a concentrated area where birds are plentiful and when given the opportunity, stay in the area long enough to photograph. Always, my favorite location for bird photography is the primeval area of Charley and Gopher Creeks, a two day paddle (or very long day) away. The night before we got into the creeks, we camped on Turkey Key, only one mile from the entrance into Charley creek. Here's a shot of our beach camp.
We left the island at 7 am, with the sun beginning to rise as we entered the dark mangrove tunnel. The tunnel is about 1 1/2 miles long before reaching more open terrain. Here is a shot of the tunnel as one of our paddling friends cleared the path by sawing a couple logs that blocked the path.
I include these photos to offer the reader a glimpse of the variety of environment we are exposed to out here. From the sandy gulf beach, the mangrove tunnel led us into a hurricane-damaged wet prairie that intermingles with mangroves. As we paddled out of the dark canopy into the light of the openness, I noticed that the prairie scene was behind the large mangroves and buttonwoods that lined the creek. But what I noticed mostly were that hundreds of birds, and all I had was thick mangroves and mud between me and them. I found an opening and pulled my boat up the mud bank and staked out. I stepped onto a dead branch that was large enough to support my foot and proceeded to get out, one hand on a tree branch and the other holding my camera with 400mm lens attached. As soon as I got my other foot on ground, I instantly sunk in a foot and a half of mud. With two steps forward, I was on firmer grassy ground and heading toward the bird scene. The birds, by now, had mostly moved further away. Nevertheless, the were relatively close and busy feeding. The water holes they were congregating around must have been loaded with bait fish and other marine edibles. Here's the best I got from my little excursion out of the boat.
I could not stay long as I had four other people with me and this was not an area to get stuck in at low tide. I got my muddy self back into the boat and continued exploring. For the remainder of the morning, I stayed in the area closer to Gopher Creek which had plenty of water, while the others paddled on. This is an amazing place to find birds, I felt like a kid in a candy store. The challenge was that this is a totally wild place and birds have lots of choices, one of which is to stay far away from the intruder. I tried many attempts at photographing them and managed some decent shots. The highlight was the American Avocet, a first siting for me. There were 3 of them busily feeding and while the egrets and other birds flew away from me, these guys stayed and allowed me to get very close.
Here are some other scenes from Charley and Gopher Creek, the best place to be in the Everglades on a warm, cloudless day, in a canoe.