A Day At The Beach

When we were children, Gini and I spent many summer days at the beach. She grew up exploring the edges of the Gulf of Mexico while I dipped my toes in the chilly Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Miami. Both her father and mine were avid fishermen and our respective families consumed a LOT of fresh fish over theĀ  years. My family moved to Tampa when I was around 10 years old and discovering the relatively warm, calm waters of west coast beaches was a pleasant revelation.

We have been fortunate in our life together to have lived in other parts of the United States and Europe. To this day, we have found nothing to compare to the magnetic pull of salt water, bountiful sun, warm breezes, gentle tides and total pleasure of Florida’s west coast. It is magical. It is comfortable. It is restful. It is – Home.

About a month ago (with all that has transpired in the interim, it seems like a lifetime), we crossed the four mile long Sunshine Skyway Bridge and turned toward a favorite destination, Fort De Soto Park. The view from the top of the bridge at over 400 feet (122 meters) tall is spectacular. To the east one can see the skylines of Saint Petersburg and Tampa across the vast shallow waters of Tampa Bay. To the west is the lighthouse at Egmont Key and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. As your gaze moves a bit north, the huge American flag flapping above the headquarters at Fort De Soto captures your attention.

There are two long piers in the park and, as usual, each was busy with fishermen pulling in all manner of fish. Feathered fishermen were stationed nearby hoping to be tossed morsels the humans didn’t want to keep. Herons and egrets have also become adept at working open the tops of bait buckets and helping themselves, much to the displeasure of the human anglers. Large schools of sardines and other small fish swirl around the pier structures and attract larger fish. Naturally, where there is food there will be predators. Humans, birds, fish, dolphins – all taking advantage of nature’s buffet.

In addition to the hustle and bustle around the piers, miles of sandy beach offer a quieter venue for observing shorebirds working the tide line for small fish and crustaceans. Just offshore, squadrons of pelicans cruise just above the tops of the waves. Gulls and terns hover above the salty turquoise setting and plunge headlong into a school of small fish.

A short hike from a picnic area takes one through a small wooded area to a more remote section of beach. Along the way, Gray Catbirds and Palm Warblers were busily gorging on insects in preparation for their northern migration soon. Just off the beach, a Red-breasted Merganser pair dove for a meal. Out of eight Osprey nests, six had chicks visible. A Bald Eagle caught a fat trout and headed for its own nest not far away. An unexpected treat, a Great Horned Owl with a young chick had a nest with what has to be one of the best views in the park. A flock of bright green Nanday Parakeets crashed into the trees and put an exclamation point on the tropical feel of the day!

At the boat ramp there were plenty of gulls, terns, egrets and herons hanging about hoping returning fishermen would dump unused bait overboard as they pulled boats from the water. Brown Pelicans soared overhead hoping for the same thing. Looking a bit out of place, a Spotted Sandpiper paced along a dock, characteristically bobbing its rear end as it walked.

As we lingered over a dinner of fresh seafood at sunset, we agreed that despite all that is going on in the world, we remain two of the most blessed individuals on the planet.

Why, yes, I did take a few pictures of the day. How kind of you to ask.

 

A plethora of pelicans. Dozing Brown Pelicans and a few Double-crested Cormorants.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Forster’s Terns were in abundance as they hovered, spotted a succulent sardine and splashed into the briny. My unofficial observations estimate they were successful only about 10% of the time.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Almost as numerous as Forster’s, Sandwich Terns were taking full advantage of the schools of finny snacks.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Party crasher. A Bottlenose Dolphin slashed through the sardine school and headed toward shallow water near the beach to take a census of the mullet. (“One” – gulp, “two” – gulp …..)

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Patience, thy name is Snowy Egret. This bird stood its ground on the rocks as waves splashed all around, finally found what she had been looking for and scooped up a couple of sardines. Worth the wait!

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

A path through the woods ended at a more remote section of beach where raucous Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday, formerly Black-hooded Parakeets) screeched and argued over preferred perches. There are several established populations of these “pet-store” birds around the country having been let go or escaped.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Right on the beach, a Great Horned Owl occupied a nest with a terrific view. The spot is on a small point projecting into Egmont Channel where she can see the sun rising over Tampa Bay and in the evening watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Her chick looked very healthy.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

A walk east of the owl’s nest was a dead-end trail. A secluded area there was busy with feeding shorebirds. A Dunlin and Least Sandpiper worked the wrack line as I lay on the sand and watched. Fascinating.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Dunlin – right, Least Sandpiper – left

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Dunlin

 

The tall blooms of this Century Plant (Agave americana) will soon attract resident and migrating hummingbirds.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

More fishing. A Tricolored Heron stretches from its mangrove perch to snag a minnow from a passing school.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

At the boat ramp area, a Brown Pelican keeps an eye out for discarded bait or fish tossed overboard by returning fishermen.

E.G. Simmons Park

 

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay. The constantly bobbing rear end helps identify the Spotted Sandpiper. In another month or so, it will begin acquiring the spots on its underparts which are its namesake.

E.G. Simmons Park

 

 

This was a very special day for us. Not just because we are totally prejudiced toward our Florida beaches, which we are. The day was a celebration of 52 years of being husband and wife. We are so looking forward to the next 52!

We truly hope you are all well and safe and are able to find positive things upon which to focus. Better times are just around the bend …..

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Fort De Soto Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Verge Of Spring

Daffodowndilly

(by A.A. Milne)

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,

She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind

And curtsied up and down.

She turned to the sunlight

And shook her yellow head,

And whispered to her neighbour:

“Winter is dead.”

 

Once upon a time, I went fishing. A cheap rod and reel, a black plastic worm with a red tail. Slowly winding the reel and “tug-tug”! Largemouth bass were put on a stringer and placed in the water to keep them alive until it was time to go home. Dinner was good.

Florida’s phosphate industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business and helps supply the world with fertilizer to help feed its inhabitants. The process of extracting the minerals from Florida’s earth is not a pretty thing to watch. The land is severely damaged.

Kudos to the companies for their substantial commitment to reclaiming mined lands. Their efforts through the years provided recreation (and dinner) for my family and friends all those years ago. The same is true today.

The reclamation process includes water and land restoration. Native flora and modern water filtration techniques help ensure Floridians and visitors have access to a diverse habitat where they can pursue many outdoor interests.

Even birding!

Gini and I recently visited two areas which have been restored over the past several decades from previous mining activities. Mosaic Fish Management Area, south of Fort Meade in Polk County and Mosaic Peace River Park, south of Bartow at Homeland, also in Polk County. (Mosaic is a company formed in 2004 from the merger of IMC Global and Cargill fertilizer division. They produce more of the world’s fertilizer than the next two largest companies combined.)

Our visits were in late February and early March. Warm, humid mornings signaled a probable ending to what Floridians refer to as “winter”, or as we like to call it, “the brown season”. It’s a wonderful time to be out! Many trees and plants are sprouting new growth, flowers are forming, insects are becoming more active and birding is transitioning from enjoying our northern visitors who remained all winter to the excitement of migrants returning from Central and South America.

 

Mosaic Fish Management Area

An abundance of water with thriving fish populations attracts all sorts of predators. Humans, alligators and a diverse selection of birds. This is the Osprey’s element. A large number of Osprey nests give the area an appearance of a sort of avian suburbia.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Warmer weather begins reproductive cycles for many species, including dragonflies. One of our early dragons is the brightly colored Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Claiming territory and attracting a mate. A male Northern Cardinal showed off his scarlet plumage, sang and generally let us know this was HIS patch of woods!

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

We will soon bid farewell to many warbler species who have been so kind to grace us with their presence throughout the winter months. The Palm Warbler with its pumping tail has tried to eat as many mosquitoes as possible over the past several weeks. Who wouldn’t love this bird just for that?

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

The Black-and-white Warbler and its nuthatch habits will likewise head for home soon. A few of these bright wood warblers have found some areas of the Sunshine State to their liking so we’ll be on the lookout for them throughout the year.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Joining the throngs of Palm Warblers in the skies, Yellow-rumped warblers are also busy fueling up with as much protein as possible to better endure their long journey. We’ll miss those bright “butter-butts”.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Skulking in the foliage, a Gray Catbird was part of a group of four we found in one spot. They typically form loose groups from a few birds up to a couple of dozen in preparation for heading home to breed. No more “stray kittens” in the woods until fall.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Mosaic Peace River Park

The Peace River is at a typically low level during the dry season. Cypress tree roots are exposed along the bank. The river winds through swamp and hardwood forests and will eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles (160 km) west of here.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

A Cypress tree reveals how high the water has been. The ground here today is damp but in a couple of months one will need a boat.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

All sorts of creatures make trails through the low, lush vegetation.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

Nearly all of Florida’s Cypress trees were cut for lumber by the 1930’s. If left alone, these relatively young Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) can grow to 150 feet (46 meters) tall and live for over 600 years.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

The rich, damp soil and diffused light provided by the dense tree canopy makes swamps a great place for ferns to flourish.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

Roots of a Bald Cypress tree probe deep into the mud along the bank of the Peace River. The surface of the still water reflects the tree’s upper branches reaching toward the sky.

Mosaic Peace River Park

 

Mining. Fertilizer. Destruction. Renewal. Fishing. Birding. Exploring.

The verge of Spring. Life is a cycle. We are blessed to be part of the process.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Sources

Mosaic Fish Management Area

Mosaic Peace River Park (Map Location, No Brochure Available)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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