The Florida panhandle seldom gets as cold as the Midwest or Northeast, but a 31-degree north wind on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico makes that irrelevant. It doesn't matter how many layers you wear, the wind and the humidity and the lack of tree cover on the beach will make you think that the thermometer is an optimist.
We were there in the pre-dawn dark to record the sunrise, so we stood still flexing our fingers and wiggling our toes to make the best of things in the pale light from a 3/4 moon with Venus a pinprick in that indescribably blue pre-dawn sky.
And then the horizon caught fire and the cold no longer mattered.
I was there with friend and fellow photographer John Spohrer, a Florida Master Naturalist. He'd heard birders speak of a "life bird," a species seldom seen in South Louisiana and Florida where I live and work, and he'd invited me over to attempt to find and photograph it.
The bird is a vermillion flycatcher, native to Central and South America and parts of the extreme Southwestern US. With its distinctive black mask and plumage so red it makes cardinals look faded, I figured it would be easy to find -- if it was still there.
As it turned out, spotting the bird was harder than I expected, and approaching it was even more difficult, but John's persistence over the course of two days and a large helping of luck finally put us near enough to make acceptable images.
The area's many tidal pools and pine forests are full of wildlife, even on cold winter days, so we found much more to see and photograph nearby. A flock of yellow-rump warblers was busy catching insects in the pines and wax myrtles, and a few paused briefly for photos.
And when the little blue decided to leave the muddy water and try his luck elsewhere, I was ready.