Holidays, family, illness. Challenges which can result in unexpected schedule changes and postpone such activities as writing a blog. So it has been for several weeks.
We both managed to catch the flu for the first time in many years and it has taken awhile to resume our roles among the living. My wife and I were both born and raised in Florida and part of our heritage included a trip to the beach to help cure all manner of evils. Thus, yesterday we headed west on our first trip out of doors since Christmas.
Our destination was Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, Florida. This beach community is west of Tampa and just north of Sarasota. There are myriad vacation rentals, shops, restaurants, fishing piers and just nice people here.
The Gulf of Mexico is usually calm and warm and soothing. Naturally, I picked a day a cold front was coming ashore with gale force winds and spitting rain. I need to work on my timing. Before the wind turned cold, I was able to wander along the beach and greeted some visitors from the north as well as a few year-round residents.
Among the winter visitors were some celebrities. Razorbills (Alca torda). There has been an invasion of these birds in Florida this winter. Previously, only 14 observations had been recorded. Since early December 2012, it appears over 1,000 birds have made their way to Florida’s coastlines. These small black and white birds normally winter off the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas. Scientists speculate the cause of this unusual event may be tied to a very successful breeding season or low food supplies in their normal wintering area or a combination of several factors. While it’s thrilling for Florida birders to be able to catch a glimpse of a bird not normally seen in our area, we hope the migrants are able to find their way back home successfully.
A Black-bellied Plover ignored me as he probed the soft sand for a tasty morsel. Dressed in his drab winter garb, he displays no traces of the black plumage from which he gets his name.
Another winter visitor with none of his beautiful breeding plumage was a Common Loon. This fellow was enjoying a sardine feast has he dove repeatedly into a large school.
A pair of Red-breasted Merganser flew in and immediately began diving for lunch. They didn’t stay long and swam up the beach quickly, diving continuously. It seemed as though they were in a race to see who could eat the most and be the first to reach the goal line.
Local residents were lounging around and seemed in no hurry to grab a meal. Typical natives!
The one exception were the terns. They were busy diving into the schools of sardines from a good height. Both Forster’s and Sandwich Terns were active.
The Willet was feeding along the beach, but he was leisurely strolling along instead of his usual frantic run-probe-run style.
The White Ibis gang preened and milled around. They seemed more nervous than usual. Perhaps the impending weather change was affecting them.
Pods of Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls dotted the beach and most were just resting.
No trip to the salt water would be complete without the presence of the Brown Pelican. A dozen were preening on nearby rocks and poles and groups of 3-6 cruised by constantly just off the beach. One flew right over my head and I think he thought I might be a good place to rest. (I DO move slowly!)
As the weather deteriorated, we found a place to park and watch the white-capped waves pound ashore while we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the comfortable cocoon of the truck. We didn’t get to dive into the “warm” salt water as we would when we were kids, but just being in that environment left us feeling refreshed. We look forward to returning to “normal” soon!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.