Photography

Sturm und Drang

Last month was pretty wet, even by Florida standards. I gave up on “water resistant” boots and just wear what are marketed as “all-terrain running shoes”. Not that I am likely ever to be caught running. Even in bear country, I’m sure to go with someone likely to be slower than me. (No, not my Gini! No critter would ever challenge her!) This type shoe at least dries fairly quickly. The “water resistant” footwear gives up resisting sooner than later and never dries out as long it’s on your foot. So you walk around with your feet encased in little air-tight hothouses. Fun.

As native Floridians, we are required by law to visit the coast often. Usually, for us, this means salt marshes, river mouths, mud flats – you know, the good spots! We avoid most sandy beaches as they are littered with bodies greased up and turning over regularly until well-toasted on all sides. This trip, however, we specifically targeted an area described as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches!!”, Fort DeSoto Park in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Why would we be so insane as to go to a popular beach, on purpose? Storms. There had been three days of large, rolling thunderstorms moving across the state from the Atlantic Ocean and marching westward out into the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, such weather confuses birds and one can spot some unusual species on this piece of land jutting into the gulf. Such sightings are much more common during migration, but even in summer, we have been surprised.

Alas, no surprise species today. We did find a few shorebirds busily probing the tide and wrack lines as ominous clouds formed, dissipated, re-formed and thunder rolled. It was nice to see the beach with nothing but breakers and birds!

Fort DeSoto is located on Mullet Key, an island at the entrance to Tampa Bay.

(From an unofficial website about the fort. See Additional Information.)

 

Much has happened on this tiny island:

 

  • during the Civil War, Union troops had a detachment on both Egmont and Mullet Keys. Union ships were looking for blockade runners
  • during WWII the island was used for bombing practice by the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima;

 

 

Fort DeSoto is a premier birding spot during spring and fall migration. Its location serves as an important rest and refueling point for a very diverse group of birds. To appreciate how significant this park is, show up any day during the height of migration and try to find a parking spot!

Also, the park has terrific fishing from shore or from two long piers as well as a very large and well maintained boat ramp. Boaters can easily access the Gulf of Mexico for deep water species, Tamp Bay for excellent flats fishing or simply enjoy probing myriad small islands, sand bars or cruise along the beaches. Camping is available (reservations recommended) and there are several nature trails for those who just want to hike. Use the park’s official website (see Additional Information) to check the calendar for special events (runs, biking, tournaments, etc.) as the park will fill quickly at these times and there are likely to be road closures.

We accomplished exactly what we had hoped on our short evening visit. Saw a few birds, enjoyed the salt water environment, watched stormy weather from an empty beach and can’t wait to do it all again.

 

Red Knots are in transition from breeding to non-breeding plumage.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

The Least Sandpiper is North America’s smallest shorebird (5 inches/13 centimeters).

Fort DeSoto Park

 

With its substantial black bill, a Wilson’s Plover stands out in a group, or in this case, all by herself enjoying a stretch by a rain puddle.

Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto Park

 

One of our larger shorebirds, a Willet, is in hot pursuit of a small crab. He caught it, crunched it to disable it and swallowed it whole – without any garlic lemon butter!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

“You look f a b u l o u s!” A Snowy Egret admires the handsome creature staring back at him from one of nature’s mirrors.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Large Gray Kingbirds breed along many of Florida’s coasts then retreat to warmer climes for the winter.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Fort DeSoto is a fairly reliable location to find Reddish Egrets. Watching them hunt is an amazing experience as they engage in what seems at times to be a very choreographed dance. Incredible birds!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Thunderstorm activity is prevalent in August and this evening’s sunset was mostly obscured as clouds moved along the horizon and along the beach. The large stone slabs in this image used to be a support for a gun emplacement, from what I understand.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Weather can change quickly along the coast and the pastel reflection from the setting sun belies the black stormy sky which just preceded this photograph. Across the channel is Egmont Key and its lighthouse marking the entrance to Tampa Bay for ships arriving from and departing for the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Beaches are for more than sizzling your skin! Storms, shorebirds and sunsets are for all of us!

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

 

Additional Information

Fort DeSoto Park (Unofficial Website)

Fort DeSoto County Park (Official Website)

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

None So Blind

“Wow! There’s not much here to photograph.”

The pleasant gentleman remarked on my “mighty big camera” and he had a point. He was one of our early migratory “snow birds”, from Michigan, he said. He and his wife had been wintering here for 18 years. Visiting this park during 18 years. Standing here by the boat launch for many of those 18 years. One can gaze across Lake Parker, an urban location, and see the massive coal-fired power plant, a large baseball stadium with several practice fields, commercial businesses (one with a particularly bright yellow roof), typically unattractive condominiums and on weekends a lake full of speeding boats and the abominations known as “jet skis”. Who would want to photograph any of THAT??

I knelt down and framed a beautiful White Peacock butterfly by the shoreline, wished the winter visitor a good day and wandered the pathways of Lake Parker Park for over two quiet hours. Along the way, I watched a marsh rabbit nibble a grassy breakfast still sparkling with dew drops. Purple Gallinules, resplendent in their violet and blue plumage and candy-corn beaks, have really big feet to help walk across water plants. Their babies are growing into teenagers and learning to forage on their own. Although a bit late in the season, a Red-winged Blackbird paused with a meal for newly hatched chicks, not wanting me to know where her nest was hidden. A young Red-bellied Woodpecker probed a cavity in a pine tree for termites or a beetle. Overhead, an Osprey clutched a catfish as she headed for a perch to enjoy an early morning meal. Northern Parulas trilled throughout the park. On the way back to the parking area, a last look at the boat ramp where I met the snowbird found a Limpkin prying open an apple snail so his young daughter could practice extracting it. Which she promptly did and swallowed it whole.

My morning walk was glorious. It was not yet too warm, there was plenty of humidity (it IS Florida!), the park was ALIVE as birds, insects and mammals went about the daily routine of survival. I was privileged to observe so much. My thoughts turned, as they invariably do, to my lover. She was ten minutes away, preparing brunch and I should have done what I know she would have upon encountering Mr. Michigan this morning. She would smile that smile which could disarm Atilla The Hun and say something like:  “Yes, there are some unattractive things to see here. But have you noticed what a beautiful green those reeds are? Or have you seen the Great Egret there, so white against that dark cypress? Oh, look! Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flying over! Hear them whistle?” She would have converted him to a devout nature-lover on the spot. Yep. That’s what I shoulda done. But I am not nearly as brave a soul as her.

Despite what you may have heard from the Michigan Snowbird, here are a few images from a city park.

 

White Peacock  (Anartia jatrophae)

Lake Parker Park

 

Purple Gallinule (Adult and Immature)

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

 

Cuban Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) (Thank you, Dr. Peter May!)

Lake Parker Park

 

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Lake Parker Park

 

Northern Parula

Lake Parker Park

 

Marsh Rabbit

Lake Parker Park

 

Tricolored Heron

Lake Parker Park

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Immature)

Lake Parker Park

 

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Lake Parker Park

 

Osprey

Lake Parker Park

 

Limpkin

Lake Parker Park

 

It was a good morning and served to remind me that I need to be more observant; of life, of those with deficient vision and of my own many shortcomings. We hope you have a local oasis where you can retreat and observe whatever the day may offer.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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