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Biscayne Bay - Life in the Grasses and Mangroves

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S: Biscayne Bay - Life in the Grasses and Mangroves

BC: “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It's always our self we find in the sea.” E.E. Cummings

FC: Life in the Grasses and Mangroves | Biscayne Bay

1: Biscayne Bay Life in the Grasses and Mangroves Written and Photographed By Constance Mier 2013 | All Rights Reserved Copyright 2013

2: Dedication To Vivian, for bringing Biscayne Bay into my life and for being a constant source of inspiration. You are never alone on the water, I am always with you.

3: Introduction The canoe came first, then the camera. The canoe takes me to spectacular places where I see amazing wildlife. The camera, initially a journalistic tool to record our paddling trips, has since evolved into much more than that. It has become the driving force behind the exploration and experience of the wilderness in a most profound way. Through the lens, I watch, study and learn details of many aspects of Biscayne Bay. Its unique qualities are striking and significant in number and include such things as tides, seagrasses, mangrove forests, marine life, and of course, birds. The photographs help me to see each of them well and to learn certain patterns and habits of the bay that are developed from the interactions of these qualities. Regardless of what I learn, it all remains truly bewildering. In our normal lives, we are in a routine of unnaturalness, we are constantly inundated with technology that gives us the illusion of control, and we are surrounded by artificial and synthetic materials that separate us comfortably from the natural. But step outside of that familiarity to explore the wilderness and it becomes apparent immediately that nothing is in our control. Out there, the weather, the tides, the water, the animals, none of those things do we have control over. But they are all real, they are nature created beyond human possibilities. Out there, you are only an observer. Once you accept that fact, many gifts are offered. These gifts are often not easy to receive; they come only with time and experience, perseverance and patience, muscle soreness and fatigue, innovation and problem solving, and sometimes just plain luck. As you attempt the challenges, you allow yourself to let some things go, but while one door closes another may open as you become a skillful paddler, a knowledgeable navigator, a better photographer. You study the animals and learn their behaviors. You realize that you can photograph the essence of Biscayne Bay, but only on its terms. Negotiate the terms and you will accumulate the endless gifts it has to offer. Here are a few gifts from over the years as I explored and learned Biscayne Bay. June 12, 2013

4: "As Thomas Tusser said in the sixteenth century: "It is an ill-wind that bloweth no man to good." It is difficult to admit that the illwind of Daniel K. Ludwig's Seadade Industries did indeed bloweth some good - a National Park." Lloyd Miller, Biscayne National Park: It Almost Wasn't, 2008 | History | 4

5: Biscayne Bay and its surroundings have been home to many for hundreds of years; the Tequesta Indians, pirates, smugglers, fortune hunters, Spanish explorers, millionaires and at least four United States presidents. With the industrial revolution, urbanization and the desire of many to live in the sub-tropics, Biscayne Bay became one of the wild areas of south Florida that humans sought to include in their development of modern civilization. The upper keys, including Elliott and Old Rhodes became inhabited by homesteaders in the 1800s and in the same century, plans to build causeways to connect the mainland to several of the islands were hatching. One plan was to build a connector between Miami Beach and Key Largo. It would have passed right over the “safety valve”, a series of coral flats that separate Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The safety valve essentially protects the southern coastline by providing an outflow for storm surges across the bay. Ralph Munroe, a yacht designer and accomplished amateur photographer once argued that bridges and causeways would prevent the outflow with devastating consequences, and in fact, he came up with the name "safety valve" for this reason. Fortunately, the right people listened to him. | In December 1959 Daniel K. Ludwig, billionaire shipping magnet had purchased 18,000 acres of land along the south bay. He planned to build the largest home and resort development in the state. His company, SeaDade Industries would build the world’s largest suction dredge to fill in the mangrove shoreline. This plan also included a causeway. Ludwig had an ulterior motive that later became evident. In 1961, he announced his plans to build a seaport that included an oil refinery, a 30-ft deep channel and a 40-ft deep port, all large enough for oiler tankers. The shallow, sub-tropical lagoon that supported an incredible amount of marine animals would be thoroughly destroyed if Ludwig got his way. | 5

7: It is a good thing that Ludwig’s grand plan was as grand as it was, because it galvanized a movement to stop further development on the bay and the northern Florida keys. Eventually, a national monument was created and later, it became a national park. So much happened between 1959 and June 28, 1980, the day that Biscayne Bay National Park was signed into law. For instance, some things could not be stopped such as the Florida Power and Light plants, including the nuclear plant on Turkey Point. But we have it, we have our park. | “Fortunately all schemes to pave over, dig up, channelize and fill in South Biscayne Bay fizzled for one reason or another but mostly because none of the promoters found a way to finance their projects. That our beautiful bay survived as well as it did for so long is part miracle, part bungled development schemes and partly because it remains a little remote.” Lloyd Miller, Biscayne National Park: It Almost Wasn't, 2008 | 7

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11: In my canoe, I sit quietly gazing at the western shoreline as the sun casts golden on the mangrove leaves and roots. The expanse of the mangrove forest is endless, with only a minor interruption where a channel enters the bay. The tidal influence reveals the grasses for several dozen feet beyond the mangrove shoreline, perfect location for wading birds to feed on the array of marine life supported by the seagrasses. This is the best time to be on the bay that will soon be active. Flocks of white ibises will swoop in, schools of bait fish and the predators that chase them will disturb the silky surface of the clear bay water, brown pelicans will begin diving, magnificent frigate birds will soar above, and egrets and herons will come out of hiding and begin foraging the shallow shoreline. In other words, magic will unfold before my eyes. I cannot help but think of the time when this could have all been destroyed. Where I sit now in my canoe is where an oil tanker would have sat in a deep port; where fishermen catch bonefish, the waters would instead be shadowed by a causeway, and where a bird rookery exists, an oil refinery would stand belching its fumes. Instead, I am in paradise. September 18, 2011 | 11

13: “The town itself is disagreeable; but then, all around, you find an inexpressible beauty of nature.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe | 13

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16: Unique Qualities of the Bay | “Some days, Biscayne Bay’s shallow waters are glassy smooth, a window on another world. Other times, the wind whistles and whips, creating white waves that bite like teeth at an angry sky.” A quote from the Biscayne National Park website | 16

17: Every time I am on the bay I feel lucky to live in Miami. I curse the daily commute to work with the constant highway construction, the second worse airport in the country and the high cost of living. But at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning, there is no other place I want to be as I paddle the bay waters under clear skies and cool, but calm breezes. From the Deering Estate launch site I paddle out as the incoming tide begins. A few egrets are wading, but mostly I see gulls and pelicans flying around. The sun is well over the horizon by the time I am on the water, but the coolness of the air makes this a very pleasant morning on the water. December 12, 2010 The Oxford dictionary's definition of a bay is "broad inlet of the sea where the land curves inward." But in reality, Biscayne Bay is a lagoon, defined by same dictionary as "stretch of salt water separated from the sea by a sandbank, reef, etc." It can be described as an estuarine lagoon characterized by its salinity and water quality that varies according to ocean exchange, freshwater flow and wind driven circulation. Biscayne Bay is the largest estuary on the coast of southeast Florida and is contiguous with the southern Florida Everglades and Florida Bay. It contains four major ecosystems, estuarine bay, 4000 patch reefs, 42 Florida Keys, and the longest stretch of continuous mangrove coast on the east coast of Florida. Extensive seagrasses and mangrove forests, estuaries and hard-bottom communities comprise Biscayne Bay. The benefits to those of us that find refuge on the bay are the incredible numbers of birds and fishes that come from the its diversity. | 17

18: The city is in view, serving as a reminder of how vulnerable is the bay with its crystal clear water and resilient seagrass beds. I once wrote "Biscayne Bay is where I feed my soul. It is conveniently close to my home that it seems spiritually reckless to think of it in such a way. After all, we find inspiration in those individuals who have shared their stories of spiritual awakenings through nature while traversing dangerous mountains or paddling treacherous waters in remote areas of the world. To the contrary, Biscayne Bay casually shoulders up to Miami. The aloof presence of the city makes us want to nurture our wilderness as if our life depended on it. When I am in the city, I know Biscayne Bay is with me, like a good friend that might say goodbye one day." Since 2005, my camera has opened my eyes to an intricate and complicated bay that when given the time through patient exploration, reveals its magnificence in so many ways. Over the years I have become profoundly intimate with Biscayne Bay. | 18

19: When I come to the bay I intend to photograph something; bird, mangrove, spider, crab, fish. Because there are so many possibilities, a morning on the bay has its own essence and the memory of it is solidified through my photographs. Depending on the wind speed and direction, tide, or time of year, what the day ends up being in terms of photographs cannot be fully identified until I am off the water. Often, one thing is expected, but something totally different comes along. A predicted low tide turns out to be high levels of water due to strong easterly winds, storm clouds extend into the late morning causing me to change my strategies for photographing birds or mangroves, or a bird new to me shows up unexpectedly. While I may be disappointed that one day did not unfold the way I expected or that I was unable to repeat a perfect day, the bay provides me much more than that. It always exceeds my expectations and because of that, each day on the bay has a unique quality to it. With each day I learn more of the richness of Biscayne Bay because there are endless opportunities to explore it. No two days on the bay are alike. | 19

20: In the fall of the year, the mullet fish make their southerly run through Biscayne Bay before swimming offshore to spawn. They are constantly pursued by large predators that provoke the fish to jump out of the water with gusto. The entire school of fish jump on cue and what you see is water boiling with activity as several schools flee predators. On this particular day, the water was alive with bait fish. This became a spectacle as the sun rose over the water. Soon, I was staked out and waiting for a spray of fish to capture. I had two choices, the high key effect of the open water or the greens and browns of the mangrove shoreline reflecting beautifully on the water. I got where I could find an underwater chase and follow the leading ripples that indicated bait fish would be jumping in number at any second. Sometimes, I would hear the sound of spraying water and find them that way. On those days when birds are nowhere to be photographed, Biscayne Bay's got something. October 10, 2010 | 20

21: On this calm morning, I wanted to head over to the sponge farms just north of the channel that runs past Chicken Key. The sponge farms are nothing more than several narrow wooden sticks standing in the water at various heights. There are a few clusters of sticks within a 1/4 mile length of the bay. Each cluster contains about 12-20 sticks within a small area. I thought I would hang out there thinking that the gulls would be quite active while perching on the sticks. Most of the sticks are at eye level, perfect for capturing gull interactions. I anchored near the sticks in the best light and background position I could find. I stayed in that place for a couple hours as the gulls entertained me. Gulls are common, no doubt about it. But the gull is a lively subject to photograph, especially when there is precious real estate to fight over. They fuss with each other constantly and make so much noise when approaching, it alerts me to an impending photo opportunity. The interactions today were perfect as they landed toward me and the sun. This was brilliant for capturing the full wing spread of a bird attempting to land on a stick already occupied by another bird. Despite being "lowly" birds, gulls are beautiful and quite fun to watch. September 26, 2009 | 21

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24: Kids love tree houses. Eventually, we grow out of the tree house, which becomes only a symbol of the places we seek refuge to get away from our adult responsibilities. Apparently, there are some big kid adults that have found their refuge in actual tree houses. Along Biscayne Bay shoreline, I have found some of these hide-a-ways. I guess some people are still living their tree house fantasies. May 19, 2013 | 24

25: Anyone in Miami with a boat recognizes this holiday weekend as being famous for the Columbus Day Regatta that is sailed on Biscayne Bay. This weekend marks the 58th anniversary of the regatta. The regatta is a sailing race, but over the years it has become associated with the infamous powerboat parties. Hundreds of powerboats anchor near Elliott Key which becomes Biscayne Bay's version of South Beach. Anyone in Miami that at least pays short attention to the local news recognizes this weekend to be the most dangerous boating weekend of the year. While all of the mayhem was happening offshore, I was on the western shoreline Saturday morning, quietly approaching the wading birds. It was dark when my canoe touched the water, but soon, the sun began to peer over the horizon that had already become speckled with distant boats on the bay. I wanted to come here as the low tide was suitable for many wading birds in that perfect morning light. I knew there would be more than the usual noises coming from the nearby boat channel, but the birds would still be there. October 7, 2012 | 25

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27: Launching from Black Point marina is not my first choice because it does not provide as many opportunities for wading bird photographs as other places on the bay. On the other hand, this area has the most beautiful shoreline and creeks to wander in. It is also where I have experimented with mangrove images. About 1/2 mile north of Black Point is a small lagoon that is somewhat hidden behind two small mangrove islands that separate it from the bay. In the morning, this is an exceptionally beautiful and quiet place where I don't mind floating around gazing at the trees and water. On this particular morning I was near some mangroves that were full of large propagules. Propagules are the seedlings that hang like cigars from the branches and occur primarily during summer. It was relatively calm and protected so the water was uninterrupted and the seedlings were in good light. Consequently, the clear reflections of the thick mangroves appeared real. I began to play around with photographing those reflections by causing small ripples in the water with my paddle blade. Attempting these reflection shots inspired me to try something different. Awhile back, I had fun using a blur technique when visiting Fairchild Tropical Gardens. I was pleased with the effects and thought it might be interesting to try it with the mangroves. Lots of trial and error in getting the right exposure and blur, I worked between shutter speeds of 1/6 to 1/13 and apertures no larger than f16, staying mostly within f22-29. ISO was set to its lowest level. The sky was nicely clouded over, which made it easier to expose. I was quite happy with the outcome. July 23, 2012 | 27

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29: It was at Black Point where I was introduced to Biscayne Bay; so it is a special place, if for only that reason. June 23, 2009 | 29

30: From a few hundred feet, I spotted a white bird of moderate size foraging the grasses near a mangrove tree. In these waters, a moderate size white bird is either a snowy egret or a juvenile little blue heron; nothing special about that. I paddled closer to the bird and stopped the boat a hundred feet or so from it to avoid alarming it. Something was different about the bird; it did not have the slender beak or body of a blue heron or snowy egret. I focused at 400mm, and took a few shots. Through the LCD, I noticed the bird had red eyes. Everything about it, except for the white feathers and yellow beak, made me think that it was a yellow-crowned night-heron. As this bird was clearly unique, I contacted David Sibley who confirmed that the white bird was an albino version of the night-heron. A couple weeks later, I contacted Biscayne National Park. I figured the park people would find the albino of interest, which they did. I communicated with Dr. Vanessa McDonough, one of the parks fishery and wildlife biologists, and park ranger Gary Bremen. At that point, I was happy to have found something so unique that others took an interest. But my discovery of the albino bird soon became more than a rare find. This little bird opened a door for me. It turned out that Ranger Bremen is also the Director of the Dante Fascell Visitor Center's art gallery in Biscayne National Park. I asked him to visit my online gallery that displays Biscayne Bay. He liked my work enough to invite me to exhibit at the gallery. I was in. The little white bird, so rare and lovely became a significant event in my life. I think about it often. I worry about it and wonder how it will survive out there. I wonder how a white bird will hunt at night. I wonder if it will have the opportunity to reproduce. One year after discovering the bird, I saw it again inside one of the creeks. It stood on a branch only 10 feet away from my boat. I talked to it as it stood for several minutes. Is there such a thing as a spirit animal? I do not know the answer to that, but I do know that the albino night-heron is a powerful symbol of my connection to Biscayne Bay. September 9, 2012 | An Albino Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron | 30

32: Biscayne Bay is a lush meadow of seagrasses. Turtle and manatee are the most prominent seagrass species in Biscayne Bay. The seagrasses comprise about 160,000 acres in the Biscayne region. Nutrient loading and land runoff are the biggest threats to the grasses, 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. | Seagrass | 32

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34: In these shallow waters, the grasses often 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 had to overcome this somehow. I began noticing patterns; the water surface almost appears like fabric with various textures and colors. Rather than drawing attention away from the main subject, the grasses can enhance the image with proper framing and blending. I began to see the seagrasses as important components to photographing birds on Biscayne Bay. | 34

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37: When easterly winds prevail, the grass debris is pushed up against the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. The grasses have accumulated so much that at Matheson Hammock launch site, you have to carry the boat through knee-deep grasses before you reach the water. Near low tide, there is about 25 ft of grasses between land and water, making the launch more difficult. These grasses become the feeding grounds for the wading birds, which makes it worthwhile to put of with that. May 29, 2012 | 37

38: The clouds burned off quickly and soon I was shooting with clear skies. Low tide was scheduled at 8:40 am, perfect for wading bird photography on Biscayne Bay. I never know what I will find out here, but the bay never disappoints. Today was a bonanza of bird photo opportunities. It wasn't easy; I cannot simply anchor my boat and stay in one spot. Rather, I have to follow the birds, sometimes over hundreds of feet. And 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. July 21, 2011 | 38

40: Summer Storms and the Clouds | I spent some time photographing a flock of white ibises, a yellow-crowned night-heron and a tricolored heron with its wings spread over the water. After a couple hours, the sky started to look black as large storm clouds covered the Miami skyline and were soon on top of me. I quickly put away the equipment as it began to sprinkle, but not before capturing the storm clouds looming over the bay. It started raining hard as I paddled back to the launch site. The equipment got slightly wet as I scrambled back to the car. By then, it had stopped raining and the sun was out again. I dried off the equipment, and headed back out on the water. There was an enormous storm forming over the bay and mushroomed upward into the sky, splaying out to the north and south. Soon, thunder was heard and then the lightning was seen. The storm appeared to be moving more north than west, so I was not too concerned. I was only a few minutes away from the car, so I captured several photos of boats passing under the stormy clouds. A man in a kayak passed by as I photographed him and his lime green boat, contrasted against the black sky. Soon after, Vivian paddled quickly past me to get back to the launch before the storm descended on us. August 23, 2009 | 40

42: More than two months has passed since having a good photo day on Biscayne Bay. August and September were filled with weekends of storm clouds and rain, work and other obligations. Finally, it was a perfect day to be on the bay. Let me count the ways; good tide conditions, no rain or storms in the forecast, mostly unclouded skies, and extremely calm winds. On the water by 7:15 am just as the sun peaked over the horizon, I did not leave until noon. October 3, 2010 | 42

43: The day heated up quickly and the breeze was absent all morning. The water was glazed with sunlight but the clouds and the reflections were dynamic. Using the polarizer filter, I played with the side light. Today, there would be no photographs of birds (a few spiders, but no birds), and I simply paddled around and photographed the clouds. Having a boat in the waterscape composition provides a point of interest and scale, allowing you to feel the vastness of the bay. So I took advantage of having Vivian near by and captured her beautiful Hemlock canoe in the water as she fished. I can be a little more care free taking these photos. I let the sun and its intense light do what it does best and that is to offer severe contrast to the clouds and water reflections. With that I shoot in just about any direction where the sun is at an angle from me. July 17, 2011

44: The reflections in the water are irresistible. Naturally, wading birds reflect and with calm waters, the reflection is nothing more than a vertically flipped version of the real bird. Water is also evidence of the bird's action. What a joy to photograph these moments. | The Wading Birds of Biscayne Bay | 44

46: Here's a quote I ran across: "Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence." I'm inclined to change that to "Knowing nature, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing birds, I can appreciate persistence." July 21, 2011 | 46

47: In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence. Robert Lynd | 47

48: The bay was like glass with no wind to speak of. It was already 80 degrees upon arrival and would reach 90 degrees before 10 am. Alone on the bay, I paddled gently in the shallow grassy waters. I heard the loud squacks from a couple tricolored herons flying among the mangrove trees and took that as a sign that the birds would soon be feeding in this area. Sure enough, shortly after sunrise the birds came in to the shallows. I spotted the black-necked stilt pair that I had seen on other days this year. Unlike some of the herons and egrets, these two are extremely shy and will freeze if there is any indication of a predator nearby. They quickly lose their patience and will move further on, making it difficult to capture them. July 9, 2009 | 48

49: As soon as the sun was cleared of clouds, the shoreline became illuminated from its rays. That's when I look for those photo opportunities of birds foraging in the shallow waters reflecting the mangroves. I attempt to compose a shot of a bird with mangrove roots in the upper portion of the frame believing that this would add some depth and balance to the photo. I love the look of the mangrove roots and their reflections in the water. I like to capture a bird close to the roots so that they fill the frame. Whenever I look at such a photo, the roots always appear so much larger. Today, I had lots of options with many birds foraging in and around the smallish mangrove trees that form a barrier between the ocean and the shoreline. July 22, 2011 | 49

50: As far as I know, I am the only person that photographs birds from a canoe on Biscayne Bay, or anywhere in south Florida for that matter. I know paddlers that bring cameras with them in their boats. But none, that I know of, is out there as much as I am or with the same intent. Florida bird photographers know well of the many prime bird locations for photographing, almost all land-based. We recognize where many photos are shot, places that at certain times of the year are cluttered with large telephotos set on tripods and the photographers that stand behind them (photographers wearing clean clothes and standing upright). There are popular rookery locations in Florida where a 200mm lens is more than enough length to capture the birds. For the slightly more adventurous, the beaches of Florida offer nesting space for many bird species including the royal tern, American oystercatcher and black skimmer. While members of the bird photography community share their knowledge of bird locations, the information passed along does not include Biscayne Bay shoreline. Instead, tide and weather totally dictate my decision to go out and knowing them helps me to anticipate what will be available to photograph if I do go out. I also rely on previous experiences. For instance, I know that a negative low tide will extend the wading bird feeding territory about 200 feet from the usual areas, which can make it more or less difficult to photograph birds. On the other hand, high tide means no wading birds to photograph in the water, but it can be ideal for photographing birds in the rookery. August 11, 2011 | 50

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52: One of my favorite places to photograph wading birds is on Biscayne Bay, in calm waters and during early morning. That is when the rising sun casts a gentle glow on the browns, golds and greens of the mangroves and the reflections cover the calm shallow waters. Several species of wading birds can been seen; white ibis, tricolored heron, yellow-crowned night-heron, little blue heron, great white egret, great blue heron and snowy egret, each casting their own beautiful reflection. January 10, 2011 | 52

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59: Word has it that the white ibis is the last to leave before a hurricane and the first to come back after the storm. This show of bravery may also be related to the fact that the white ibis suffered the greatest death rate among all species in August 1992 as Hurricane Andrew paved its path of destruction through Biscayne Bay, Big Cypress and the Everglades; all roosting and nesting areas for the white ibis. I came to south Florida five years after that hurricane. My awakening to birds began soon after when I took great delight in seeing flocks of white ibis feeding on a neighbor's front lawn. And when a flock showed up one day on my lawn, I felt lucky to have such interesting birds so close. Yes, they do cluck like chickens and have been referred to as "Chokoloskee Chicken" by gladesmen living on the island. They have a funny honking noise and when they turn their head a certain way, they remind me of the big nosed comedian, Jimmy Durante. Amusing or not, the white ibis brings me joy. It is a constant reminder that I live in a metropolis that intermingles with one of the most beautiful and robust (yet fragile) wildernesses in this country. I am lucky to be here and glad that these common birds are as common as they are. June 22, 2011 | 59

60: Mangroves | "The mangal does not readily surrender its secrets. There is danger here. Tangled roots make it difficult to enter the mangal, and dense trees that look alike make it easy to get lost. Tides wash in and out. Bugs bite, snakes and crocodiles lurk". Jerry Greenberg, Mangroves Trees in the Sea, 2000 | 60

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65: While the mangroves dominate the scene, they also can serve to accent the bird or provide a rich surrounding of greens and browns. Sometimes, the reflections of the mangroves become a natural frame under the right conditions. When photographing a bird, I always contemplate its surroundings; seagrass clumps, mangrove seedlings sprouting from the water, water movement disrupting the reflections, or mangrove roots and leaves. All these elements must be either deliberately removed from the frame or the frame must be thoughtfully negotiated to include these things in a way that will not detract from the main subject and provide a balance to the composition. This is particularly interesting when photographing white birds. In this case, exposure on the bird necessarily darkens the mangroves and the water reflections. The result in an interesting contrast to the white feathers. Biscayne Bay is a study of contrast. | 65

66: "Once considered a useless swamp of impenetrable trees, mud flats and mosquitoes, the mangal (mangrove) complex is newly appreciated for what it is: an ancient prolific habitat, teeming with life. The mangal is one of Earth's richest and most diversified marine environments". Jerry Greenberg, Mangroves Trees in the Sea, 2000 | 66

67: Exploring the Creeks | When I was a kid, I loved exploring nooks and crannies with an excited anticipation of what might be found. I can remember wandering the areas around my neighborhood and being most attracted to the isolated places; dilapidated abandoned buildings, dense forests, or simply the other side of the tracks. It was like cherry picking places to explore and possibly get into trouble. As adults, we often do not give ourselves the opportunity to explore in a child-like way for lack of interest or time. I believe that Biscayne Bay has given me the chance to explore again as if I were a child. The western shoreline of Biscayne Bay has many nooks and crannies, creeks that flow on forever or do not. There is no creek left unturned, each one must be explored. The magic of it is the peacefulness that comes from simply floating along the mangroves. Floating allows you to move over the water with no abrupt movements or sounds. In this way, you are almost invisible, a voyeur of sorts. You round each turn quietly hoping the creek continues so that you can float on forever. I can do that all day with the wonderment of being inside a mangrove forest. Biscayne Bay is for children.

68: Spider and I sit watching the sky On a world without sound We knit a web to catch one tiny fly For our world without sound We sleep in the morning We dream of a ship that sails away A thousand miles away Brian Eno, Before and After Science, 1977 | 68

69: I headed into the creek hoping the mosquitoes would not be too friendly. I had noticed a golden-silk orbweaver in the creek several weeks ago. I paddled to the spot where I was certain I had seen it and there it was. She was beautiful and within inches of my macro lens. The current was strong from the combination of a new moon incoming tide and an easterly wind. I had not set up my anchor system and the stake out pole was useless in the deep creek water. Consequently, I maneuvered using a bit of paddling and holding onto a mangrove branch. I attempted carefully to not move the branches that attached to the spider's web. Once, I was trying to line up for a photo while the spider moved toward its prey. As soon as I touched the branch, it disturbed the web and the spider quickly ran back to its original spot where it stayed. I had to occasionally pick up my paddle and work my boat around and get back to shooting the spider. I would get the spider in a good light and background, start focusing and shoot as quickly as possible as my boat moved the spider out of focus. I kept this up several times. After a few photo attempts, I would grab my paddle and work my boat back to position. Except one time, the paddle was not there. Oh my God, I'm sitting in a canoe without a paddle! The realization that I had absentmindedly let go of the paddle without taking care to put it back in place made me very uncomfortable. Oh, I had a spare; a heavy retractable metal and plastic one. But my ZRE 10-oz carbon fiber paddle was floating somewhere up the creek, for who knows how long! At least, I hoped it was floating. I put away the camera and proceeded to paddle up the creek to find it. After several hundred feet and a couple sharp turns I spotted the black paddle, face down and thankfully, floating in the mangroves. Now, I could get back to my spider. September 9, 2009 | 69

70: As the morning sun rises, light on the western shoreline becomes harsh; not appealing for bird photography. This is when I turn my boat around to face the eastern horizon. With high sun and a calm day, the water and sky become one. The light is strong and figures above water and their reflections are silhouetted, creating a contrast against the white. | Sun | 70

71: It was hot this morning. Without a breeze, it felt like a sauna. But the magic of the bay called and I had an opportunity to get out there on a weekday. On the water by 7 am, distant clouds seemed to drop water but these never appeared threatening. Rather, the thin veil of clouds that covered the majority of the sky burned away and soon, the sky was clear with only the distant cumulus clouds laying over the horizon. The water was like glass and Chicken Key and the distant city scape of Miami looked gray against the whiteness of the sky and water. This would be a good day to visit the sponge farms for silhouette shots. Cormorants live in great number near the sponge farms and consequently spend time resting on the various sticks in the water. I love the scene and have been attempting to capture it with various bird poses and interactions. It is about a 2-mile paddle to get there, so I had time to enjoy paddling the bay as the sun continued to rise. Lots of baby sharks were swimming in the water and at one point a couple of them swam under the boat in a curious way. I thought maybe the boat provided shade that allowed them to see their prey. Cormorants were flying around and some were in the water. The peace was breathtaking. No other boats, no planes making noise; all this allowed me to ignore the heat. July 15, 2011 | 71

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73: Nature photography has so many rules, all made to be broken. When the sun is high enough that the underside of flying birds is shadowed, the rule is to put away the camera and wait until a couple hours before sunset to take it back out again. The other effect of the high sun is the harsh reflecting light of the water. It's uncomfortable enough to paddle toward the sun and the glaring water, but photographing in that direction is more uncomfortable; except when photographing flying cormorants. I learned quickly that photography from a canoe has its unique limitations compared to land-based photography. But then, I began to see the opportunities; you know the folksy saying "When handed lemons, make lemonade". One thing that is almost always the case is that I am on the water way past those golden hours of morning light. While harsh overhead or side light makes many things less appealing to photograph, the very same light provides special opportunities. September 25, 2011 | 73

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76: On Biscayne Bay, I have always been attracted to high key scenes. I started experimenting with the possibility of capturing them as I watched cormorants flying past. What is attractive about these birds is how low to the water they fly. Consequently, they reflect. On a calm day, it is a scene that cannot be resisted. Later, I started experimenting with mangroves that stand in the water separated from each other. The mangrove roots form interesting figures and the reflection becomes a mirror image on a calm day. To add texture, I used my paddle to create ripples in the water, for some reason I really like this effect. September 25, 2011 | 76

79: In a boat, I am surrounded by water, so water is a significant component of my photography. It sometimes can keep me from photographing, but more often than not, it is the main attraction. Water contains the mystery of light, which is the primary reason photographers love to capture it. Ripples in the water can create a striking and dynamic play of colors from the light of the sun and objects reflecting. In itself, this can provide a mesmerizing display of abstraction that is the subject of the image. But, if the primary subject is an animal or plant, disturbed water can detract the eyes away from the object. On the other hand, the dynamics of the water might be used to frame the object, provide balance to the composition, or add texture to a reflection. | Water | 79

80: As with my attempt to learn birds and their behaviors, I also try to learn the behavior of water. Wading egrets and herons disrupt the water with their lightning fast strikes. I wait for that instant, anticipating the response of the water. At that moment, the water reacts enthusiastically to the bird's motion, becoming as much a part of the composition as the bird. Concentric waves expand around the bird's beak, water beads spray the air and sparkle like jewels, and the bird's head is engulfed in a dynamic wall of water. Catching the action frozen in time provides infinite possibilities.

82: If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. Loran Eisley The Immense Journey, 1957 | 82

86: Discovering a Bird Rookery | 86

87: Watching a cattle egret or cormorant parent feeding its young is an interesting display of patience on the part of the parent. The little ones seem to know when mom is about to fly in as all of them look in a specific direction while craning their necks. Then, all of a sudden, mom swoops down next to her chicks that by now are frantically flapping their wings and jutting their heads in all directions with mouths wide open. Mom jumps up on a nearby branch and hovers over the babies as they frantically peck at her beak, trying to get a morsel transferred into their own mouth. All this is happening in a flurry of wing flapping and beak jabbing. | 87

88: The rookery is a great place to practice flight shots. Constantly, adult birds fly to and from the rookery island, sometimes coming back with branches or twigs in mouth. The cormorant is most difficult to capture with flight speeds near 50 mph. The speedy bird also seems to come out of nowhere flying inches above the water to take advantage of the compressed air beneath its body. On the other hand, the cattle egret flies higher and is consistent in its flight patterns. Once the young birds fledge, they take to the sky to practice their flying skills. | "If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes." Charles Lindbergh | 88

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92: I have affection for the little cattle egret. It lacks the grace and elegance of the great white egret, it looks like a chicken when it struts around looking for bugs to eat and it hangs out with livestock. I would never consider using the word cosmopolitan to describe the cattle egret; I associate that word with class and sophistication, not with birds that can be found just about anywhere in the world, including cattle fields. But in that latter sense, the cattle egret is truly cosmopolitan. And I really like this bird. It began four years ago when I unexpectedly found a cattle egret rookery on Biscayne Bay. Since then, I have observed and photographed the birds of this rookery while learning many things about them. I've observed the bird's work ethic as it maintains a healthy nest and raises 3 to 4 chicks and does so in a very short period of time. Incubation takes only about 3 weeks, chicks grow rapidly and within a week or two, can regulate their own temperature and are fully feathered by 3 weeks following hatching. They begin climbing out of the nest at about 2 weeks of age and are fully independent at 6-7 weeks. The cattle egret nests along side the cormorant, which also grows quickly, but appears to rely on mom and dad for a longer period of time compared to the cattle egret. May 29, 2011 | 92

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94: 94

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96: 96 | "It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds". Aesop, Aesop's Fables

97: 97

98: Much time and effort go into creating these photographs and writings. Hours are spent on the water paddling and searching. Many hours involve nothing more than sitting still while focusing the lens on a bird in anticipation of that "one shot". The physicality of it involves pushing my boat through the grasses while at all times trying to be as stealth as possible. In the creeks, I am often craning my neck to capture a close up of the golden-silk orbweaver, and my hands and wrists become stiff from holding the camera and lens in one position for hours at a time. Many days include sitting in front of the computer monitor, processing hundreds of photographs. I do all this because I am crazy about Biscayne Bay and am searching for the best way to convey this point. Where will all this take me? I do not know, but as long as the bay exists, I will continue to explore and photograph its life in the grasses and mangroves. July 3, 2013 | Afterword | 98

100: Photo Index | Front Cover - Coming out of the creek into Blackpoint lagoon on May 6, 2007. This was my first photo taken on Biscayne Bay with a DSLR. Page 2 - My canoe at the Deering launch site, taken with my iphone. Date unknown. Page 3 - August 30, 2009. Page 4, top right - Boca Chita lighthouse taken with Vivian's P&S from a Biscayne National Park powerboat driven by my personal guide, ranger Gary Bremen. It was February 21, 2013, the tour took me to the area of the park I never see from my canoe. Page 4, bottom - August 15, 2010. Page 5 - both images taken during my Biscayne National Park tour with Ranger Bremen on February 21, 2013; top photo was shot from the powerboat somewhere near Elliot Key and the second photo is the remains of Lancelot Jones's home on Porgy Key that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Page 6, clockwise from left - October 10 2010 ; October 6, 2012; June 25, 2011. Page 7, left to right - July 4, 2007; June 30 2012. Page 8, clockwise from top right - September 8, 2007; July 4, 2007; upside down jellyfish (cassiopea), found in Jones Lagoon on February 21, 2013 during my park tour with Ranger Bremen who identified it; July 9, 2009; September 7, 2009. Page 9, clockwise from top right - August 15, 2010; July 16, 2011; October 2, 2010; July 10, 2011; June 5, 2011. Page 10, clockwise from left - September 21, 2008; July 22, 2007; July 9, 2009, respectively. Page 11, counterclockwise from top left - July 10, 2011; August 19, 2012; May 24, 2008; August 23, 2009. Page 12 - October 20, 2012. Page 13, counterclockwise from top left - August 19, 2012; July 1, 2012; July 26, 2007; July 26, 2008; May 6, 2012. Page 14, top and bottom - June 29, 2012. Page 15 - August 4, 2007. Page 16, counterclockwise from top left - June 22, 2008; September 3, 2011; May 6, 2012, grounded near creek south of Matheson Hammock. Page 17, top to bottom - August 24, 2008; October 10, 2010; August 24, 2008. Pages 18 & 19, clockwise from top left - May 8, 2011; May 10, 2009; July 20, 2011; September 20, 2009; September 4, 2011; May 26, 2012; May 12, 2013; May 10, 2008; October 2, 2010; October 15, 2011; August 24, 2008. Page 20, top to bottom - October 2, 2010; October 10, 2010. Page 21, clockwise from top - September 26, 2009; September 26, 2009; August 5, 2011. Page 22 - January 9, 2011. Page 23, clockwise from top left - November 8, 2008; March 17, 2012; September 3, 2011; September 26, 2009. Page 24, counterclockwise from top left - May 12, 2013; May 5, 2013; May 12, 2013. Page 25, counterclockwise from top left - August 19, 2012; February 25, 2012; July 20, 2011. Page 26 & 27, left to right - July 10, 2012; July 28, 2012. Page 28, clockwise from top right - July 29, 2012; August 11, 2012; July 1, 2012. Page 29, left to right - May 5, 2013; July 1, 2012. Page 30 - June 11, 2013. Page 31 - May 26, 2011. Page 32 - August 24, 2008. Page 33, clockwise from top - August 23, 2009; May 10, 2009; October 11, 2009. Page 34 & 35, from left to right - October 11, 2009; July 20, 2011. | 100

101: Page 36 - October 6, 2012 Page 37, clockwise from top right - June 5, 2011; August 7, 2008; October 11, 2009. Page 38, clockwise from top left - September 17, 2011; September 17, 2011; August 11, 2012. Page 39 - June 18, 2011. Page 40 & 41 - August 23, 2009. Page 42, top to bottom - October 10, 2010; September 18, 2012. Page 43, left to right - July 20, 2011; July 16, 2011. Page 44, top left, June 18, 2011; bottom left, August 23, 2009; center, June 18, 2011; far right, June 22, 2011. Page 45 - September 4, 2011. Page 46, clockwise from top left - October 6, 2012; July 26, 2008; July 20, 2011; July 28, 2010. Page 47 - October 20, 2012. Page 48, clockwise from top left - July 20, 2011; January 9, 2011; May 26, 2012. Page 49, clockwise from top right - July 20, 2011; September 17, 2011; May 10, 2009. Page 50 & 51 - July 20, 2011. Page 52, clockwise from top left - August 19, 2012; May 24, 2008; September 12, 2009. Page 53 - January 9, 2011. Page 54 - August 4, 2007. Page 55 - January 9, 2011. Page 56, top to bottom - September 17, 2011; May 10, 2009. Page 57 - January 6, 2013. Page 58 - March 5, 2013. Page 59 - September 3, 2011. Page 60 & 61, left to right - July 4, 2010; July 29, 2012; October 15, 2011. Page 62, clockwise from top right - July 12, 2010; July 7, 2007; July 11, 2009. Page 63, clockwise from top - October 10, 2010; September 12, 2009; June 6, 2009. Page 64 - June 30, 2012 Page 65 - February 25, 2012. Page 66, clockwise from top left - October 19, 2008; September 7, 2009; July 26, 2008; September 8, 2007; June 30, 2012. Page 67, left to right - July 16, 2011; May 5, 2013. Page 68, left to right - June 18, 2011; June 25, 2011. Page 69, top to bottom - June 25, 2011; July 31, 2010; June 29, 2012. Pages 70 & 71, left to right - May 8, 2012, May 8, 2012; August 30, 2009. Pages 72 & 73, left to right - August 30, 2009; August 24, 2008. Pages 74 & 75, left to right - September 17, 2011; August 30, 2009. Pages 76 & 77, left to right - August 16, 2008; July 9, 2009. Page 78 - June 18, 2011 Page 79, clockwise from top right - March 5, 2013; June 18, 2011; August 19, 2012. Page 80 & 81 - June 18, 2011. | 101

102: Page 82 - July 20, 2011. Page 83 - January 12, 2008 Page 84 & 85 - December 16, 2008. Page 86, clockwise from top left - June 30, 2012; June 29, 2008; June 29, 2012; June 14, 2009. Page 87, clockwise from top right - May 24, 2009; May 24, 2009; May 18, 2008. Page 88, clockwise from top right - May 28, 2011; July 10, 2011; August 28, 2011. Page 89, clockwise from top right - August 2, 2008; August 2, 2008; June 29, 2012; August 28, 2011. Page 90, clockwise from top right - May 3, 2009; June 8, 2013; June 16, 2008; June 8, 2013. Page 91 - June 29, 2012. Pages 92 & 93, clockwise from top left - June 29, 2012; May 6, 2012; June 8, 2013; May 28, 2011; May 28, 2011. Pages 94 & 95, counterclockwise from top left - June 8, 2013; June 8, 2013; August 28, 2011; August 1, 2009; June 14, 2009; June 8, 2013; August 1, 2009; August 1, 2009. Page 96, clockwise from top left - September 17, 2011; June 11, 2013; June 25, 2011; January 9, 2011. Page 97, clockwise from top right- June 8, 2013; August 19, 2012; May 20, 2011; March 27, 2010. Page 98 - July 24, 2008, by Daniel Cedras Page 99 - May 9, 2009. Back cover - July 16, 2011. | 102

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  • By: Constance M.
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About This Mixbook

  • Title: Biscayne Bay - Life in the Grasses and Mangroves
  • A photographic journey of the beauty of Biscayne Bay, as experienced from a canoe
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  • Published: over 3 years ago

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