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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Out on the fishing pier, a group of Snowy Egrets wait for an unattended bait bucket from atop a sheltered area.
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.
Royal Terns were very active along the beach and around the fishing piers.
Family groups of Bottlenose Dolphins were also doing their part to control fish populations along the beach and around the piers.
This Brown Pelican took one look at my face and put on the brakes. (I get that reaction a lot.)
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.)
Immature White Ibises don’t attain the full white plumage of an adult until toward the end of their second year.
An intent Snowy Egret concentrated on a fisherman placing freshly caught bait into a bucket. He won’t be on that railing for long!
A fisherman of the human variety poles his skiff through the shallow water just off the beach.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!