Just east of Flamingo is a large, shallow bay. Five miles across, the bay gently curves about two miles into the Snake Bight area before dipping into another bight. It’s a popular spot for birds, maybe because it is only a foot or two deep, leaving the fish and crabs little room to hide. Huge flocks like to congregate on the exposed mud flats, and in the branches of mangroves along its banks.
On our first foray into the bight, we paddled-in at high tide and ran out of water. The tides and the muddy bottom are hard to predict around here. One foot of water on the chart might really be four inches or none at all if the wind is blowing the water away, or if the mud has shifted. We paddled-out quickly, not wanting to end-up slogging through the mud on foot.
For our second excursion into the bight, we followed the straight line of a man-made channel into the bight. It doesn’t look like exciting kayaking, but it’s nice to be able to dig your paddle into water, rather than mud. Every hundred yards or so stood a marker with a bird on top: anhingas, laughing gulls, the occasional osprey that took off, skimming the water surface with its claws. Small fish jumped from the water again and again. In the distance, a fisherman stood on a lone skiff, poled by a man standing atop a platform. Flocks of wading birds massed in the shallows and mud flats.
At the end of the channel, we paddled around a stand of mangroves with bird poop-speckled leaves, and that unmistakeable aroma of birdly domesticity. We saw ibises and egrets and such- the usual suspects for this area. Wonderful to see, of course, but also visible along just about any canal in southern Florida. We beached ourselves in the mud for an in-the-cockpit lunch break.
As we sat quietly, we noticed a flash of pink feathers in the mangroves up ahead, and then another. A moment later, several of the birds flew out around us, winging around in a circle before settling again into the mangrove branches: roseate spoonbills.
A little over a hundred years ago, it had become fashionable for women to wear feathers or entire wings on their heads. (“Excuse me Miss, but you have a dead bird on your head”). Plume hunters in the Everglades and Florida Bay killed as many birds as they could, making obscene profits until, predictably, the birds began to disappear. The roseate spoonbill has the fortune- or misfortune in this case- to have bright pink feathers. By the 1930s, the species was hunted almost to extinction, down to only a few birds in Florida.
We finished our lunch and drifted quietly past a bend where dozens of the birds were perched atop the mangrove foliage. They are strange-looking birds to be sure. They get our attention with those bright pink feathers, but the spoon-shaped bill seems like a remnant from a prehistoric age, or a cruel joke played by nature. I’m sure we look funny to them too, but they didn’t seem to mind us drifting by at a distance.
It’s funny how we feel lucky to see one species of bird more than another. Is it because we don’t see pink birds very often? Or the unusual bill? Or maybe it’s because we nearly lost the chance to see these birds ever again. Either way, the spoonbills held our attention for a long time, until it started getting late and we headed back to Flamingo, pointing our bows into the sunset.