Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A weekend in the Everglades

The last possible weekend to camp and the winds once again foiled our plans to get out to the gulf. With expected 25+ knot winds clocking from the NE to the SE during the Easter holiday weekend, we decided to head down to Flamingo and car camp. Not our first choice by any means, but it did provide us the opportunity to explore various locations, including land sites where I might photograph birds with my feet on ground.

The 3-day excursion began early Friday morning at the Coot Bay Pond launch site. From there, we headed across Coot Bay into the Mud and Bear Lakes. Three years ago, I went into Mud lake to photograph a flock of flamingos in the dead of summer, see photo above. This time, there were no flamingos and the wading birds and lone white pelican would not allow me within a couple hundred feet. There were several flocks of American Coots but they also are very shy around boats; here's one photo of a raft of coots.

As I leisurely paddled around, Vivian fished and while I rarely capture fishermen and their catch, this time she was catching snook continuously that it became inevitable that I get a photograph.

The next day would be totally different. The winds calmed down enough to give us reason to head out to Florida Bay. With the outgoing tide, the mud flats grew in size and that meant the shore and wading birds would have lots of space. It's a bit tricky photographing on the bay with the outgoing tide. Florida Bay mud is like quicksand and you don't want to spend your entire day waiting for the tide to reverse so you can set yourself loose (getting out of the boat is not an option). I have learned to focus attention on a bird, but to stay attentive to the water levels. In most other places, like Biscayne Bay, I need not worry much about that and can lose myself in the birds while the water under my boat disappears. But here on Florida Bay, that's a recipe for disaster. Not only that,the winds became more intense out of the east and after a few hours, would force me out of the water. In the meantime, a few photos were captured. Here's a high key shot of a cormorant, would much preferred an open wing pose. The next two are common shorebirds on the flats; a curlew sandpiper and a willet.

Later that day as the winds continued blowing, I walked to Eco Pond. It was late afternoon and the lighting was beautiful except for frequent cloud cover. There were several black necked stilts and some greater yellowlegs in the pond. The stilts did not come close, but the reflections on the pond were irresistible. Here's a couple shots.

Early Sunday morning we broke camp and drove to 9-mile pond. The black vultures were there in great number to greet us. We launched in a beautiful morning light. Soon, it became evident that the territorial male gators were working their territories. Vivian hooked a spotted gar only to have 2 gators come after her catch. Safely away from that encounter, another gator spooked under her boat causing a scary wake. In the meantime, I was following a couple large lizards that were heading towards a well lit grassy bank. It was a beautiful set up for photographing and I waited for one to get into a good light. But then, one ran out of the water onto the bank as the larger gator chased it. Shortly after, the classic territorial gator bellows began. Here's a shot of one big guy as it bellowed, arching its back and head out of the water. Sitting in the middle of the lake, it was a surround sound of gator bellows, enough to cause me to put the camera away and clear the area.

In the meantime, the lovely vultures were pecking away at the rubber lining along the bottom of my car doors. They are notorious for this, but luckily, we stopped them before they did damage. If they weren't so dang cute...

Another great weekend in the Everglades.