The loose sand of the upper beach made it a challenge to walk with any semblance of a normal human gait. As you push off of one foot to move forward, that foot sinks deeply into the fine grains and disrupts your timing. You can feel the muscles in your lower legs strain a bit as more effort than usual must be expended in order to propel one forward. The resulting effect gives the appearance of an inebriated turtle attempting to traverse a really large bowl of sugar.
Where the waves come ashore, the sand is more firm, having been packed by the constant motion of the water. Walking is easier. This is where I paused to inhale the day.
Most of our recent trips have been to the interior of Florida’s hot, steamy, still swamps and forests. It’s beautiful and crammed with creatures and all manner of natural marvels to behold. One develops a rhythm when an activity is repeated. Typically, a walk consists of much stopping, listening, scanning, walking backwards, looking upwards and bemoaning the dearth of certain bird life. (Okay, that last part is what birders do no matter what habitat they’re in. “Millions of shorebirds in that field and not ONE Buff-breasted Sandpiper!”)
It was time for a change of pace. Our “go-to” place for getting near salt water with a potential for a good birding day is Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg. Those who have visited understand what a true gem it can be in Florida’s impressive bird watching jewel box. We must periodically make a pilgrimage to the shore in order to stay healthy. Well, maybe we don’t HAVE to – wait, yes, we do! We were both born and raised in Florida and it may be a blood disorder or a genetic disposition or a state regulation. Whatever it is, the invisible force of the coast has always exerted its magnetism over our beings just as surely as we have required air to breathe.
As I stood on the shore, a gentle breeze caressed my face. A turn of my head and I could see forever. The Gulf of Mexico stretched before me until it met the morning sky in a blurred blue line. Scurrying Sanderlings played tag with the edges of the waves as they probed the wet sand with their slightly curved bills. A Willet also probed the surface of the beach for breakfast but in a more stately, unhurried approach. Squadrons of low-flying Brown Pelicans patrolled just off-shore keeping a keen eye out for tell-tale surface ripples which would signal a school of fish.
After walking leisurely through the gently breaking waves, I trudged back through the loose sand to a secluded lagoon. Gulls, terns, plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers, egrets and herons were massed on a sandbar which protruded into the lagoon. The rising sun signaled the start of another day of trying to survive and the diverse bunch began to scurry along the shore, wade into the shallows and lift into the air to accomplish that task. Nearby, a Reddish Egret performed his peculiar brand of fishing – running through the water, spreading his wings, stopping, starting, reversing direction and somehow coming up with a fish or crab every few minutes. A short distance from the frantic egret, a young Yellow-crowned Night Heron hunted the way his parents taught – stand very still and let the meal come to you.
Wooded areas abound in this park and offer resting places for exhausted migrating birds during the fall and spring as they transit to and from their breeding grounds. We hoped to catch some early warblers but, alas, did not have much luck. A Yellow-throated Warbler made an appearance and a few “normal” residents were active, but no unusual visitors today. Butterflies enjoyed the blooming flowers and I consoled myself chasing them for awhile.
We shared lunch over a view of the Gulf and endless blue sky. Entertainment was provided by a pod of porpoises herding fish and slashing through them for a lunch of their own. One of the big mammals even gave us a jumping display, clearing the water three times and sending salt spray skyward as he crashed onto the surface. It was a thrilling conclusion to a magnificent morning.
Please enjoy a few of the images we recorded of our visit to the beach.
I think the Dowitcher below is an immature bird, based on its overall appearance (bright above, buffy looking) and the reddish-buff fringes of the upper parts feathers. The second image shows the same bird along with birds who have transitioned into non-breeding plumage.
The Beach Morning Glory is also known as Bayhops or Railroad Vine.
A scheduled routine can be a good thing and repetition can make us feel comfortable. Once in awhile, however, try a change of pace. You just might come away feeling refreshed, renewed and relaxed. And if salt air is involved, it just may become a habit.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)