Saturday, September 29, 2012

Florida Bay at full moon low tide

Took advantage of the beautiful weather and made the drive to Flamingo this morning. Low tide was not scheduled until almost noon, meaning it would be an outgoing all morning. This is a good thing and a bad thing for someone attempting to photograph wading birds on the bay. It's a good thing because there were thousands of birds, including dozens of snowy egrets and dozens of skimmers. But, it was a bad thing as I could not get close enough to 99% of them. I can get rather close to the birds a few hours before low tide, but the problem is that if I stay too long, I am stuck and surrounded by exposed mud & grass flats for hundreds of feet. I would have to drag my boat a couple hundred feet (while sinking to my knees in mud) before I could get back in the boat and drift to deeper water (which, by the way, only exists in the channel coming out of Flamingo marina). So there is that. The other reason is that the lighting in the morning is such that I have to paddle around to the outside of the endless mudflat. This can be very difficult in 1-2 in of water that is thick with grass.

There was another reason today that I could not get close to birds. Every time I attempted to drift toward a group of snowy egrets or roseate spoonbills, the water would begin boiling with bait fish darting away from my boat. The birds were alerted and that's all it took for them to fly off. The one time that I managed to get rather close to several little blue herons and snowy egrets (in the best light), a low flying helicopter came right over us, and off the birds went.

Nevertheless, I managed to capture some shorebirds (willet, royal tern, long-billed dowitcher), one juvy snowy egret and some ibises hanging near the mangrove shoreline.  It was beautiful to be out there and one of the best scenes was at Snake Bight where birds covered the flats in such great number that you could not see any separation among them. Amazing sight, but like oil separating from water, the birds always put great distance between them and me any time I attempted to get close.

For this area, the best conditions would be to get out on an incoming and in the afternoon so that the sun is behind me and the shoreline.  One of these days, one of these days...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mute Swan on the Bay

The Mute Swan is an invasive species from Europe. I associate this large bird with parks and fresh water. I never considered the mute swan to be a salt water bird, but apparently it takes to both fresh and salt water. I didn't know this when I spotted a mute swan on Biscayne Bay this morning, so I was surprised to see it. The only place I have seen mute swans in south Florida is at the old Crandon park, where several species of exotic birds live. A few years ago I watched a pair having sex in the water and a few months later I photographed the parents with their two young. Here is one photo of the swan family.

On Biscayne Bay, I first spotted it near the boat channel that comes out of Deering Bay. The bird was resting on some rocks near the mangroves as egrets and herons foraged the area in an outgoing tide. Eventually, the bird moved off the rock and began to swim south. For the next hour, I followed it until it reached the launch site near the Deering Estate. On occasion, I got myself between the bird and the shoreline and captured it with some frontlight. I had my flash on the camera and with the better beamer was able to splash the bird's feathers with some fill light (see photo above). The water was dead calm, perfect for this type of shot.

Later at home, I got online and reported my siting to the Center for Invasive Species. Apparently, these birds can be a big problem for other waterbirds because of their aggressiveness. As I searched the net, I ran across a few sites that discussed the management of mute swans in Michigan, which contains the largest mute swan population in North America at over 15,000. The DNR of Michigan issues permits allowing people to kill swans and destroy nests and eggs. This isn't the first time I heard of a bird problem in Michigan. The double crested cormorant has also wreaked havoc on this northern state through its voracious fish diet. I hope this siting is unique and is not an indication that mute swans will become a problem for Biscayne Bay's waterbirds.Here are a couple more photos of the invasive, but beautiful mute swan.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

February 28, 2014

Unexpected events happen in life. Some events change our direction or even set us back. Some events propel us forward in a way we never imagined. Sometimes, we don't recognize the event and we simply go on with our life without contemplating the "hows" and "whys". On May 26, 2012, I experienced an event, although at the time, it did not seem so significant.

From a few hundred feet away, I spotted a white bird of moderate size foraging around a mangrove tree. In these waters, a moderate sized white bird is either a snowy egret or a juvenile little blue heron. Nothing special about that. I paddled closer to the bird and stopped the boat just before entering the zone of concern (where the bird becomes alert to my presence). Something was different about the bird; it did not have the slender beak or body of a blue heron or snowy egret. I focused  at 400mm, and took a few shots. Through the LCD, I zoomed in on a photo and noticed that the bird had red eyes. Everything about it, except for the white feathers, made me think that it was a yellowcrown nightheron.

As this bird was clearly unique, I contacted the man himself, David Sibley, who confirmed that the white bird was an albino version of the nightheron. He also displayed one of my photos on his website, thank you Dr. Sibley.

A couple weeks later, I contacted Biscayne National Park as they keep a running tab on birds spotted in the park. I figured they would find the albino of interest, which they did. I communicated with Dr. Vanessa McDonough, one of the parks fishery and wildlife biologists, and park ranger Gary Bremen. The bird is now listed on the park's site:  And ranger Bremen posted one of my photos  in his "Featured Creature" Facebook site series.

At this point, I was happy to have found something so unique that others took an interest. But my discovery of the albino bird soon became more than just a rare find. This little bird opened a door for me. It turned out that Ranger Bremen is also the Director of the Dante Fascell Visitor Center's art gallery in Biscayne National Park. I asked him to visit my pbase gallery that displays Biscayne Bay. He liked my work enough to invite me to display it at the gallery. I was in.

So you see, this little white bird, so rare and so lovely became a significant event in my life. I think about it often and have seen it a few times since my first siting. I worry about it and wonder how it will survive out there. I wonder how a white bird will be able to hunt at night. I wonder if it will have the opportunity to reproduce. The albino yellowcrown is not only a symbol of opportunity, but it is a symbol of my love for Biscayne Bay.

Ranger Bremen and I may have several things in common, but one thing I know for sure is that we share a love and appreciation for Biscayne Bay. I believe he recognized that in my photos. Ranger Bremen grew up on Biscayne Bay. He experienced the bay before it became protected waters, when it was on the brink of death from overfishing, over-development and pollution. He has experienced it from all angles. In comparison, my relationship with Biscayne Bay did not begin until 2004, when Vivian introduced it to me from our kayaks. While she fished, I explored. Since 2005, I have been photographing the western shoreline of Biscayne Bay. And now, my work and love of Biscayne Bay will be displayed in print, in public.

So what is the significance of February 28, 2014? It is the opening day of my 3-month gallery at Dante Fascell Visitor Center. It is a very long time from now, but that time is a gift. It is more than simply preparing photographs for a gallery; rather it will be a new level of exploration and learning the bay, and then attempting to incorporate these experiences into my photographs that will make the next 17 months the most important ones for the photographer in me. My goal is simply this: present Biscayne Bay in a way that will make people take notice of its unique and amazingly beautiful qualities that should never be taken for granted. I want them to recognize Biscayne Bay's significance in their lives. Exactly what the albino yellowcrown nightheron did for me.