It’s been a long day, but well worth it. I haven’t been making it out on the water enough lately, and so today, even though there was a lot to do later in the day, I made special plans for an early morning kayak. I made it onto the water and began my paddle with stars twinkling overhead, in that magical time after moonset and before sunrise, when it is dark enough to make the bioluminescent waters of Tomales Bay sparkle with their own version of the heavens, each paddle stroke lighting up with its own zipping universe of life.
I couldn’t see many of the birds at first, but I could hear them- the wavering cry of the loon, the unique whistling sound created by the wings of the surf scoter (the only bird I can ID in the dark by the sound of its wings), the slapping of the water as cormorants ran on its surface to take off… Birding before sunrise is so different, much more about the shape and size of a flying bird silhouetted against the sky, mixed with the rhythm of their wingbeats the only keys to who it is, unless you can hear its cry. As the sky slowly lightened, I found I’d gone nearly three miles before it was bright enough to take photographs without a tripod (tripods being very impractical on a kayak). I snapped a few obligatory sunrise shots of colored sky and silhouetted hills, as I waited for the opportunity to shoot the thousands upon thousands of birds wintering on the waters of the bay. And so the day began.
I paddled along the shores, trying to photograph the many ducks I was seeing, but they were more skittish than usual. I’m not sure if it was something they were reacting to in me (I haven’t done as much paddling lately, and my energy might not have been as relaxed), or something in the air… Maybe it was the coyote I saw, munching the remains of a male Bufflehead…
So I decided to find myself something different to shoot (maybe ducks just get nervous about that whole “getting shot”), and headed towards some mudflats where I was able to find some delightful shorebirds (which are always so much fun with all that energy), which were much easier to approach.
It was when I found some of my smallest birds of the day however, when I was able to really settle in and find my groove. As they moved their way down the muddy shoreline, I was able to ground the kayak in the shallows, and await their approach, with the sun at my back. Good lighting and cooperative subjects, what more could one ask.
To really show you the frenetic energy of these tiny birds, I set my camera up to shoot a little video, that I will try to share tomorrow or Tuesday. I’m very happy with the quality I was able to get. It’s almost hard to tell that it was shot handheld.
And so I sat there in my kayak, clicking away as I watched and studied these little birds, enjoying them. I lost myself to the viewfinder as I followed one bird, then another with my lens, freezing moments in their lives. From time to time I’d come back to myself, to realize that my kayak was left out of the water by the outgoing tide, and I’d have to try to pole my way back out into deeper water.
As I paddled away, I realized I lost something. As I looked around, trying to find a missing bit of equipment, I saw a young hungry gull beginning to feed-
Yeah, it’s the eyecup to my viewfinder. It had fallen off of my camera, and this juvenile Western Gull was trying to make a meal of it. I was now in a tricky spot. I didn’t want the gull to think I was coming after the eyecup, or else it would do one of two things- eat it before I could steal it (which would not be too healthy for the gull), or else fly away with it, leading me on a merry chase. So slowly, I began to wind my way towards it.
Finally, it dropped the eyecup and stepped away, as it tried to decide how best to proceed with its new treat. I took my opportunity and scared it off before it could reclaim its prize.
All in all, a beautiful day full of adventure.