Friday, February 27, 2015

Two Nights in the Everglades: Picnic Key

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled"Where the Canoe Takes Me" in the photography magazine Extraordinary Vision. The gist of the story was that I spend much time and energy exploring the Everglades with the intention of photographing in areas that are not easy to get to and return to the same locations with varying conditions. The reason being is that one specific place can appear so different from year to year, day to day, and hour to hour. Tides, water, storms, time, all of these cause things to change out there. And one specific location where I have been able to witness this consistently is the beach of Picnic Key.

Recently, I took advantage of the low wind forecast and decided to head out to Picnic Key. Picnic was the first island I camped on in the Everglades over 11 years ago. Since then, I have spent 14 nights in total on that island. It is also one of the most popular campsites and day-visit sites in the park. Why do I keep going back to it? Mostly, to photograph it. Each time I come to the island, it is new to me. My photography has evolved over the years and each time I go to Picnic Key, I come with new skills and knowledge, sometimes new equipment, and a fresh view of things. That, coupled with the fact that Picnic Key has also changed makes each visit a first.

To illustrate how quickly things change in the islands, I show here some images taken on the day I paddled to Picnic Key, from 8 am to 6:30 pm. To begin the eight mile journey to Picnic, I launched from Eveglades City and was greeted with this scene at about 8 am.

The haze was coming from the prescribed burn in the nearby Big Cypress preserve. At the same time, fog began to form out of the southeast. It did not take long before the entire sky was filled with smoke and fog. As the fog formed, I paddled across Indian Key pass and this interesting rainbow-shaped display of light appeared. It was 8:30.

By the time I reached the bird rookery islands, the fog lay heavily in the sky and visibility dropped to less than 1/4 mile. And it was dead calm. I stayed in the general area of the tiny islands in the bay and attempted to photograph the surreal scene, such as this one taken at about 8:45.

Within an hour, the fog began to lift and this scene greeted me at 9:15.

At last, I was heading to Picnic, riding the remaining tide out to the gulf. I paddled through a small creek that leads into one of the large bays. As I rounded a sharp corner, I looked up to the sky that had some remaining smoke clouds and was amazed at a very large flock of white pelicans soaring on the thermals. By then, it was 10:30. I got out the camera and captured as many images as possible. I positioned the camera vertically to try to capture the extent of their soaring height. An amazing bird with a wing span over nine feet, the white pelican is a favorite winter bird in the Everglades. They are now preparing to make their migration journey north in the next month. I can tell as many of them are already touting the large bump on the beak that is a sign that mating season will begin soon.

By the time I reached Picnic Key, the skies were mostly clear, as shown here. This was taken at about 12:00 pm. Notice the low tide conditions.

After a couple hours of resting in the shade, I observed a strange display of clouds beginning to form and spread out over the sky. The sun was now covered in a veil of clouds. Here is one view of this, at about 1:30. Also notice the incoming tide.

The sun remained covered for a few hours. With the reduced light, I decided to get out the filters and attempt some slow shutter speed images. Here is one that was taken at about 2:00.

Picnic Key beach contains leftover driftwood from various storms, particularly hurricane Wilma that caused extensive damage to the mangrove shoreline. Consequently, the rugged beach can be an interesting scene at sunset, but is also quite challenging with tidal effects. I have been attempting to photograph this beach for years and have yet to capture "the right moment". On this day, as dusk approached, the skies cleared. This was disappointing as I was counting on the clouds to offer some interesting light. Here is how the day ended on Picnic Key, images taken between 5:30-6:30 pm.

Happy with how the day rolled out, I spent a peaceful night camping under clear skies, listening to the breaking waves as another high tide would greet me in the early morning. The next day, I would take my time getting off Picnic and then paddle a very short distance to nearby Tiger Key where I had a mission to fulfill. And on that day, things changed even more dramatically. Part 2 of "Two Nights in the Everglades" coming soon.

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