Sunday, November 19, 2006

a Bonanza Weekend at St. Marks

Weekend before last turned out to be a great time to visit the Wildlife Refuge. At dawn on Veteran’s Day, I was at Picnic Pond with my friend, Ross. A bow-shaped cloud stretched across the eastern sky bathed in orange by the not-yet-risen sun (click here). Within a few minutes, we had the golden light streaming across the pond and marsh. There is a bent oak tree at water’s edge there that I have long admired and often photographed. I couldn’t resist another frame of that lovely sentinal (click here). We found a trio of backlit roseate spoonbills preening not far away. Typically, they can be skittish, but we had good cover and made some nice photos while peeping through small breaks in the waterside shrubs. It felt a bit voyeuristic (click here). At the lighthouse pond, black skimmers were practicing their aerobatics (click here) and skimming for small fish (click here) over the glassy water. Along the shore, monarch butterflies flitted around goldenrod and other wildflowers, preparing for their long journey across the Gulf... not as many as last trip, but I lucked into one that had been tagged by researchers (click here). There was a Christmas Berry in full splendor (click here), and a Reddish Egret doing it’s ‘fishing dance’ in the shallow water. They literally prance while waving their wings to scare up small fish (click here). I considered this a prize sighting since I have so rarely seen these birds at St. Marks. And to top it off, this egret later flew to the remains of an old pier where s/he posed, showing off it’s ruffly mane, in the early morning light (click here).
The next evening, Crystal and I returned to St. Marks to check out the newish Cedar Point Trail. Some college kids built it about a year ago. What we found was a beautiful trail winding among cedars, sabal palms, and large clumps of prickly pear cactus in full fruit. From time to time there were breaks along the shore from which we could overlook the salt marsh. In the last hour of daylight, we were headed back when a big splash caught my eye (click here, notice the splash). After several more, we realized we were watching dolphins fishing in the shallow pools and coves of the marsh. Three of them moved towards us... actually right up to the shore where we stood. They herded the fish into ‘blind alleys’ and up against the shore, and then thrashed their tails (or whole bodies) throwing up a wall of water and sometimes fish with it. Hairpin turns, flying tails, geysers of spray, leaping fish... a genuine feeding frenzy. The ruckus went on for 20 minutes. In the heat of it, a great blue heron and kingfisher moved in close to try to pick off a stray flying fish. Finally satiated, the three dolphins headed back out to deeper Gulf waters. My images hardly do justice to the spectacle, but this series of three images best represent the scene. (Click here and then on 'next' twice.)

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