If You Can’t Find The Bird You Want, Want The Bird You Find

(With apologies to Stephen Stills and Clifton George Bailey.)


Although we don’t often respond to “rare bird alerts”, it does happen occasionally.  This wasn’t actually a “response”.  A friend called and asked if I’d like to go birding and we decided to go to the coast and see if we could locate the Bar-tailed Godwit which had been seen for the past two weeks.  (See – not exactly an urgent “response”!)  It would be a life bird for both of us.

Our target was Fred Howard County Park in Tarpon Springs (Pinellas County), just north of Clearwater.  The park is a pleasant place to visit any time and has a nice beach, great picnic areas under large pine trees and plenty of facilities to make a family outing a success.

The good news about visiting the beach in winter is there aren’t too many beachgoers.  The bad news about visiting the beach in winter is, well, it’s winter.  Wind chill can be brutal!

We knew we were in the right place as the shoreline was dotted with lumps in down-filled jackets and ski caps all bearing enough optical gear to make the shareholders of Canon, Nikon and Swarovski rub their collective hands together in glee.  Happily, the shoreline was also crowded with smaller lumps wearing their own down.  Of course, the guest of honor had yet to make an appearance.

Not willing to commit to standing and shivering for hours, we decided to explore the beach for other goodies and figured we would know if the Bar-tailed Godwit showed up as the crowd would likely go wild.  We were rewarded with quite a variety of birds and left quite happy.

We visited three other areas in the vicinity and had a great day along the coast despite not seeing the object of our trip.  Worth exploring are:  Robert K. Rees County Park, Anclote Gulf County Park and William E. Dunn Water Reclamation Facility.  The latter is where we found over 1500 Redhead Ducks.

On our way home, we stopped in at Ben T. Davis Beach (at the western end of Courtney Campbell Causeway, Hillsborough County) and found a nice collection of shorebirds at dusk preparing to roost for the night.

Some of the highlights of the day included the aforementioned large group of Redheads, a large number of Common Loons at each stop we made, large numbers of Marbled Godwits, Willets and Black Skimmers, a half-dozen Red Knots and a flock of Nanday Parakeets.


A few photographs survived my cold and shaky hands.


Wintering Redheads found a refuge in the protected area of Tarpon Springs’ water treatment facility.  There were also a few Lesser Scaup, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Pied-Billed Grebe, Gulls and Terns here.




A Red-breasted Merganser was busy feeding under a fishing pier, oblivious to the dozens of people stomping overhead.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser


This Anhinga will eat well after spearing a delicious Mangrove Snapper!  It’s really interesting to be able to watch from above as this large bird dives for fish, using its wide tail as a rudder to abruptly change directions.  The bird eventually positioned the fish to toss it into the air and swallowed it head first so it wouldn’t be stuck by the fish’s dorsal fins.




An Osprey flies away with a Needlefish for brunch.

Osprey With Needlefish

Osprey With Needlefish


Horned Grebes were actively feeding but were some distance from shore, making a decent photograph (for me) a challenge.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe


This winter has seen an uncommon number of Common Loons.  They were numerous at each stop we made along the coast.

Common Loon

Common Loon


A Great-blue Heron seemed to take perverse pleasure in marching through groups of resting shorebirds.  He walked through the same group of birds six times in about ten minutes.

Black Skimmer, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull

Black Skimmer, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull


Black Skimmers look for a suitable landing area after flying in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Once they settled down, they fixed their gaze on me.  I backed away and left them in peace.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer


Not very common is the Piping Plover.  This little fellow simply wouldn’t turn around for a better photo.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover


Another not-so-common species in our area is the Red Knot.  Up the beach from this one, I found one with a leg band and flag.  After submitting its identification number, I discovered he was originally caught and banded in New Jersey six years ago and has wintered on the same beach (Ben T. Davis) every year since.  He normally stops in August and September along the central Georgia coast.

Red Knot

Red Knot


With such a large bill, preening must be a challenge for the Black Skimmer.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer


Marbled Godwits and Willets settle down for the night.  A close-up shows a comparison in their bill design.

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet


American Oystercatchers hunt for a late evening snack as the tide begins to recede.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher


Flashes of bright green caught our eye as Nanday Parakeets began to gather for their nightly roost.  Also known as the Black-hooded Parakeet and in the pet trade as Nanday Conure, this species has settled along the central-west coast of Florida after escaping or being released over a period of several decades.  It’s estimated that over 1,000 birds now exist in the wild in Florida.

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet



So, we never did see the Bar-tailed Godwit.  We did, however, see an incredible number and variety of beautiful birds, breathed in fresh salty air, walked in sugar-white sand and found some new places which will be more fully explored in the future.


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


Additional Information

Fred Howard Park

Robert K. Rees County Park

Anclote Gulf County Park

William E. Dunn Water Reclamation Facility

Ben T. Davis Beach

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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33 thoughts on “If You Can’t Find The Bird You Want, Want The Bird You Find

  1. Great range of birds – I was watching godwit and red-knot this weekend.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  2. I’ve really enjoyed this post, Wally. Thank you!

    That’s a really great collection of birds, but the birds I find most intriguing are the Black Skimmers. They’re totally unlike anything I’ve seen before. I particularly like the image of the group giving you the eye!

    Thank you for the Stephen Stills reminder – just going to go and give ‘Black Queen’ a blast!

    • Thank you, Richard! It was great fun “collecting” all these! The Skimmers are pretty unique characters and I really love watching them!

  3. Anonymous

    Well if it’s any consolation Wally a Bar-taled Godwit isn’t that special and as luck would have it the two weeks wait were probably better spent doing proper birding.

    I would have settled for the birds you saw , especially all those Redheads, Loons, Marbled Godwits, Willets, Black Skimmers and those parrot things. That’s an interesting shot of the skimmers keeping their beady eyes on your shenanigans.

    By the way, check out my review of Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin, right up your boulevard I’d guess.

    Stay warm my friend.

    • Phil, I was quite satisfied with all the birds we did manage to see! The nice thing about cold weather in Florida is it doesn’t last long!
      Glad you made it home safely, even if your Spring isn’t quite there yet.

  4. The Black Skimmer group shot just makes me smile. Wonderful. And the Anhinga in the water with the snapper is an amazing photograph. Your description of all the birder/photographers with their gear made me flash on folks with video cameras chasing running through the woods after a reported bear sighting at Cade’s Cove (but of course I’m sure birders would never do that!)

    • Good Morning, Sis! Anything that brings a smile is a Good Thing! Yeah, that Anhinga made me hungry with that nice snapper! The only thing more dangerous than a big ‘ole bear is a herd of humans with cameras chasing him! 🙂

  5. Wow great series of photos…love those skimmers. And so many Redheads, that is crazy.

  6. Thank you for braving the cold to get these wonderful shots! That anhinga spearing the fish is awesome. So is the shot of the merganser. I would agree you were handsomely rewarded this day even if you didn’t get what you went out for.

  7. Your description of the “lumps in down filled jackets and caps” with all the optics gear made me chuckle. I don’t think I could get used to birding with that amount of clothing ( the extra gear I would enjoy!). Sorry about the missing Bar-tailed Godwit – around here I could guarantee to show several thousand any summer day! However, I would love to see even one Willet – that’s a great photo of it beside the Marbled Godwit and I really like the pic of the Anhinga with its spread tail and the fish.

    • Mick, I would happily take you to as many Willets as you desire! Maybe I’ll catch that Bar-tail next year. Thankfully, our cold weather days are rare so we don’t have to worry about too much clothing most of the time.

  8. You found a lot of awesome shorebirds to want! Glad you put up with the cold so you could share these lovely photos.

  9. Oh and the post title made me laugh!

  10. These are wonderful …. Tarpon Springs is on my ‘must visit’ list hopefully for this season… I’ll note the names of these parks (although maybe the birding won’t be so good later on). I’d love to see those red-heads…. well everything really.

    The osprey with the gar is wonderful.

    • Hi, Sallie! The birding is good at those locations all year ’round! Plenty of shorebirds. At Howard Park, all those pine trees attract a lot of warblers and their friends!

  11. That is indeed a great numbers of species and birds, the first pic is impressive!
    I wish I could see and photograph the skimmers, an intriguing bird!
    The Nandays are like some parakeets in Europe they escaped from aviaries and managed well in suburban areas. They are among the very parrots and parakeets we did not want in our facility, they carry a disease of which I don’t remember the name and that we didn’t want in our breeding aviaries!!
    Great post Wally!

    • Thank you for your kind remarks, Noushka! The Skimmers are always a welcome encounter and usually find a way to make observation entertaining! Now, if I could just figure out how to properly expose their contrasting plumage!

      Have a good weekend!

  12. Well, that was an enjoyable narrative, pitty about the Bar-tailed, but hay you had a good day by the sound of it. I was wondering Wally, if it could be the bad weather further North that has forced the Loons to come South. Am I right in thinking Red-heads are what we call Pochard, they look the same. I laughed at the optic bit, I’d be the one with Nikon and. Swarovski.
    Great post, All the best Gordon.

    • Hi, Gordon! I suspect you’re spot on about the weather and the loons. The Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) and the Redhead (Aythya Americana) are, indeed in the same genus. The Pochard will very occasionally be spotted off the coast of Alaska or California.

      It’s good to hear from you, Gordon! Cheers!

  13. What a great outing and lovely birds sightings! Awesome photos, the parakeets are cool! Have a happy weekend!

  14. Hey, you were in my neck of the woods (or beach). I live 10 minutes from Ben T Davis. So many great shots you got. I still haven’t made it up there to look for that bar-tailed. One of these days.

  15. (and i’d love to see a REDHEAD much less a huge flock!)

  16. the black-hoods are very cool! glad they could survive after escaping. Laughed at the GBH strutting thru the shorebirds. 🙂 loved the skimmers all staring at you. and the anhinga’s ‘turkey’ tail was awesome, too!

    • Even though I have to travel beyond my yard (unlike you!) to see very many birds, once they’re found it’s non-stop entertainment!

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