Beach Bird Bonanza

My Sweetheart and I had to update some paperwork at our local military base the other day and took the opportunity to explore a bit.  It has been four years since our last visit and there have been several changes to the area.

MacDill Air Force Base is located near Tampa, Florida and is on a peninsula jutting into Tampa Bay.  This base has been a vital part of the U.S. Air Force mission since officially opening in 1939.  Military bases are like small cities and must be able to support the large number of people living and working there.  Part of this full range of amenities at MacDill includes a very nice recreation area.  There are a marina, boat launch, beach, camping area, fresh-water lake and several miles of shoreline along Tampa Bay.

—Before going any further, we acknowledge and appreciate the service of all the military personnel of America.  As a veteran, I understand the dedication and sacrifice each of you makes every day.  We salute you and your families.—

For more than a week, a low pressure system has been sitting to our west in the Gulf of Mexico and sending waves of rain eastward.  Many areas of the state have experienced flooding as the ground has become saturated.  Some of these rain events have been accompanied by strong winds and migrating birds have been “grounded” until a break occurs.  On the day we visited the air base, the day dawned without rain but dark clouds were moving rapidly from west to east and the skies remained “threatening”.  We completed our paperwork mission and drove to the marina and beach area to enjoy a brunch of granola bars and colas.  (It’s all the marina store had available!)

There was a break in the clouds and we had a bit of actual blue sky for awhile.  I popped over a sand dune to see if anything interesting might be on the beach.  The entire length of the small beach was covered with birds!  As I slowly moved up the shoreline, the birds seemed to pay little attention to me and were busy preening and resting.  I only had 20 minutes before another rain shower moved in but during that period saw 25 species of birds and took over 200 photographs (okay, so many were multiple shots of the same birds).  Highlights included:  140 Black Skimmer, 60 Marbled Godwit, 50 Sandwich Tern, 35 Royal Tern, 35 Semipalmated Plover, 30 Laughing Gull, 20 Forster’s Tern, 15 Dowitcher, 15 Brown Pelican, 10 Willet, 10 Western Sandpiper, 4 American Oystercatcher and 2 Roseate Spoonbill.  What a nice brunch that turned out to be!

I think we won’t let four more years pass before we visit the air base again!

Hope you enjoy a few of the sights we found.

A Roseate Spoonbill cruises just off of the beach on his way to a lagoon for a little fishing.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Just a couple of weeks ago, these Marbled Godwits were likely munching bugs in grasslands a couple of thousand miles northwest of here.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

The next three images provide perspective on the Marbled Godwit’s size.

A Semipalmated Plover looks pretty small and has to take a lot of little steps to keep up with his larger cousin.

Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover

Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover

Dowitchers might appear large next to a Least Sandpiper, but seem miniature next to the Godwit.

Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit

Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit

With the larger Godwit in the background, Royal and Sandwich Terns preen.

Marbled Godwit, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern

Marbled Godwit, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern

Small “peeps”, Western Sandpipers, gather on the lee side of a small dune as more foul weather approaches.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

The American Oystercatcher is quite striking with its relatively large size and coloration.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover

American Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

These Black Terns probably should be further south by now but have been delayed by the weather.  It’s interesting to see them feed by “plucking” prey from the water as opposed to the headlong dives of other terns.

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

A Common Tern rests on  the beach.  Despite their name, I don’t see very many of them.

Common Tern

Common Tern

A pair of Black Skimmers dwarf the Black Tern flying along with them.

Black Skimmer, Black Tern

Black Skimmer, Black Tern

The Black Skimmer often lays his large bill on the sand when resting, giving the appearance of a bird in distress.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

The normally drab-looking Willet is stunning when it displays the black and white of its wings.

Willet

Willet

Birds take refuge on the protected side of a tree on an inlet as the next storm approaches.  I took refuge in the truck!

Shelter From The Storm

Shelter From The Storm

If one must take care of administrative errands, including a romp on the beach helps make the task more enjoyable.  If the romp includes an unexpected gathering of a couple hundred birds, so much the better!

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.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

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51 thoughts on “Beach Bird Bonanza

  1. Whoever is “in charge” of naming birds should get a special award for the “Marbled Godwit.” I appreciate the way you showed other birds with it for perspective on its size. Some days we all feel like that Black Skimmer looked with his beak flat on the ground! 🙂 He looked like he had flown into something unfriendly. The beak is beautiful, though. And the American Oystercatcher on one leg. How do they do that? Wonderful outing, Wally. Has inspired us to drive across the beach bridge next week and explore our own back yard.

    • It was a short, but rewarding encounter! Don’t forget to leave a trail of bread crumbs so you can find your way back to the forest!

  2. Pingback: Birding News #37 | Prairie Birder

  3. Wally, I smiled from the top to the bottom, always such a pleasure~

  4. Great shots of the godwits and oystercatchers. Never saw a skimmer lay its head down like that– of course I rarely see them inland and have never visited a colony. Thank you for your service! I wish we had a convenient military base with commissary and Bx/Px in the Fort Lauderdale area. Too far to commute to MacDill though we have stayed there overnight.

    • Ken, thanks so much! It’s even a bit far for us to visit too often, mostly due to my reluctance to drive in heavy traffic.

  5. I’ve never seen a godwit (and most of the others). How nice that you have so many opportunities to photograph them. The oyster catcher scared me until I read your note about egg laying. Nice set, Wally!

  6. A spoonbill in flight. Nice!

  7. My godness, what a post!
    Amazing birds and pictures!
    I love the skimmers, their beaks might be heavy, could be why they often lay head on the sand!!
    I too should go more often to the beach! 😉
    Keep well!

  8. Pretty good going for twenty minutes work Wally. Lovely to see those Marbled Looking so marbled. I dream of finding one in the UK, or a Western Sandpiper or etc etc. Fascinating about the way skimmers rest their bills and now I won’t go to rescue the bird when I find one on Knott End beach. Love the Black Tern on the beach too – we never ever see them do that.

    • How kind of you, Phil, to mention my name and the word “work” in the same sentence. That’s not normally the case. It was a fortuitous morning!

  9. Neat post, Wally. I especially enjoyed seeing the skimmers and oystercatchers. I simply can’t imagine having access to the variety (and numbers) of birds you have down there. The last half-dozen times I’ve been out shooting I’ve largely been skunked for lack of available subjects. Extremely frustrating…

    • Ahh, but the ones you DO see, you capture spectacularly! Now, if I can achieve a fraction of your expertise with all this variety, I’ll be a happier camper! 🙂

  10. Excellent photos of the beach birds. They’re all beautiful.

  11. would love to see the black skimmer. Interesting comment on it´s bill.

    • Thank you! It’s a unique bird and I love watching them cruise just above the water with that big lower bill scooping up fish!

  12. Wally, from MacDill you were just a few miles from where I lived in Florida just off of Bay Shore Blvd.

    Coming to your site always makes me smile because of the Florida birds you share, in this post I especially enjoyed the Marbled Godwits, Skimmers and the Oystercatcher!

    • Cool, Mia! We were surprised to find “wall-to-wall” birds on the relatively short stretch of beach. We look forward to returning soon to see what’s there!

  13. Sandpipers are one of my favorite shorebirds. Maybe the Black Skimmer’s bill gives it a pain in the neck. That is unusual posture. I always enjoy seeing what you find. Interesting to see how they find shelter in a storm.

  14. Wow! So many great shots! I had heard there were good birds over there. When I first moved here we lived really close to the base but I never got a chance to see it. I think there’s an eagle’s nest on that base.

    • Thanks, Dina! I suspect the number and variety may have been weather related. Hope to get back out there soon to see what’s visiting.

  15. Wow, a fabulous series of shots. I have never seen most of these birds, what a treat! The Roseate Spoonbill is awesome, and I did think that Black Skimmer was in distress, well I actually thought it was dead. So glad it’s just resting!

  16. Beautiful photos. I love the colours in the first one – the Spoonbill looks great against the water.

  17. These are all amazing photos!

  18. Fabulous water fowl!!! I especially like the marbled godwit in flight!!!!

  19. What an awesome post, the birds are all beautiful!

  20. Very nice!

  21. Really great to see all that many birds together on the one strip of beach. I especially like the photos of the Marbled Godwits and some of the smaller shorebirds showing size comparisons. The Roseate Spoonbills are beautiful.

  22. These are beautiful shots of the shorebirds.

  23. wow – a smorgasbord of waders and seabirds Wally; a totally successful visit to the base for sure. I really enjoyed these photos; many of these birds I’d never get to see like you have; thanks for sharing

    • Happy to share anytime, Carole! I know how you feel – when I look at your wonderful collection from New South Wales, I’d love to visit!

  24. Amazing birds and bird counts … thanks for getting out in between the showers. I loved how you showed the different species together, gives such a good idea of their sizes that way. When I look at your pictures, I think I could identify the various shorebirds, but when I actually see them I get confused.

  25. Hi So many birds on that beach. Wow! Great shots of them all and it was lovely to see the xize difference between different species. Boy, I wish I could go there.

  26. love these! all birds i don’t get to see.

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