Still feeling restless? You’ve got a bad case of Zugunruhe then. The early morning boat ride under a setting blue moon sky was breathtaking to behold. Unfortunately the moon dipped below the clouds before I could get a good photo. I am already restless thinking about next year’s Swallow-tailed Kite migration.
Motoring quietly up the channel to the roosting site gives us time to check our equipment and get ready. Dressed in drab colors we blend with the camouflage covered boat and background. The tall Cypress give us cover as the boat snuggles up to the bank, while the nesting Kites gently stir over head. As the sun rises, a mirror like water surface reflects the trees on the opposite bank. Our Guide had previously told us these calm wind conditions are not good for the Kite skimming activity we hope to capture. Kites prefer to skim in wind-rippled water, because in calm water, they can’t determine where the surface is and might dive too deep or into the mouth of a waiting alligator. Our guide is prepared for the calm water and has brought a small radio controlled boat (painted to resemble a skimming Kite) to run out in the channel to make the needed ripples. Unfortunately, it has a malfunction on launch and slowly drifts away. A small gator surfaces next to the boat and begins a slow swim across the channel. Apparently the gator mistakes the boat for a real Kite and attacks it. (Later we spot the boat with only the bow floating nose up, drifting down the channel, sadly in need of repair). The good news is the wind picks up a bit and ripples the water. Suddenly the sky is filled with Kites and the skimming action starts. We raise the cameras and start clicking away.
There are too many birds for our guide to call out; we just pick the closest one. Our arms quickly tire holding the heavy lenses while trying to follow the swift movements of the Kites skimming for water and washing their feathers. The clouds clear. The light is perfect. Tired arms click away. Then, as swiftly as it began, the skimming ceases as the kites leave to forage. Our guide describes the scene we have just witnessed as the longest and most intensive Kite skimming period he has seen in a dozen years. As I preview my later photos I realize that I forgot to adjust my shutter speed the guide had called for when the light conditions changed. Silent disappointment fills my thoughts. I missed the best part of it. Some of the early shots were ok and our Guide helped me salvage a few others in post processing. Whew!
Later in the afternoon we return to watch the “kettle” formations of returning kites as they come in to roost. Several have captured tree dwelling Florida rough green snakes for an evening dinner. They swoop by with the live non-venomous snakes dangling from their claws and begin to devour them in mid flight. A Barred Owl calls its mate from somewhere in the canopy. Our guide activates a recorded Barred Owl call on his phone and soon two Barred Owls appear in the tree line to investigate the intruding “owls” in their territory. Flying silently across the channel, they land in a nearby tree and then peer into the boat looking for another owl. It is only a bunch of old photographers in “camouflage” pulling a ruse. Off they go, but I this time I got them. A Kite then flies by in “camo’s” (covered in tree moss) hoping we don’t spot it as it comes in to roost. Wonder where the Kite got that idea?
The owls and I both learned a valuable lesson. They got fooled. I fooled myself. Don’t get so caught up with the moment that you forget why you came in the first place. Remember to check your settings! Some of the photos etched on my memory card didn’t turn out too well but the pictures etched in my mind are still perfect. Be blessed. Harry