Sombrero & Wurdemann’s at Flamingo

Wurdemann's Heron

Wurdemann's Heron

Saturday 6/30/2007 and Sunday 7/01/2007



It has been nearly a year since I’ve posted an entry into the ship’s log. Last fall Raymond designed a tee top structure and redesigned the console arrangement of the boat. The t-top shop where we contracted to have this work done delayed to the point of embarrassment on getting the work done and finally we had to have others finish the project. The shop did do quality work but, it was not an issue of capability but rather of commitment to an obligation. However, without going into descriptive elements just now, having to baby sit the tee top guy meant Raymond made trips to Key Largo to be present to ensure progress. I tagged along two weekends and explored a place which I probably would have kept passing had I not needed somewhere interesting to hang out. The four trips I made to the Wild Bird Center in Key Largo gave me some wonderful experience photographing beautiful, wild Florida birds. ..experience which played a role on the Sunday portion of the weekend I am describing presently.


Charting Summary:


Saturday 6/30/07: Valhalla Resort out to Hawks Channel on the Atlantic side. Go south by Coffins Patch and westerly directly on to Sombrero Key Light approximately 4.5 miles off shore.


Sunday 7/01/07: Valhalla south to Captain Hooks by the Vaca Key Bridge for gas and through the bridge into Florida Bay aka back country side. North on the ICW passed the Channel Banks shoals and through Channel Key Pass. Continued North on the ICW to Old Dan Bank. Marker #1 at the stern, North along the West edge of Everglades National Park. Continuing to East Cape Sable, turned east and followed markers into the entrance of  Flamingo. Currently there is no access to Buttonwood Canal and the Wilderness Waterway from the bayside as the lift/travel hoist machine needs repair. Apparently a number of repair items are in bureaucratic limbo since the hurricane.


Saturday 6/30 detail:

The Valhalla Resort in Marathon on Crawl Key (mm56)just South of Grassy Key, sits tucked in just north of Little Crawl Key via a small but markered waterway entrance to their dock. We checked in on Friday evening around 11pm greeted by Paul Masson the duty manager who gave us our keys and showed us in. The resort is really like an old Florida home with its terrazzo floors and is very clean. A fitting complement to the throwback feel was that Paul trusted us to even up for the weekend the following morning at 8am instead of right upon arrival. Refreshing start all ‘round. 

Saturday morning Robbie and Mel White arrived with rented tanks and we loaded the Janthina, departing shortly thereafter with our needs for the day for snorkeling, diving, and shooting the Sombrero Light. The ride out was all you’d expect of a beautiful summer morning in the Florida Keys. I took shots of the lighthouse on approach with fairly pristine skies but it wasn’t long before we noticed a localized storm to the west drifting towards it. The changing light made it irresistible to take numerous photos of the changes before finally donning gear for a snorkel. 

It was absolutely wonderful to have snorkel companions who were into it and enjoyed going to the bottom. My left sinus wanted to be uncooperative but after some nudging I was able to enjoy going to the bottom and watching the light play on the soft corals and its shimmering effect on the numerous fish species present. The physical pleasure of slipping down 15 or 20 feet to hold breath and enjoy being part of the sea cannot be overstated. 

After some time we noticed that the storm was passing close to the light house so I had to decide whether to race for the boat to get a few shots of it going by. Thinking it was worth it and with the aid of unaccustomed fins , I can’t remember when I’ve felt so fast skimming over the surface of the water. Once aboard Janthina, I dipped my hands in the ice to get rid of the salt, dried and began shooting a series of nice dramatic Florida summer cloud action. 

I had only snorkel gear, no tank, and we abandoned the idea of me sharing with Mel’s spare emergency hose. But, after Robbie and Mel had dived for awhile, they let me use one of their BC’s to go down with Mel for awhile. The years since last time dissolved in about 2 seconds and I reveled in getting to have those long slow looks at things from their level. The bottom seems to be recovering from damage as there was much detritus and coral heads with large patches of dead space. I did not find the shells that I expected , such as the cyphoma gibbosum (sp? Memory) which often occur on the soft corals, no carrier shells, and found cowry shells. The only live shell I found was a conch left alone to live and do its thing. My favourite part was lying down next ot or under the various ledges and shelves and looking eye to eye at fish which seemed poised there for me wondering where my underwater camera was!! I enjoyed watching parrot fish brazenly chomping on the coral heads with puffs of white dust emanating from its gills. The prettiest thing I saw was a lovely pale blue sheet of what Mel called “plate coral” formed within one of the deeper crevices….a 40 minute reminder of days gone by whetting the appetite for more. 

A shot or two more of lovely puffy clouds around the light and we were off back to Valhalla. Once back we washed the boat and ourselves then went to return the tanks. As it happened the tank rental place was right next door to Fish Tales our intended dinner destination. A good place for fried shrimp. After dinner we returned to Valhalla.  Robbie and Mel departed thereafter for home.

Other than being foolish enough to attain a painful sunburn, it was a perfect day.


Sunday 7/01/07 detail:


In lieu of a complete rewrite below is the text of a letter I wrote to friend Jack Hardy of Saipan describing the picture of the Wurdemann’s Heron I took as we were leaving Flamingo which will serve as log. It pretty much tells the tale. I’ll say that I greatly look forward to Janthina’s next venture to Flamingo in the fall when we will drive down and put the boat in on the Wilderness Waterway side and explore through Whitewater Bay and back out the bay side. I’d like to make that at least a two day thing and sleep in the boat one night. I think it will be a wonderful opportunity to shoot the birds during the migratory season. 

“I don’t know if this picture is unique in the grand scheme of things but I have not been able to find a picture of a Wurdemann’s Heron on the web so far. I have a Florida waterbirds book with pictures but that is it. I know that you are not a bird guy particularly and I don’t consider myself a “birder” per se…just love the beautiful wading birds and the variety of egrets, herons etc we have here in Florida. Apparently these large herons have been the subject of much controversy over the years and I gather that science has tended to gravitate from splitting to lumping over time ( in some areas at least). Once The Great Blue Heron and The Great White Heron were considered different species now they are considered color morphs of each other.  The Wurdemann’s heron (named for Gustavus Wurdemann who was a collector for the Smithsonian in the 1850’s) was also thought a separate species. The Great Blue has a fairly wide range but the White is limited primarily to the Florida Keys. The Wurdemann’s is now considered a color variant of the Blue..offspring of a Blue and a White. It is distinguished from a blue by its white head absent the distinctive, dark marking that is above the eye of the Blue Heron and tapers to the back of the head. Naturally since the Florida Keys is the only place that Blues and Whites occur together, Wurdemann’s only occurs here too. Its numbers are very limited.  I’ve heard no discussion of it being infertile which of course lends to the same species verdict.

This last weekend I spent two days in the keys. By the way, the changes to the boat are WONDERFUL…very convenient for diving and snorkeling with Raymond’s designs. Very successful. It got a good run this weekend. But, not to digress too much,  Sunday Raymond told me we were going to go to the Cape Sable Light for pictures. I was quizzical because I thought I knew all the lights and this was new to me. But, he’s been in Florida forever and knows a lot of stuff I don’t. So after three hours making our way from Valhalla (not Viking heaven) on Grassy Key across to Cape Sable Raymond surprised me by saying we were in Flamingo, a place I’d been wanting to check out for birds. So, I said sorrowfully, “a Cape Sable Fable, then?” 🙂 The cape is real just not the light!  Now this is not the bird time of year but good to scope things out anyway. Flamingo is part of Everglades National Park. I expected nothing more than just seeing what was at the marina since we needed time to reverse the trip.

The heat was hot, my skin rife with mosquito bites, and the humidity brutally opressive. Add to this a severe sunburn I had for foolishness the day before and you had one game but uncomfortable person. The place was practically deserted…smart birders come Nov thru April when there are birds AND it is cool. Not much in the way of creature comforts in Flamingo so lunch of prefab sandwiches of some kind of reconstituted meat,  heated in the microwave and eaten standing in the air conditioned Marina Store was well..Valhalla!!

Although I enjoyed the ride out there..sea beautiful, sky amazing, so many different cloud types….localized storms….even a water spout in the distance… just the ride was worth it. So when we untied the boat and headed back out I was happy. Then I saw it..a big bird in the shadows perched on the mangrove prop roots lining the cut into the marina. I remarked, “oh, there is a blue heron”,  pointing it out to Raymond. Then it seemed dazzling in the play of light, more light and ethereal looking than usual…and the feathers seemed luminescent with a silky was beautiful! “Wait, no, the head is white, this might be a Wurdemann’s Heron!” So I asked Raymond to bring the boat nearer to the bird, quietly, so that I might have a chance to secure a decently sharp picture of it. I have to say that, for me at least, trying to juggle boat movement with a high enough shutter speed to stop motion, and to focus accurately, and with a bird in a shady area success  is not an absolute certainty. The moment was actually glorius and no looking at the lcd display, just concentrate on the bird and hope my recent experience would be enough. I was very happy on the ride back just thinking I’d seen my first Wurdemann’s and that I might have a nice picture of it.

Gee, I didn’t mean to create such a long back story to showing you this picture. Again, I realize that everyone is not into birds. Raymond is simply understanding that I like it but really to everyone else around me, it just another heron…like my others. I think this bird is very beautiful. Is it rare or uncommon….yes uncommon….just another color variation…yes maybe so…but still it was hard for me to find images for identification.

I feel lucky to have gotten a decent picture of it and I feel lucky to have seen such a lovely creature in the wild. Sorry for the ramble but thought knowing that this one is different is important and as was its unexpected sighting. No more Flamingo til bird season though..those skeeters will positively carry you away.”

~ by Judy on July 1, 2007.

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