(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.
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.
Horned Grebes were actively feeding but were some distance from shore, making a decent photograph (for me) a challenge.
This winter has seen an uncommon number of Common Loons. They were numerous at each stop we made along the coast.
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 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.
Not very common is the Piping Plover. This little fellow simply wouldn’t turn around for a better photo.
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.
With such a large bill, preening must be a challenge for the Black Skimmer.
Marbled Godwits and Willets settle down for the night. A close-up shows a comparison in their bill design.
American Oystercatchers hunt for a late evening snack as the tide begins to recede.
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.
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!