Salt, Sand, Sun

Once upon a time, a child was born in a quaint village in southeast Florida, U.S.A.  The village was inhabited in those days by wealthy individuals from the northern territories who grew tired of hiring people to shovel snow from the steps of their mansions so they drifted to the south and settled in the land of perpetual sunshine.  The local natives spent most of their time serving these wealthy migrants by providing them with housing, food, sun-tanning lotion and all the services which the northern tribal members had long ago forgotten how to do themselves.  My father was one of the locals who constructed housing and thus, in his own small way, contributed to the expansion of the little village known as Miami.

A memory of that time is one that has remained near the front of whatever recall mechanism causes one to envision prior events.  Our family took frequent trips to the beach.  I remember playing in the warm salty water, digging in the sand, eating ice cold watermelon and walking out a long fishing pier.  The fishing pier was both fascinating and scary.  Scary because I was afraid I would fall through the cracks in the boards to the roiling sea water below.  Fascinating because of all the sights, sounds and smells associated with a fishing pier.  There was a bait shop and watching the little fish in the holding tanks was great fun.  A huge sign over the bait tanks had colorful pictures of the fish one could catch in these waters.  All types of birds stalked the pier for discarded bait and fish parts.  When someone hooked a big one, there was a lot of excitement, yelling of encouragement and general running about.  It was wonderful!

Yesterday, as I was stretched out on the wet beach sand, that memory made a glorious appearance within my gray matter.  It was so strong and I was enjoying it so much, I almost forgot to snap a photograph of the Black-bellied Plover walking straight toward me.  It was a bit after sunrise, the breeze was cool, the gentle surf was washing up bits of broken shells, gulls and terns were overhead, the plover, Willets and Sanderlings were probing the soft sand for breakfast and I could have drifted off for a nap quite easily.  Of course, in another couple of hours, I would be trampled by hordes of sun-worshippers and the bird calls would be drowned out by the roar of jet skis, but it was nice for now.

This was quite a different Fort De Soto than the experience we had during our last visit.  (See our prior posts, Spring At The Fort-Part One and Spring At The Fort-Part Two.)  At that time, the park was full of migratory birds fueling up for their continued journey to the north.  Now, there were no colorful warblers munching mulberries or throngs of shorebirds with their complex plumages.  Just us natives.

High tide meant that the wading birds were elsewhere.  The North Beach and lagoons were inhabited by a few shorebirds and Black Skimmers.  The Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Least Terns and Royal Terns cruised just off the shoreline plunging suddenly when they spotted a school of fish.  A lonely Magnificent Frigatebird patrolled the upper air space, waiting for one of the above-mentioned birds to grab a fish which he would attempt to steal.

We visited the two fishing piers where the most successful fishermen were the Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Laughing Gulls, who were stealing bait from buckets as soon as the humans turned away.  Bottlenose Dolphins scooped up great mouthfuls of small fish all around the pier and, closer to the beach, Stingrays cruised in small groups, graceful as they moved their “wings” in unison through the shallow water.  Small fishing boats began to ply the productive waters off the beach and a pilot boat headed past the Egmont Key lighthouse on its way to the Gulf of Mexico to guide a large ship through the deep channels of the otherwise very shallow Tampa Bay estuary.

The day was beginning in earnest.  Time to head home.

 

It wouldn’t be a day at the beach without the Brown Pelicans cruising just above the waves and splashing down into a school of fish.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

 

When you’re a bird and have an itch in the center of your back, you either need a good friend or must become creative to scratch it.  This Willet was able to contort his neck enough to use the back of his head to provide relief.

Willet

Willet

 

 

The Sanderling displays the proper probing technique for obtaining breakfast on the beach.  It’s nice to see them in their breeding plumage as opposed to the pale gray and white winter coloring.

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

 

This female Black-bellied Plover is the one which almost ran over me as I was reminiscing.  As with the Sanderling, the plumage is quite a contrast to her non-breeding mottled gray appearance.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

 

Black Skimmers are the only birds with a lower mandible longer than the upper.  These specialists fly low over the water and “furrow” with that lower bill to gather fish.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

 

Out on the fishing pier, a group of Snowy Egrets wait for an unattended bait bucket from atop a sheltered area.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

 

Egmont Key is an island at the entrance of Tampa Bay with an active lighthouse.  Pilot boats ferry captains experienced in navigating Tampa Bay out to waiting cargo ships anchored in a waiting zone a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  The local captain will pilot the large ship into the bay and to its destination port.

Pilot Boat Heads To Sea

Pilot Boat Heads To Sea

 

Royal Terns were very active along the beach and around the fishing piers.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

 

Family groups of Bottlenose Dolphins were also doing their part to control fish populations along the beach and around the piers.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin

 

This Brown Pelican took one look at my face and put on the brakes.  (I get that reaction a lot.)

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

Stingrays are common along our beaches.  It’s important if you wade or go swimming around here to remember to do the “stingray shuffle”.  Stirring up the sand encourages them to scoot away before you step on one and receive a painful sting.  (If you should get stabbed with the ray’s barb, try to put hot water on it and seek medical attention right away.)

Stingray

Stingray

 

Immature White Ibises don’t attain the full white plumage of an adult until toward the end of their second year.

White Ibis (Immature)

White Ibis (Immature)

 

 

An intent Snowy Egret concentrated on a fisherman placing freshly caught bait into a bucket.  He won’t be on that railing for long!

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

A fisherman of the human variety poles his skiff through the shallow water just off the beach.

Poling The Flats

Poling The Flats

 

 

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Salt, Sand, Sun

  1. Our 3 year age difference really comes into play here. I’m envious of your memories of the fishing pier on Miami Beach. According to old family pics, I spent my time then staggering around on chubby little legs in a diaper. Sheesh. More stories, please.

    • My memory is a bit like Swiss Cheese! Full of holes! I’ll try to remember other tidbits and write ’em down before they’re gone. 🙂

  2. Wally, I always enjoy your posts on Ft. Desoto – partly because of your narration and photos and also because I’ve heard so much about the place from Mia. Thanks for the vicarious visit!

    • Thanks, Ron! Once that cold, white stuff makes another appearance in your area, come on down! The water’s always warm! 🙂

  3. Enjoyed your reminiscences so much, but am also glad you remembered to take the pictures. Those shore birds do look different this time of year! (I haven’t seen them at this stage.) I love a beach when there’s nobody else there ;>)!

  4. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face Wally, I loved all of the images and the narration!

  5. Wonderful post, Wally! I enjoyed reading about your memories from the eyes of a native Floridian. Awesome photos~love the cruising dolphin, the braking pelican, and the very handsome Black-bellied Plover!

  6. Beautiful musings and photos, Wally. That Snowy Egret is especially gorgeous!

  7. Wonderful set of pictures – I do love the skimmers.
    cheers
    Stewart M – Melbourne

    PS:life is more important than WBW!!

    • Thanks for understanding, Stewart! Hope your weekend is going well. My smoker is full of pork already and in about 8 hours it will be heaped on a soft bun accompanied by fresh corn picked yesterday and warm potato salad. Come on over!

  8. What a wonderful post; I think it’s lovely and important to constantly relay these stories of our state, one that’s always seemingly in transition. There needs to remain a sense of constancy here, for the sake of our natural spaces. LOVE all the species you’ve beautifully captured!

    Just yesterday I was asked where I’m from… I said, “an army brat (ie a traveler), but a Florida Native.” Response: A shocked “What? What? What?” Yes, we do exist. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the thoughts and kind words! It’s fun to share our special connection to Florida’s natural places.

  9. Another great series of photos and I enjoyed your memories of what the beach was like before it became so crowded. You are very lucky to see shorebirds in their breeding plumage. Down here that is only possible immediately they arrive here or just before they leave. I have seen a Black-bellied Plover in almost full breeding plumage at the beginning of our summer – but never a Sanderling with any breeding plumage at all! btw – there are lots of stingrays in the water of our bay as well.

    • Mick, thanks very much! I think our environments are quite similar in many ways. Can’t wait to get back to the salt water and tidal flats!

  10. A super, laid back read Wally.Surprised you managed to wake up from that nap on the beach but pleased you did so that I could admire those pictures. The Skimmer is just superb – regret not seeing those in Mexico. The tern shot is very special because I know how fast and erratically they fly. Wish I could get anywhere near a Grey Plover but i can’t understand why your US ones are so obliging.

    • Thank you, Phil! It’s easy to get the Plover shots. Just lay flat on the beach while the surf slaps at you and sand is working its way into places where sand should never be and wait for the blighter to stumble over you. At least, that’s my method! 🙂

      Hope your weekend is going really well and your weather has improved a bit so you can do a bit of birding. Cheers.

  11. An interesting read and wonderful photos!

  12. Your photos are absolutely amazing. I can’t believe you did not take hours preping and setting up for each of those shots; again, they are absolutely amazing.

    • You’re way too kind, Charlie! We’re just fortunate to have trained birds here in Florida who pose at a moment’s notice! 🙂

  13. I still get that scared feeling walking on a pier or something similar with moving water beneath, thinking I’ll tumble headlong into it. My neck feels like I slept in the form the Willet demonstrates. It does appear the pelican put on its brakes. Great shot!

  14. My favorite place to hang out! Great shots! We were there last weekend in the water swimming and a group of cow rays swam right at my husband. It was really cool. Give me a shout next time you head this way. We could possibly do a meetup.

    • It’s difficult to imagine a better place, it always seems to have something to offer! Your photographs from the Fort are always fantastic!

  15. sounds like an almost perfect morning…

    • When I returned to the truck all covered in wet sand and sweat, my wife smiled – THEN it was a perfect morning.

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