Florida can conjure up many different scenes in peoples minds. Sun, beaches, Disney, high rise condos, spring breaks, golf, etc. When I think of Florida my mind goes quickly to the wild life, shore birds mostly. Living in Boston most of my life and coming from a family of commercial fishermen, I am easily drawn to the ocean. A small part of my life was exposed to my grand father and his two brothers-in-law at the docks working on their boat or emptying their catch after being at sea.
I would drop a line into the harbor and try to catch mackerel living under the piers, however, with limited success. To this day I still have limited success when fishing, I often think my relatives used up my ‘fish caught’ quota. So as a photographer my interest in photographing the ocean, more specifically the shore birds, has replaced any inherited gene for fishing.
Recently I was invited to spend a few days near Fort Pierce, FL. On one day we journeyed over to one of the many marinas and found a small pontoon boat that does tours around Tucker’s Cove and Shorty’s Slough, part of the Fort Pierce State Park. I must admit I never really paid much attention to pontoon boats. They always struck me as odd lake crafts that landlubbers preferred to sit and float around their lakeside cottages. Well for our purposes, this boat couldn’t have been better. At one point we were only 2 feet from the shore and floating in about 18 inches of water.
Our captain was raised in Louisiana from native American Indian and French decent. His rich ancestry along the Mississippi would prove to be just one more perk to our tour.
below is an excerpt from his web site…
‘Going back for three generations, his family has been involved with lands and game management. His grandfather had a hunting and fishing resort and also worked as a games warden. Father and sons worked with his grandfather on the property. His father also managed the famed McIIhenney ‘Tabasco Sauce’ family properties. By his fathers side he learned subtle ins and outs of birds and wildlife, such as knowing the health of the environment, wildlife and birding flocks by the types of calls and sounds that a carefully trained ear can detect. Along with his family as wardens, he has worked for the preservation of coastal wetlands in Louisiana and managed hunting and fishing resorts along the coast of Louisiana.’
He was quiet and quickly surmised, from the gear hanging from my neck, I was a professional photographer. That would turn out to be quite fortuitous for us. I like to romanticize his life as a boy, living along the banks of the Mississippi with his extended family carving out a rich life in harmony with nature.
As the first mate pushes us off I start to look around for some interesting photographs to make. I do like scenes that make me chuckle and sometimes I add a little text to them just for fun.
“HEY! How many times do I have to tell you this is MY cement pylon?”
Way Icky!!! Yes, Pelicans can be filthy creatures.
I start, as I often do, with some basic documentary shots of everything I can see. Lens moving across the horizon quickly, creating panoramas that will tell the story of our location later. Then I focus on more intimate, slices of life around me, moments in time that I am privy to as this trip unfolds and this is just the beginning. Captain Chop, takes us on a two and a half hour tour (about double the normal time) that brings us into the new mangrove plantings and gives us an opportunity to view dozens of shore birds as well as dolphins and crazy flying fish skipping across the surface of the water, trying not to become someone’s lunch.
The mangrove trees were replanted as part of a project to restore the natural filtration system to the area as well as rebuild the oyster crops. Oysters grow on the roots of the mangrove trees. If you like oysters it’s quite a sight, as you might guess. Hundreds of those delicious little darlings hanging just under the surface of the water, not more than ten feet away. Yummm.
Then the birds begin to appear. Ospreys, Egrets, Turkey Vultures, more Pelicans, Cormorants, Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigate Birds soaring in circles over head, Ibis and countless small shore birds feasting on the crustaceans living along the shoreline. Quite a symphony of natural selection happening all around us as we putter along, the entire time Captain Chop is giving us an oral history and wildlife lesson that keeps us well informed as to what is happening around us.
As all things do , our boat tour had to come to an end. Sadly we made way back to the harbor with our heads and hearts filled with sights, sounds and stories. If you have an opportunity to visit Fort Pierce in the future and you are in need of a little nature fix, please look in on Captain Chop at the Indian River Lagoon and Swampland Boat Tours. You will be glad you did.