Sunset Birds

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them.

~John Ruskin

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

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.

manatee sign

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.

rooskery islands 1

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 egret coming to roost

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.

Brown pelican at roost

Adult born pelican surveying us as we cruise by the island

brown pelican head close up

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.

red mangrove on sandy beach

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 behind boat

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.

sunset boat tour

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.

rooskery islands

Hundreds of birds dotted the mangroves at sunset

magrove island 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.

Great egrest at sunset

Spectacular scene at sunset


White ibis 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.

great egret carrying stick against orange sky 1

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.