Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Sign of Winter

It is that time of year when I look forward to the arrival of my favorite snowbird; you know the large white one with a rotund torso supported by very short legs, black tipped wings and a long orange beak. Finally, a cold front hit south Florida, breaking the abnormal period of summer-like temperatures, and with it came the white pelicans. The cold front brought high winds, keeping me on land all weekend. But it was when I was standing on Chokoloskee Island that I looked up at the cloud covered sky to see my first flock of white pelicans of the season. At last! As I watched a flock of twenty soar over me, I momentarily forgot the el Nino forecast of a wet and windy camping season. My first siting of the pellies is a turning point as I begin to anticipate another season of paddling and camping in the Everglades.

If the dolphin pods slicing through the gulf waters symbolize the water experience of the Everglades, the white pelicans with their high wing aspect ratio (wing length squared divided by wing surface area) and ability to soar for hours symbolize everything above the Everglades water. If you spend any time in the gulf waters of the Ten Thousand Islands, the very large back country bays or Florida Bay, you know that the Everglades equals sky plus water, and not much in between the two. Study the water and you will observe marine life of all sorts, tarpon, spotted rays, loggerhead turtles, cormorants, manatee and so on. But look up and you will observe the white pelican, massive with its 10-ft wing spread and even more impressive when you see hundreds of them swirling on the air thermals. They move through the sky by flying in circles, and appear as quickly as they disappear into the vastness of the sky.

White pelicans love to roost on the flats. If you see one, you see dozens. It is sheer delight especially when you spot the crowd a mile away. Their white lumbering bodies provide a brilliant background for the bright orange beaks and legs. I love filling the frame with white pelicans!

Rarely have I encountered a single white pelican but it has happened twice, once on Biscayne Bay and another time on Chokoloskee Bay. Both encounters occurred in the ripeness of summer. The Biscayne Bay bird may have been a juvenile, too young to fly north and mate. On Chokoloskee Bay, the lone bird appeared sick, or perhaps it was just old age and not worth the trouble to fly north. Instead, the bird spent its summer on the bay with the active roseate spoonbills, biding its time. I titled this image "Life Goes On".

Soon, I will be packing my tent and gear to head out camping in the Everglades. I hope to take many trips during the next few months and see hundreds more white pelicans. There are many good reasons to be in the Everglades in the summer (and just as many reasons not to be!), but it is during the winter that it seems full of vigor after several groggy months of heat. This is when I love to be out there paddling for hours on end. The water sparkles from a cloudless sky that is active with birds and it never gets old. Words cannot express the feeling of ending the day under an Everglades sky, and to wake up and watch it greet you again with beautiful wings flying across the horizon the next day. The winter Everglades sky belongs to the white pelicans and they are back.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Return of the Flying Flowers

Over the summer, I spend a good amount of time at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. A typical morning at the garden would include two or three hours inside the butterfly conservatory, a relatively small space filled with exotic butterflies. I wrote about my learning experiences with the butterflies a few months ago and you can read it here.

During my time with the butterflies, I took hundreds of shots in my attempt to learn and experiment. Of course, 90% of my images got tossed out. But from those shooting experiences, I became more successful at capturing my vision of a butterfly. And so it was that during a recent visit to Fairchild, I limited my shots to a couple specific locations where I thought I might get the most interesting image of a butterfly. I paid attention to the background, and checked the DOF preview before shooting; and I avoided dark shadows and blow out highlights. Consequently, I took fewer shots and spent most of my time watching and waiting.

The image above was the shot I was looking for. I love the palm leaf and its dynamic pattern filling the entire background. To go with the complementary red and green colors, I just needed a colorful butterfly to land within the frame. So I waited and kept my focus on the plant, and set up for a vertical shot while resting the lens on a monopod. Finally, a golden birdwing landed and click, click, click.

Compositionally, I love this image. But unfortunately, it isn't sharp. C'est la vie. In fact, I think I may have captured one acceptable image from the entire morning (see image below). After a few more attempts, I left the butterflies feeling humbled once again. But I also left there with thoughts of new strategies and how I would one day, get that shot.

That's what it's all about; photographing for the shear joy of it, but at the same time, challenging ourselves. And doing it with a vision because it is that vision that keeps us coming back to the same location again and again.