Friday, June 14, 2013

Rediscovering Biscayne Bay

Years ago, I earned my PhD, not because I am so smart or privileged (because I am neither), but because I have the need to immerse myself into one thing in attempt to learn everything about it through the collection and analyses of data.  I remember one year when I was studying for my comprehensive exams I had no social life for approximately four months. One Sunday afternoon I decided to take a break and go see a movie. When I arrived at what I thought was the scheduled time, I was told that the movie had started an hour ago. That's because daylight savings (spring ahead) began that day, unbeknownst to me. Duh!

I am much older now and a bit more grounded in reality. I am also fortunate enough that I can take a long break from work and use an entire summer to immerse myself in my photography of Biscayne Bay in preparation for the gallery exhibit next spring. To that end, Biscayne Bay has become my dissertation. For the past month, I have been going over hundreds of photographs (analyzing the data) from Biscayne Bay taken since 2007. The best part of the tedious project is I have rediscovered some old photographs and have more time to read up on the history of Biscayne Bay. 

Presented here are some of those photos that I have rediscovered and that may or may not make it to print. In the meantime, I am having a blast studying Biscayne Bay through a camera lens.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My friend the albino yellowcrown nightheron

On May 26, 2012, I discovered a rare albino yellowcrown nightheron. Up until a month ago, I had not seen it since August last year. A few weeks ago, I was in the area I originally found the bird and did not see it on the wading grounds. I paddled into the dark creek for no particular reason other than to look for golden silk spiders to photograph. It was in the creek that I saw my albino bird once again. This time, it stood on a branch in clear location about 10 feet away from me. I sat watching it for couple minutes while it stood still. I felt very relieved that the little bird was alive and could be seen again.

Today, I headed back to the area under cloud cover. The sky was clouded over and the sun had not yet risen so that the water and shoreline were gray and dark; with one exception, a small white bird several hundred feet away. I paddled over to it and was so happy to see my little albino bird again. There were only a couple other yellowcrown nightherons (one juvenile and one adult), no other waders were around. Some birds flew over, including this frigate bird, but all morning, it was just me and the white nightheron.

For some part of the short morning, I had sunlight, but used my fill flash frequently. As the rising tide (and easterly winds) pushed the water into the mangroves, the bird flew to the trees. I found it in the mangroves and it allowed me to get within several feet of it. Here it is before it walked behind the large branch and peeked out from behind (second photo).

Storms were forming off shore and some were rolling in my direction. Not yet threatened by these clouds, I decided to paddle 1/4 mile over to the marina area where there is another launch. This morning I was not able to access it because of a very large white tent standing in front of it at the edge of the parking lot. Lots of cars with trailers were coming into the parking lot so I figured this was a filming location. I paddled over to see what was happening and here is one shot from the water as I hid behind the mangroves. I assume those are toy guns in their hands. It says "Policia" on their vests, so this might be a Spanish film of some sort.

By now the winds had really picked up, so I headed back to my car where I was greeted by a nice gentlemen riding a bicycle. He asked if I was leaving and said that they were filming in the location and would need me to move my car. "No problem", I said, "leaving anyway." After loading the boat, the same gentlemen met me near the road as I was driving out. He said he needed to escort me out as the road was blocked by the film crew and that I would need to follow him. Consequently, I had to drive right through the film crew. iphone in hand, I tried to capture some images on the way out. They didn't look to happy with me, but hey, nobody said anything to me at 6:15 am when I arrived at the launch!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tricolor Heron Rookery

After several days of constant rain, thanks to tropical storm Andrea, we had a dry day and the chance to get on Biscayne Bay. With the tail end of the storm trailing north, the sky remained cloud covered before sunrise. We arrived at Deering launch site with this scene over Chicken Key.

After the sun rose into the clouds, the glassy calm waters of the bay went gray, not much different from the sky. Here is a shot of my friend Sandy, paddling his new canoe, which is my old Vagabond I sold him a couple weeks ago. I am still paddling a Vagabond, a newer version.

I paddled the 1.5 miles to the rookery, which I had not visited yet this year. The original rookery island where I first photographed the nesting cattle egrets was now inhabited by cormorants and anhingas, and in fact, the anhinga nests have increased in number since last year. Good for them! I spent the remainder of the time near the three little islands in the channel which are now teaming with cattle egrets and tricolor heron nests. Today, the tricolor herons took center stage.

As always, photographing the rookery is very challenging. The channel is deep, rendering my trusty stake-out pole useless. With only an anchor, I positioned myself on the side of the island that is normally backlit. The advantage of that side is that it is out of the channel and more isolated. With the cloud cover today, this was a good opportunity to use fill flash and not be concerned of the angle of the sun. Here is one flash shot of an adult cattle egret.

Quickly though, the clouds dissipated and the backlit side of the island was no longer ideal. I paddled to the opposite side, anchored and tried to set up for some shots of the baby tricolor herons. The wind had increased and I was exposed to it as it came from the south. With a long anchor line, current and wind, my boat moved around every which way. I would have to use my paddle to repeatedly get back into a good position where the boat would stay motionless long enough to get a few shots. The sun going in and out of the clouds made it even more challenging.

But I tried hard because there was so much activity and the birds were cooperating fairly well. In good light and in an open space, I captured a lone out-of-place reddish egret. What was this bird doing here among other species? After about an hour, a juvenile tricolored heron  swooped down next to the reddish egret and began bullying it. See the two photos below. After several seconds of fighting, the reddish egret flew off, no longer welcome at the rookery.

This little juvy tricolor was full of it. Soon after its encounter with the reddish egret, an adult tricolor landed and the little one was soon fighting the adult. It won its second battle, the adult flew away, not willing to put up with the juvenile antics.

Among some of the photo opportunities was one nest where a few tricolor heron nestlings were waiting patiently for mom to fly in and feed them. Here are a couple shots of those guys.

I was happy to see so much nest activity with dozens of fledglings and nestlings in the rookery islands. Seems the tricolor herons have increased in number since last year, providing opportunity to capture some of their activity. The day was magnificent as I soaked up the sun and paddled in calm waters. Not wanting it to end, I did not get off the water until noon, 5 1/2 hours of bliss. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A tribute to the osprey

William Bartram was a naturalist who explored the Florida area and wrote about it in his book "Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, etc.", published in 1791. I learned about his book from a list of favorite books read by Jeff Klinkenberg, a writer for the St Petersburg Times. Klinkenberg writes some of the best Florida stories. I found an electronic version of the book "The Travels of William Bartram" and no further than page 63 I found one of the best descriptions of the osprey and the eagle. The first paragraph describes the eagle, the second paragraph describes the osprey:

"The bald eagle is likewise a large, strong, and very active bird, but an execrable tyrant: he supports his assumed dignity and grandeur by rapine and violence, extorting unreasonable tribute and subsidy from all the feathered nations."

"The last of this race I shall mention is the falco piscatorius, or fishing-hawk: this is a large bird, of high and rapid flight; his wings are very long and pointed, and he spreads a vast sail, in proportion to the volume of his body. This princely bird subsists entirely on fish, which he takes himself, scorning to live and grow fat on the dear earned labours of another; he also contributes liberally to the support of the bald eagle."

An eagle is an impressive bird and when I have the opportunity to photograph it, I take it. On the other hand, it is the osprey that has commanded my respect and admiration the most. Of so many birds that I love, the osprey is my favorite next to the brown pelican; not just for photography, but as a constant companion on my Everglades trips (as is the brown pelican). While I do see several other birds often, the osprey's presence is consistent and it is always a joy to hear its melancholy call, telling me I am near a nest. I believe that Bartram described this bird perfectly.

Recently at Flamingo, I was able to get rather close to an active osprey nest and the mother allowed me a brief glimpse of a nestling, my first siting. Often, I see osprey flying overhead with a fish in claws or nesting materials in mouth. However way I can capture this magnificent fish hawk, I try. Enjoy these photos of one of south Florida's best birds, the osprey.

I almost forgot to add the following; recently I learned of a webcam on a nesting osprey. As of this writing, two of her 3 eggs have hatched. Enjoy the live action here.