Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Seagrasses and photographing wading birds

Biscayne Bay is a lush meadow of seagrasses. Turtle and manatee are the most prominent species in Biscayne Bay. Turtle grass looks like ribbons (as in the image above) and manatee grass is cylindrical. As I paddle through the shallow waters of the bay, I can see the meadow below, so abundant along the western shoreline. These grasses are critical to the health of the bay for many reasons, among which are the marine animals they support. Fishes,crustaceans and shellfish hide in these grasses, but they also feed on organisms that live on the grasses.

The seagrasses are Biscayne Bay's life blood and they comprise about 160,000 acres in the Biscayne region. Nutrient loading and land runoff are their biggest threats, but there is also propeller scarring. It seems everything about the bay depends on the health of the seagrasses that support the marine food web that includes algae, invertebrates, fishes, birds and mammals.

I come to Biscayne Bay to photograph the wading birds that feed among the shallow waters. When easterly winds prevail, the grasses are pushed up against the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Sometimes, they accumulate so much that I must carry the boat several feet through knee-deep grasses before reaching the water.

It is not easy capturing wading birds from a boat. Most often, I cannot simply anchor and stay in one spot. Rather, I have to follow the birds, sometimes over hundreds of feet. At low tide, that often means pushing my boat with some effort through very shallow waters. The grasses provide a surface to glide across, but it is not easy. The worse part is when I get into a good position with birds, they move and then I am stuck having to push myself out of the spot and work my way back into another one.

At low tide, the seagrasses disturb the surface of the water. This makes photographing wading birds challenging. Grassy debris and mangrove sprouts often compete with the main subject of a composition and many times, a photo opportunity is bypassed as a result. I began noticing patterns; the water surface almost appears like fabric with textures and colors. Rather than drawing attention away from the main subject, the grasses enhance the image with proper framing and blending.Clearly, the seagrasses are an important components to photographing birds on Biscayne Bay and I had to figure out a way to capture both the bird and the grasses.

If it were not for the seagrasses, there would be no birds on Biscayne Bay. Enjoy these images of the birds and the seagrasses of Biscayne Bay.

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