Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them.
While we saw a variety of wildlife on our Florida adventure, I was a bit surprised we had not seen as many birds as I had hoped. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it has been a wet winter in South Florida, which apparently causes the birds to be more spread out than usual during the winter months.
Great egret preening in Big Cypress
There had been plenty of scattered sightings (and some great views) of egrets, herons, hawks, and song birds, but no large concentrations. On our last evening in Florida, I was hoping to change all that. On the advice of our kayak tour company, I had booked a sunset boat tour with Allure Adventures out of Everglades City. I was told Captain Kent was a long-time local that took small groups out to the mangrove islands at sunset with the chance of seeing lots of birds coming to roost, beautiful skies, and maybe even dolphins and sea turtles. He lived up to the promotion.
A nice Florida combo – osprey nest on a manatee zone sign in the channel
We met him at at the dock at 5:45 p.m., boarded his small boat, and headed out into the area known as Ten Thousand Islands. Close to shore we saw pelicans, a few egrets, some cormorants, and passed by a couple of osprey nests.
One of several mangrove islands filled with birds coming to roost at sunset
Within a few minutes, we saw a cluster of mangrove islands dotted with birds, lots of birds.
Great egrets settling in for the night
As our boat slowly circled the islands, I could see hundreds of great egrets, brown pelicans, white ibis, cormorants, and other species jostling for position as more of their kind flew in to roost for the evening.
Adult born pelican surveying us as we cruise by the island
Adults have yellow heads and white necks; immature pelicans are gray-brown on their head and neck
Boats are required to stay a certain distance away from the roosting birds so as to not disturb them. Our slow speed, the calm waters, and a telephoto lens (plus a cropped image) allowed great views and close-ups.
The last mangrove island before the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico
Promising we would return before sunset, the captain steered us out through a maze of islands until we came to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. We beached the boat and got out for a stroll for a few minutes to take in the view and immensity of the scene.
Dolphins riding our wake
Cruising back toward the birds, we spotted a couple of sea turtles, and a small group of dolphins. As we passed through the area where the dolphins had been swimming, the captain said they often like to “play” with the boat. Sure enough, it wasn’t long until we had dorsal fins trailing in the wake of our boat, with dolphins taking turns leaping out of the water behind us.
I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the dolphins or us.
Cruising through the mangrove islands at sunset
We spent several minutes enjoying the company of the dolphins, but the captain soon turned the boat back toward the bird islands. The sun was setting and he wanted us to see how many more birds were now occupying the mangroves.
Hundreds of birds dotted the mangroves at sunset
Birds were flying in to roost from all directions
As we approached, the trees were speckled with white and dark shapes, with more coming in from all directions.
Spectacular scene at sunset
White ibis coming in to roost
The color of the sky became a flame orange as we circled the islands one last time. This was what Captain Kent wanted us to see…the bird rookery with a golden sky as a backdrop.
Some of the egrets are busy building nests in the mangroves
It was a perfect way to end our trip – calm waters, a beautiful sky, and huge numbers of birds flying in for the evening. This was what I had hoped to see, the spectacle of wild Florida. And I must also thank Captain Kent for going above and beyond the call of duty. One of our party left behind a pair of rather expensive binoculars, presumably out on the mangrove island we had walked on. The captain made a special effort to look for them on his next outing, and, amazingly, found them. They have been shipped to the owner, and we all thank him for an amazing trip, and his kindness. Now, that IS the perfect ending.