Saturday, March 17, 2012

Summer already?

The temperatures have been unseasonably high this winter. What is generally a winter season speckled with cold fronts, has turned into a very mild, very breezy (typical) year. And now with daylight savings, it is beginning to feel a lot like summer around here.

And in summers, I spend much time on Biscayne Bay. That is what I did on this mid-March Saturday morning. Normally, this would be a camping weekend, but it just seemed nice to stay home for a change. And Saturday morning appeared to be a good time to get out on the bay. Recently, the park opened a canoe launch site on a canal that runs out to the bay near Deering. About 1/4 mile away is the entrance to the hidden lake on the north side of the canal. On the south side is a clearing where you can portage across the dirt road into a creek that leads into the bay in a southerly direction. That route cuts off about 1 mile to the sponge farm sticks and the rookeries, where I wanted to be this morning. Wearing my mosquito headnet, I got my boat into the creek and was on the bay early enough to see this scene.

I figured the clouds would eventually burn off, so I headed south toward the rookery, about 2 miles from the launch site. This was going to be a fact-finding trip more than anything, or so I thought. This is not the time of year I find myself on Biscayne Bay. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I figured if the great white egret and brown pelican were already nesting in the Everglades, the cormorant and cattle egret must be nesting here on the bay. In May, I begin my summer visits to the rookery and at that time, I don't see very many babies in the nest. I figured in March, the adults might be busy building the nest and setting up for a long summer of raising young birds.

I had a high tide this morning, with an outgoing the remainder the morning. No wading birds to photograph, I headed over to the sponge farm sticks where some terns and gulls were roosting. A few years ago, I started photographing birds here and had a great time with the laughing gulls. Their territorial antics are awesome to photograph in the right conditions. On a calm day, I can stake out the canoe close to the birds (gulls are so much friendlier than other birds) and take my pick at what to shoot. Typically, I do not see the birds in number until August or September. And always, they are in their winter attire. Here is one shot from a few years ago.

Today, there were a few royal terns and one laughing gull. This time, the gull was already in its summer plumage. I staked out about 40 ft from the birds, but the winds were a little challenging as my boat sat broadside to the winds. I somehow managed to turn it so that the bow was facing away from the wind, which decreased the rocking considerably. I set the camera to continuous shooting on Hi (8 fps) and started rifling off some shots. A friend in a kayak came up, and while I stopped to visit with him, a mild rain started. After putting away the camera, the rain came down harder, but only lasted about 10 minutes or so. It was beautiful on the bay. The rain drops on the water were illuminated as the sun was uncovered. A rainbow appeared on the south shoreline. This is when I wished I had a canopy or umbrella set up on the boat. I could have continued shooting with the beautiful rain all around. After the rain stopped, I pulled out the camera again to capture what was left of the rainbow.

Here are a few more photos of the laughing gull in its summer plumage. I was able to capture the bird in the warm morning light.

After spending time at the rookery (photos for another blog), I headed back to the launch site, taking my time. The tide had rolled out nicely and the wading birds were back in great number. I stopped to photograph some of them, despite the noonday harsh light. Before entering the creek to get back to the launch, I passed this scene. The bay at low tide is no place for a large boat like this. Someone is going to have a very long day ahead of them on the bay. I wonder what happened?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The graceful white egret

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
Emily Dickinson

A beautiful morning with the great white egret in its rookery. Mating and nesting, the parent birds will soon have young ones to feed. Lots of work to do before all that happens, nests to build and maintain, in between the continuous sex to keep the lineage going. So much work for these birds that live strong, survivors of cruel human fashion trends and greed for space. For some reason, brown pelicans and great white egrets share their nesting space, quite respectfully I might add. Very rarely do I see a confrontation between the two distinct species. This is the time of year that these birds concentrate on passing along their genes, survivors of the fittest. For this blog, I will concentrate on the great white egret.

I sat in my canoe several dozens of feet away from the mangrove edge where the birds have built their nests. I arrived early enough to work with that perfect morning light. Clouds were many, but the sun remained clear most of the time. The darkest and most abundant cloud formations were in the western sky, so while the morning sun lit up the white birds warmly, the background was a beautiful combination of white, blue and dark gray, brilliantly contrasting the white feathers of the birds. And to top it off, the brisk winds was coming out of the east, somewhat southerly, which forced the birds to take off and land toward me.

I intended to spend most of the morning here and hoped to spend a second morning in the same place since I was staying the night at Chokoloskee Island. But, as almost always the case, the weather controls our plans out here. Saturday began easy as I paddled in a northwest direction to the rookery. The south winds were barely 5-10 knots. By 9 am, they had picked up considerably as I sat in the somewhat protected area of the rookery. While staked out, my boat would often be moved forward with the gusty winds that continually increased in strength as the morning drew on. It required patience to do any photography. By 10 am, the winds were sustained over 20 knots. I anticipated this and knew that my 1.5 mile paddle back to the launch site would be difficult and slow.

But before the time I had to leave, I sat in my canoe and enjoyed the birds. I watched many couples, but concentrated on one of the small mangrove islands where a few couples were in the best light. I was happy to have the Sony a77, 24 mp sensor that would allow some room for cropping. This means that I can capture the birds from a greater distance and still maintain high resolution with cropping. I attempted many flight shots as the sky lent a beautiful background to highlight the birds graceful form.

By 10 am, the lighting became harsh and the clouds more frequent. I decided to make the trek back to the launch site, knowing that I would not be back on Sunday. The forecast called for 30+ knot winds. I enjoyed the few hours I had with the birds and felt content as I paddled through 2-3 ft waves rushing toward my boat on the ride back. My pelican case that houses my cameras and lenses sat in front of me as the waves occasionally broke over the bow. The newly gained photos would make it back home safe as the pelican case was tightly sealed, waterproof and floatable if necessary. It has never come to that, and with confidence, I can take my canoe to glorious places to photograph. It's for the birds.