Friday, October 25, 2013

Back to the Everglades

After holding my breath for several weeks, I finally got back to the Everglades National Park last weekend. It was a perfect day to be out there. We were on Chokoloskee Bay before sunrise and the full moon shone bright over the bay that was interrupted with large oyster bars. My entire morning was spent paddling around the labyrinth of islands that separate the very large Chokoloskee Bay from the even larger Gulf of Mexico. It didn't matter to me that I was not photographing birds (they were so uncooperative), I was content simply paddling with the tides.

I have many memories on Chokoloskee Bay, the waters where I learned to kayak and canoe and where I learned to photograph from a boat. It is not an easy place to photograph, in fact it is down right harsh. The bay is riddled with oyster bars, very sharp oyster bars. Of course, these are where the birds are found and if I wanted to photograph them, I had to learn how to ease my way toward them while making sure my boat did not get sliced to pieces with the unrelenting oyster shells.

Back in 2007, I shot one of my favorite images on Chokoloskee Bay (next image below); I title it "Life Goes On" and it will be displayed soon at the Pauline Reeves Gallery in Everglades City. This is a special image of a white pelican in the summer. White pelicans normally are not found on the bay in the summer; in March they head north to breed and nest. In October, they arrive again to stay in the warm Everglades during the winter months. I guessed that this bird was old or sick and could not make the migration that year.

Chokoloskee Bay is also my first introduction to the Ten Thousand Islands. Within the boundary of the park, the Ten Thousand Islands are accessed by first crossing this very large bay. In the summer,  the daily storms can make the bay treacherous, but this can also be a beautiful time on the bay. I spent many summer mornings on the bay watching storms ride in before I high tailed it to land.

 Whenever I need a quick Everglades fix, Chokoloskee Bay is where I go. I always took for granted that I would have the Everglades National Park whenever I wanted and it was so easily accessed from Chokoloskee Island. But not anymore. I will never take the park for granted again.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The mysterious mangal

One of my favorite books is a small (5x8), 64-page photo book titled "Mangroves: Trees of the Sea" by Jerry, Idaz, and Michael Greenberg. I think I found it at an Everglades visitor center among several books on display. What amazed me about the book is the spectacular photos of the mangroves of Florida, including several underwater images of the mangrove roots that serve as nurseries for countless numbers of marine animals.

Quite often, I pull this little book off the shelve when I am looking for specific information, terminology (propagules are seedlings, right?), and most of all, inspiration. The images are so breathtaking that I find it difficult to believe they exist only in the book. At any rate, when it comes to photographing, I find mangroves to be the most difficult subject for me. It might be because I spend almost all my photography time surrounded by mangroves. They are everywhere; you can't spit without hitting one! Consequently, it is easy to get desensitized to them. But also, they are shadowy, muddy, oyster-encrusted, and messy and unkempt in their green and brown presentations. Not very photogenic at first glance!

But oh, those prop roots are very intriguing and when the light hits them just so, they do become photogenic with their sensuous shapes. I am not sure how to describe it, but it makes you want to explore their mysteries through the lens. Over the years, I have attempted to do this in various ways. At first it was to illustrate the wall of mangroves that line the waterways I paddle through, day in and day out. The two images below are examples. This is OK, but how much of that can one do without being repetitive?

Because I photograph wading birds, I get very up close and personal with the mangroves and am drawn to the possibilities of photographing them in that way, mud and all. This led me to try the "Intentional Camera Movement" technique from which I have created several mangrove blurs (including a wider angle shot of a creek). I discuss the technique in another blog so will not go into it here, but let's just say that it is harder than it looks and I have a long way to go to perfect it. But, I continue to learn and experiment, and will always seek a fresh way to present the beauty of the mangrove.

As long as I live in south Florida, I will continue to photograph mangroves. They are the trees of the sea and I love them.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Glorious morning on the bay

Seems the weather has finally taken a turn in a subtle kind of way as we head toward the winter camping season. Slightly cooler and drier this time of year compared to summer, we often spend our weekend mornings in the Ten Thousand Islands area. But, with the national parks closed last weekend, we instead enjoyed a full weekend on Biscayne Bay. We launched from Deering where the sun can be seen rising over the little island known as Chicken Key. Why is it called Chicken Key? White ibises roost there at night and the funny bird with the curved beak is often times referred to as a chicken. It does kind of cluck like one and apparently it shares culinary characteristics of the chicken. The best part is, hundreds of white ibises fly across the sky along the shoreline of Biscayne Bay early in the morning; and they do this like clockwork daily.

We were lucky enough to access the launch site 30 minutes or so before sunrise. This was nice as we had our boats ready to go by the time the sun began peaking over the water. The clouds hung a bit higher than usual which provided a beautiful display of orange and blues. I decided to hang out by the launch site and wait for the daily commute of the white ibis. Rush hour typically begins immediately after the sun's upper edge clears the horizon.

In the meantime, Vivian and a fishing buddy, Jay, paddled out onto the water. I waited at the shoreline with a yellow-crowned night-heron. Soon after,  I decided to get in the boat and anchor off shore a ways, providing me the best sight of the birds as they began their flight.

There are so many birds that it takes about 15-20 minutes for the show to end. They all head in a southerly direction and my best guess is, they are heading to mount trashmore which I am sure is ripe with all kinds of food for the birds. Knowing that the birds are heading to a pile of trash kind of takes some of the charm away from the scene. On the other hand, you have to appreciate a bird's opportunistic instincts. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Extreme fishing

It's been tough this year photographing on Biscayne Bay with all the rain run-off and virtual lack of low tide conditions. But finally, I got out on the water yesterday and what an awesome morning it was. It was fall holiday for me, so a day off from work became an opportunity to spend a morning on Biscayne. Because it was a work day for everyone else, it was just me, the birds and thousands of bait fish.

Once the sun cleared the low hanging clouds on the horizon, I had perfect lighting on the western shoreline. There were only a couple wading birds in the water and since I was two hours ahead of low tide, I thought I might see more birds as the water continued to recede. I paddled over to the mouth of creek where I noticed a white bird, thinking maybe it was my albino yellow-crown night-heron. it wasn't, but it was a great white egret and near it was a tricolored heron. I suddenly realized what was happening. Bait fish (2-3 inch minnow types) were spraying the water along the mangroves and the birds were staging along the edge ready to capture a meal.

With the beautiful warm light of the sun, the bait fish appeared like golden sparkles. With the mangrove reflections in the calm water, it was a beautiful sight to see. But what made this even better was that the birds were concentrating on catching the fish. I quickly honed in on the tricolor heron that was more active than the great white egret. The juvenile heron stood on the mangrove roots and waited with its beak pointed downward toward the water. As soon as the fish were in sight, it jabbed the water and most times came back up with a catch. The acrobatic fishing style was impressive as the bird held on to the mangrove root with its feet, flung itself beak first into the water while stretching its entire body to twice its normal length.

With the image below, I took the liberty of removing the shadowy mangroves in the background in attempt to isolate the bait fish and the bird. I like that the bird is somewhat shadowed by the trees, like the stealth predator it is.

The whole scene was mesmerizing. I found a good spot to stop about 40 feet or so from the bird. As the bird waited for the right moment, I waited for the right moment. At last, I was back in my zone. I sat still, finger on the shutter button, continuous focus ready to track the bird in the instant it moved. I stayed with the bird for a long time attempting to capture it in action and with hundreds of bait fish disturbing the water below it.

After awhile, there was very little going on, except for a little blue heron and a group of white ibises wading in about 1/2 ft of water. Some time with them provided me a couple more images of the day. It didn't seem like I had spent four hours on the water, it flew by so fast. It always does when you're having fun.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The colonial man o' war

Several years ago in the month of January I came across a beautiful object in the water on Biscayne Bay. Once close enough, I realized that the object was a Portuguese man-o-war, beautiful but painful to touch. I attempted photographing the animal (or should I say animals) as it reflected its vibrant blue in the water, matched nicely with the blue sky. At some point, Vivian passed close by in her tan canoe which created a more colorful composition. The image above illustrates this.

As this was my first Portuguese man-o-war, I researched it and learned that it is not one organism but many that are attached to one another. While wind, current and tides dictate the Portuguese man-o-war's path, it can inflate and deflate its gas-filled bubble in such a way to create movement or allow it to submerge underwater if threatened. Whenever I learn about a symbiotic relationship in nature, I am struck with awe by the incredible skills and tricks that animals demonstrate with one another. I learned that the Portuguese man-o-war has a symbiotic relationship with several types of fish that are unaffected by its venom. These fish know enough to swim under the man-o-war's bubble so as to be surrounded by the tentacles. By doing this, the fish are safe from predators that could be killed by the man-o-war. At the same time, the man-o-war benefits because unsuspecting prey will be attracted to these fish, causing them to become prey of the carnivorous man-o-war.

Several months after that encounter, I ran across another Portuguese man-o-war in Biscayne Bay. It was December and as with the previous one, the animal had been blown into the western shoreline by consistent easterly winds. This time, the man-o-war was in a shallow and wind-protected location, having been driven into the mangrove shoreline. It was covered in detritus from the grasses and other organic material being blown around the water, but it was in good light for photographing it. What was most interesting is that it appeared to be moving independent of any water movement. It rolled around slowly and at one time, extended and retracted its bubble. This made for some interesting images, each unique in its own way.

I kept going back to the images and one day I decided to create something different. I had been experimenting with isolating birds by darkening the surroundings to a pitch black. Looking at the Portuguese man-o-war, I decided that technique would be quite interesting. The man-o-war has lots of texture and its movements created various shapes and color plays. So with that, I display here some of those images.  I don't know if I will ever see another Portuguese man-o-war in Biscayne Bay waters, but this one offered me more than I expected.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cute when young

Feeling a bit depressed these past few days for a couple reasons; the stupidity of congress and the rain, both associated with a big dark cloud hanging over south Florida. When I heard that the republicans used the national parks as a bargaining chip and the democrats responded with "it's all-or-none", I am not sure which side disgusted me the most. At the end of the day, all that matters to me is they are keeping my two favorite national parks closed. Hence, the big dark cloud over south Florida.

So what to do when your favorite places are not accessible to you and the rain never stops? Go through some old photos, that's what I do. And I decided to concentrate on my neighbor, the musgovy duck because no matter what happens, they will most likely always be here.

Once or twice a year I walk out my back door, go a few hundred feet and find several musgovy ducklings in the flooded grassy areas. The reflections from the buildings and passing cars make the scene challenging, but also more interesting. I have blogged about this before, but decided to do it again and present more images of the cute ducklings.

I may not be able to get out into the Everglades National Park, but I have my home ducks and lots of other beautiful animals to photograph.