Honeymoon

Salt water sloshed over the transom as our small boat motored from the relative calm of the shallow flats into the deeper waters of the channel which would take us through Hurricane Pass to the Gulf of Mexico and “big fish”. The little 15-foot craft was laden with four teenagers, fishing tackle, ice chest and groceries. As we approached the pass, the waters of the Gulf were all capped in white foam and appeared to form a watery wall warning against entry. Good sense prevailed. We came about and were content pulling in speckled trout and Spanish mackerel from the shallower but more peaceful waters of the bay. As Gini waited patiently for me to place another bait on her hook, she let the line and empty hook drag lazily through the turquoise water. “I got a fish!”, she exclaimed. A plump trout joined his friends in the ice chest. That was 50 years ago.

Catching fish with no bait. That’s the sort of person she is. A few weeks ago, as she was waiting for me to return from a hike, a wren flew in the open car window, perched on my pack in the back seat, chirped at her and flitted away. Strangers, birds, fish – and me – cannot resist her magical charm.

Old maps called it Sand Island. The local settlers referred to the place as Hog Island. In the 1940’s a northern developer built a dozen thatched huts on the sand and together with Life magazine ran a contest for newlyweds. The lucky winners got to spend two weeks on “Honeymoon Isle”. World War II interrupted blissful lives and the huts fell into disrepair. The name stuck, however. We spent many happy days on the beaches, sandbars and waters around Honeymoon Island when we were young. A bucket of cold chicken, watermelon, catching fish, playing in the clear waters under impossibly blue skies … how wonderful Life can be!

The state of Florida began acquiring the land on Honeymoon Island in the 1950’s and eventually placed it into the state park system. A causeway built in 1964 facilitated public access. Condominiums, concessions and crowds soon followed. Today almost one million visitors annually visit this park which has been consistently ranked in the top five beaches in the entire country. Now when Gini and I visit, our selective vision still sees only sand and water.

I recently traveled to Honeymoon Island with two talented birders and we spent a chilly but productive morning combing the beach, marsh and upland trails. With relative low temperatures and a “brisk” wind coming in from the Gulf of Mexico we didn’t have too many sunbathers to step around. We found over 60 species including five species of Plover, a group of 60 Red Knot, an unusually good look at a Clapper Rail and an uncommon White-crowned Sparrow.

It was a great day of birding.

Yes, of course there are pictures!

 

Even if you don’t get a good look at the Spotted Sandpiper, its characteristic tail bobbing as it feeds is a pretty good indication of its identification. In breeding season, the undersides will be covered in large dark spots.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

A Black-bellied Plover comes in for a landing on the shoreline. It lacks its namesake black belly during the winter.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

Our smallest sandpiper, the Least Sandpiper, enjoys a bath in the cold water.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

One of the small “peep” sandpipers, the Western Sandpiper is distinguished from the Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers by dark colored legs and a slightly longer bill which normally droops a bit at the end.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

 

Semipalmated Plovers are named for a partial webbing between the middle and outer toes but you need to be pretty close to see that feature.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

Just a bit larger than the above Semipalmated Plover, relatively large black bills help identify the Wilson’s Plover even at a distance.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

 

Piping Plovers have a short “chunky” looking bill compared to other plovers. This species is threatened and endangered worldwide. The bird in the fourth image below sports a yellow leg band (ring) which was likely attached near the Great Lakes. I couldn’t get a look at the band number.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

 

Even smaller than the Piping Plover is the Snowy Plover. Its bill is a bit slimmer and these guys seem to always be running, screeching to a halt to probe the sand and then running off down the beach again. Unfortunately, this species is also threatened.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

 

Flipping over a rock can sometimes yield a meal for the Ruddy Turnstone and that’s how they got their name. They are also quick to turn over shells and, in this case, a whole pile of seaweed. Once this bird moved all the grass a horde of other birds swooped in to scoop up the goodies.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Dunlins nest in the Arctic tundra and spend winter along our coasts. They have a longish bill which is usually curved downward. They can look fairly plain in their non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Similar in size to the Dunlin, Sanderlings also nest in the Arctic. It’s very pale in non-breeding plumage and its bill is not as long as a Dunlin’s and is usually straight. These are the birds we see at the beach in winter right at the edge of the water being chased by the waves.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

Another tundra breeder, the Red Knot is normally pretty gray looking by the time they arrive in our area for the winter. Occasionally, they will begin to attain their beautiful reddish plumage in late spring before returning to the Arctic to nest.

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

 

Okay, I not only got carried away with a bunch of words but tried to stuff a lot of photographs in here as well. So, this adventure is —– TO BE CONTINUED.

 

Additional Information

Honeymoon Island State Park

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

 

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

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Honeymoon

  1. Love those Sanderlings. Aw heck, I like ’em all. Always fun to see the variety you find on your travels. Thanks to your photos, I was able to identify a Willet we saw on vacation.

    • We are blessed to be able to find such diversity when we get out and about. Shorebirds are a challenge for me to identify but sure are fun to watch! Nice job on the Willet!

  2. The birds are beyond wonderful and so are the memories you shared.

  3. You’d never guess from your wonderful images, Wally, that this island is highly developed for tourism. What a fabulous array of birds you found there! An entertaining account too – as always from you!

    Sorry to have not visited before now – still having major computer problems. Expecting to be ordering a new one today – just pricing up the software I’ll need. Ouch !!!!!

    • You are right, Richard, about the tourism industry there! One has to pick the right time to go birding or else risk being run over by sun worshippers, surfers and shell collectors!

      I empathize with your computer issues. On the bright side, think how modern you shall be once all that stuff is up and running! (You likely already have photo software you are familiar with, but if you’re shopping for something different give Adobe Lightroom a glance. It’s designed to help keep photos organized but also provides just about all the processing power you may need.)

      Take care, Richard!

  4. Great story and set of pictures – I know somebody else who seems to be able to charm the birds from the bushes!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    PS: work has settled down, school and summer holidays just about over, normal device will now be resumed!

    • G’day Stewart! Good thing she is that way because I have the opposite effect on most birds! Happy to hear you may have a bit of time to relax.

  5. Hola Senor Wally .Greetings from Lanzarote.I am looking in to say Happy Honeymoon to you and Gini.I am enjoying the Spanish sunshine and while its not quite Floridian it is rather warmer than the UK currently enjoys.

    I will share my unspotted Common Sandpiper and Turnstone with you soon. Take care and do avoid those hurricanes.

    Sue sends her Gin(i) and Tonic best wishes to your equally suffering best pal.

    • We hope you’re enjoying your “sun with an accent”! Look forward to your Sandpiper and Turnstone! Tell Sue that Gini thanks her for the wishes. (The only suffering my pal does is due to being hitched to me!)

  6. tingsgrove

    WOW Walley such an array of stunning photographs here. So many of them are really just amazing. I will be near West Palm Beach next month and hope to see a few birds while there~

    • Thank you so much! We hope you have a great time in West Palm and you shouldn’t have any problem finding places to go birding.

  7. I’m looking through your beautiful shots of all of the plovers and I’m thinking “If he has a shot of a snowy I’m going to shoot myself” That one is still on my list. I keep missing them. Did you make it out on the nature trail there? I heard the owls are nesting. I’m going to try and get out there in the next week or so.

    • We were pretty fortunate, Dina, and found a lot of Plovers. Yes, we hiked the Osprey Trail but didn’t find any owls – well, except the guy playing a Screech Owl recording on the next path over – but I don’t think that counts (although, we almost did). Honeymoon Island and the Dunedin Causeway are still among our favorite places to spend time.

  8. How delightful to be able to track the changes to one part of the country for this length of time. Your shorebirds are great. Out here in Australia we know the Black-bellied Plovers (Grey Plovers to us) Sanderlings. Ruddy Turnstones, and Red Knot. The rest – especially all the small peeps – look very challenging but I guess when you really know them they walk, and move, and even rest quite differently. Thanks for sharing your great photos.

    • Hi, Mick! Hope your having a great day today! You are right about the challenge of shorebirds – a continuing problem for me! But, hey, it’s that kind of problem that keeps us going to the shore, right?

      🙂

  9. hahahha… that was funny..I was just thinking to self… this is a lot of photos… but, I loved them all..especially the one with the stop-action water on the guy having a bath. Beautiful! and…I love the story about Gini and how all wildlife (including you) love her and trust her…she must be a special person to gain that trust …they just know……

    • Veronica, thank you for visiting and making some very nice remarks! Yep, Gini is truly a special person. Hope you come back and see us again!

  10. Your Gini is a ‘keeper’ although after 50 years i suppose you have done that. This, once again is a wonderful and interesting post. Thanks for the information also about the waders. I taught about our (UK) small waders to my class on Monday but another disc I have borrowed has all the waders of the world and so I was able to recognise many of your birds, well the names anyway!!! Ha! Ha! When I have more time (going to South Donegal with a bird group tomorrow for weekend) I will look at your birds again and also the disc. Many thanks for sharing your wonderful trip and both of you have a great weekend

    • Thank you so much, Margaret! Yes, Gini is quite special. Sounds like you’re having a wonderful time with your travels. Thank you for taking the time to visit us!

  11. Hello Wally!
    I feel like Gini’s twin, about animals coming readily to her!
    When I was a kid, I was having peanuts close to a forest and to my huge surprise, 2 tits and a squirrel came to eat out of my hand, totally wild creatures not even used to come to a feeder!!
    Still now, once in while, I get that kind of visit… especially in my hides by wrens sitting on my head! LOL!
    A wonderful post with amazing pictures of different shore birds!
    N°2 is a must 🙂
    Keep well and enjoy more outings 🙂

  12. Those wrens can be so brazen! 🙂

    What a beautiful set of shorebirds. Loved learning more about them. Sometimes I find them as confusing as sparrows to identify. After seeing all the you posted, my favorite are the fluffy white Sanderlings.

  13. Love this series of shorebirds and the story of Honeymoon Island. The Snowy Plover is just adorable.

  14. enjoyable set of shorebirds! loved the sweet plovers! and sweet story of gini’s fish catch and wren visitor, too.

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