A Little Beach Music

Standing in the wet sand gazing westward over the Gulf of Mexico as the light of the rising sun streamed over my shoulders, I could not discern any horizon at all. I was at the edge of the universe. Within my gaze was a vast nothingness. Within my imagination was everything. Waves washed over my feet in a rhythm as old as time. To the inexorable beat of this geologic drum the soprano screeches of gulls, terns and myriad shorebirds added a chaotic cacophony which reached into my reverie and jerked me back to the reality of a new day.

Gini and I have often talked about this land of our birth, the “Sunshine State”, being “in our blood”. We feel fortunate to have lived in several states within America as well as in Europe. After a time in each of those marvelous spots we found ourselves longing to return to the warmth, humidity, sand, salty air, evening breezes saturated with the sticky sweet scent of orange blossoms, Cuban sandwiches, deviled crabs, mullet jumping in the bay and, perhaps most of all, the irresistible pull of the music of the beach.

Today I was with a good friend and outstanding birder and we were visiting Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast in Manatee County. Just north of Sarasota and south of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the island caters to vacationers and offers many rentals near some really beautiful white sand beaches. We specifically paid an early morning visit to the southern end of the island at Holmes Beach. If we hoped to see any shorebirds it would have to be early before the folks with jogging shoes, beach chairs, metal detectors, fishing poles, BBQ grills and tanker trucks filled with tanning lotion began their daily duties.

We found a group of roosting terns, gulls, skimmers and smaller shorebirds and were challenged to identify and count all the individuals amongst the feathers, flapping and yapping. About the time we had a count on one species, the whole group shifted on the beach and we had to start over. As the sun rose over the condominiums, we headed for the parking lot and were satisfied to have found over 100 Black Skimmer, 90 Laughing Gull, 50 Sanderling, 45 Royal Tern, Ringed-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red Knot and even three Barn Swallows swooping low over the surf. Although our final species tally was only 19, it was fun trying to get accurate counts on what we did find. (Side note: When walking in deep beach sand, one must multiply the distance traveled by five for the sake of accuracy. For example, I only walked one-half actual miles but with the “sand factor” I logged the mileage as “2.5 miles”. We birders DO like to be accurate. No, really.)

 

To paraphrase an old television commercial: “A birding blog without photographs is like a day without sunshine.” Herewith, your daily dose of Sol’s rays.

 

The first sunlight of the day illuminated a Sandwich Tern as she scoured the shallow water for a school of breakfast fish.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

 

Larger than the Sandwich Tern, this Royal Tern with its bright orange bill displays impressive wingspread while making an abrupt turn to get a better look at something in the water.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

Great Blue Herons seem equally at home on the beach, lake, river or swamp. A true “generalist” when it comes to locating food.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Willets always seem to be late for an appointment. Probably with a hermit crab.

Willet

Willet

 

Red Knots are not that common in our area so it’s always good to see one scooting along the surf line.

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

True to its name, a Ruddy Turnstone picks up a stone (okay, maybe it’s a shell) to see if anything good to eat is underneath.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

The Knot and the Turnstone seemed to like each other’s company. (More likely, one was hoping the other would locate a seafood bonanza.)

Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone

Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone

 

Bright orange fungus on a piece of driftwood offered a bit of color on the stark white beach.

Fungus

Fungus

 

American Oystercatchers are fairly large creatures and have pretty impressive bills for capturing all manner of prey. This one materialized along the beach and found a likely fishing spot where he chased small crabs.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

 

 

Appearing quite stately among the scurrying Sanderlings, a Ring-billed Gull staked out his own spot in the morning sun among shells broken by the pounding waves.

 

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

The bill of the adult Black Skimmer looks quite substantial from the side but when viewed head-on has the appearance of a razor. A young Skimmer will soon obtain the handsome black plumage of his parents.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer (immature)

Black Skimmer (immature)

 

Typical of most kids, a juvenile begs his mom for food. She says, “I just fed you!”. Then yells at him to go clean his room. Poor kid finds a spot in the sand, flops down and heaves a big sigh as he’s pretty sure no one cares at all about him, especially those pesky Sanderlings in the background, preening all the time. (It’s quite common for Black Skimmers, adults as well as juveniles, to rest their large bills on the ground.)

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

 

No matter where you live, we hope you all have your own version of “beach music” which, no matter how hard you try, simply cannot be resisted.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Holmes Beach

Anna Maria Island

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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34 thoughts on “A Little Beach Music

  1. That’s an interesting view of the Black Skimmer’s bill from head-on. I would not have imagined it to be so razor like. You find and share the most amazing things.

  2. You get the coolest shots of birds in action. Is it okay for me to be jealous of your photographing the Oyster Catchers, Willet and Skimmers? I so want to see these birds one day. Btw, Louisiana is in my blood, so I can relate!

    Thank you for confirming that my hawk was a Red-tailed, juvenile! I did not know that their red tails aren’t red right away.

    • Hi, Gail! You should talk about shots of birds in action – I seem to recall some pretty stunning Hummer images of yours! Red-tailed Hawks can be challenging with so many plumage variations, regional differences, sorting out the youngsters … and then they molt and all bets are off.

      We hope you and your family are preparing to have a joyous Christmas holiday!

  3. great images and cool story of a bird I would very much like to see.

  4. As you probably know by now, I live on the Gulf Coast also….and all the years here, I have never EVER seen an immature skimmer….those were a special treat for me!!

    • Good Mornin’ Anni! We’re fortunate that these beautiful birds breed along some of our beaches. It’s really wonderful to be able to enjoy the young birds and know that parenting isn’t so different no matter the species!

      Stay warm this week!

  5. Very interesting skimmer behavior, Wally. I’d love to see that one day. Your description of the sights and sounds of all those birds is so different from how it is around here during winter. It’s not unusual for me to TRY to photograph birds all morning on Antelope Island or Farmington Bay and come home completely skunked for lack of birds. I did finally find some cooperative birds on the island this morning but it’s been a while…

    • Maybe that’s what I need to improve my photography skills, Ron. Fewer targets! You may not have as much volume, but you sure produce high quality art with what you do have!

      If any of you haven’t yet experience Ron’s consummate photographic skills – why not?? Find him here:

  6. A fantastic series of photos and a wonderful read. Thanks so much! I have enjoyed visiting.

  7. You had me dancing to the Florida Beat there Wally. Those warm early starts sound very appealing at the moment when the first and now very cold birding light is 8am, and then it’s all over by 1530!

    I think your total of 19 species is very acceptable given that you a hundred Black Skimmers and 90 Laughing Gull – one of each would suit me just fine at the moment. I love the looks of those juvenile Black Skimmers. I bet they can really hide away in the grassy dunes or wherever skimmers breed. Is that local to you?

    Sanderlings and Turnstones mix here too and I think the Sanderlings gain from following on behind the disturbance Turnstones create and the food they expose.

    I enjoyed your words and pictures again. Now send me some Florida sunshine and I promise not to send you any of our snow, and wind, and rain, and……..

    • Well, just to make you feel at home, Phil, it’s raining at the moment and our temperature has dropped 15 degrees since yesterday. But just as soon as we see our sunshine again (which will be tomorrow), I’ll get an express package of the stuff in the mail for you!

      Yes, the Black Skimmers breed locally and you’re right about the eggs, chicks and young ones being quite camouflaged in the grassy dunes. Another recent beach trip turned up even more interesting species and I hope to report those results soon.

      Stay warm, my friend!

  8. WOW, now that is a great post, Wally!
    I would so much love to follow you and see the Oystercatchers and Black skimmer up close!
    Some fantastic pictures here!
    Keep well, warm regards 🙂

  9. Your opening paragraphs are pure poetry to me, Wally, and a wonderful prelude to your delightful images. Those first three images are wonderful, but my favourites are of the Black Skimmers. I’d not realised, before this, that their bills were so thin when viewed head-on! The juvenile skimmer is very endearing!

    Your kind wishes seem to have worked – my talk on Little Owls was well received, thank you!

    I hope that you and Gini have a wonderful forthcoming week – – – – Richard

    • There was no doubt anyone listening to you speak about Little Owls, and your obvious reverence for them, would absolutely love it. I really enjoy watching the Skimmers “skim” the shallow water for fish. It’s great entertainment!

      Our weekend has been terrific and we plan on an early birding trip tomorrow (Monday) and will be visiting a town named “Christmas”!

      All the best.

  10. Great pictures – one day I’ll get to see a skimmer!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  11. I love the rich mix of images…A lot to see at the beach.

  12. Oh I really want to see all those shorebirds Wally. I love terns. I wish I had a beach like that one. cheers

  13. Hi Wally Your bird shots are always outstanding however I would go to your post just to read your text. I think this post was really poetic in the way you wrote it and of course there is always your wicked humour in there that makes me smile/laugh. Of course living in Northern Ireland (UK) we never see Skimmers and I do hope that someday I may see one in the flesh so seeing all your fantastic shots are thrilling for me. It is great that the young were with the adults and the bills do make them look top heavy. I am not surprised they rest it on the sand. the shots that is head on is fantastic. Although the flight shot of the Oystercatcher is great I prefer the second one. Also loved seeing the Willet and Red Knot as again we do not see them here. Many thanks for your wonderful posts and I hope you and Gini have a lovely weekend.

    • We really appreciate your visit, Margaret! Your kind remarks are humbling. The Black Skimmer is one of my favorites and I tend to take lots of photos of them when they’re around. Hopefully, one day some of those photos will turn out okay. Isn’t it wonderful we can “share” birds we would otherwise never have a chance to “see”?

      Our weekend is off to a good, albeit rainy, start! We wish you all the best!

  14. I completely understand the “in your blood” feeling abut a place. Although we live in southwest FL for the 5 winter months and I have grown to love so much about it, I go home to Michigan where the crop fields, marshes, trees, marshes, deer, and song birds awaken and feed my spirit. I love the gulf, but the fresh-water lakes around us are what call to my soul. I enjoy your photos so much as I am learning the names of the different birds of FL. Thanks.

  15. A great description of time at the beach with the birds. Gulls Terns, and Shorebirds – really perfect birding. I don’t think the Willet is even mentioned in my bird book so that is one I would like to see. Your photos are great – especially the in-flight ones. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mick, thanks for visiting and dropping off some kind words! The shore is pretty special, the multitude of birds makes it even more enjoyable.

  16. lovely in-flights and shore birds.

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