Posts Tagged With: dunlin

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

Random Acts of Birding

Many of us did not set out to become “birders”.  We typically absorbed the avocation gradually, often following an encounter with a friend or relative who seemed enthusiastic about their experiences.  Sometimes there is an epiphany.  Such was the case with my wonderful wife, Gini.  She became an addict….ummm, avid observer….while we were driving along a highway in west Texas.  She abruptly screamed:  “Stop!  Turn around!”.  Assuming I had just run over a small child, I slammed on the brakes and executed a quick U-turn.  She pointed breathlessly to a Mesquite tree in the median of the road and whispered:  “Look!”.  The sighting of her first male Bullock’s Oriole shall remain one of birding history’s most dramatic moments.

Once “hooked”, birding becomes as natural a process as breathing.  You go to the grocery and scan the parking lot and light poles for gulls.  A stop at the gas station involves inspecting the eaves of the roof for Sparrows and the utility lines for Grackles or Starlings.  Visits to a relative’s house mean dawdling in the driveway to check the front yard trees for passerines.  There are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved.

Although we usually have a specific destination when we go on an “actual” birding trip, we just naturally observe our surroundings as we travel to and from such places.  Sometimes we even see a few birds along the way.

The following images are of “incidental” sightings we made while heading somewhere else.  Some of these were taken during scouting trips made in preparation for the recent Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count.  Others were taken during one of those “non-picnics” mentioned above.  Still others were made for such reasons as:  “I wonder what might be in that retention pond behind the church/factory/store/mall?”.

You get the idea.

 

The Osprey is abundant in Florida and I certainly seem to take a lot of pictures of them.  This one was just finishing a snack near the coast as we were on the way to dinner.  I think I like them so much because we’re so much alike.  We both love seafood and are incredibly good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle was still shimmering with water as he crossed a path in front of me.  He was about 24 inches (610 mm) long and simply beautiful.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Purple Gallinules brighten up the marsh with their iridescent plumage.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

During breeding season, the adult Ring-billed Gull’s head will become pure white.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

We found a stream flowing from a marsh into a larger creek which provided a nice feeding area for a group of Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.  The small sandpipers blended in very well with the rocks.  The Yellowlegs flew a short distance upstream when we first approached and the calls helped confirm them as Greater.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Hooded Mergansers winter in our area and often seem to prefer small retention ponds for feeding during the day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A Forster’s Tern dives headlong into a local lake to snag a small fish.  Seems like they need helmets!

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

This Great Egret has captured an Armored Catfish for lunch.  This species of catfish may be the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus), a non-native species probably introduced accidentally during the past several decades by aquarium owners and/or the pet trade.  I could find no evidence this fish is harmful except for possibly causing erosion of banks due to their habit of digging out holes for nesting.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Strong morning light made a detailed photograph of this Eastern Bluebird impossible but I liked the way he was looking back at us.  He was up early in a local cemetery we were scouting for the Christmas Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Also in the cemetery was a female Downy Woodpecker cleaning out an old nest cavity.  She was hauling out sawdust and expelling it.  I think she intended to use the hole as a warm resting spot as the weather had turned quite cold.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Blue-headed Vireo posed very briefly and took off when the camera clicked.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Yes, I know, a face only a mother could love.  But there’s a beauty in the vulture that just can’t be ignored.  To see this creature up close is to marvel at its flight feathers and unique head design, knowing how effective it is for its intended purpose.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The event was a water-side supper while enjoying the sunset.  The reality was another one of those birding trips involving food.  I just “had” to peek down the shoreline and this is what I saw.  Mostly Least Sandpipers.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  It resembled “moving rocks”.

Shorebirds

Shorebirds

 

The Ring-billed Gull towers over a group of feeding Dunlin.

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

 

A Dunlin in non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Comparing sizes of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover.  Shhh!

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

A meeting of the local Storks Club.  This was during another pre-Christmas Bird Count scouting foray.  A small cattle pond hosted over 80 Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

Again while scouting a potential spot for Sparrows a few days ahead of the Christmas count, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks appeared directly overhead doing a little scouting of their own.  I think this is a juvenile as it lacks a strong dark trailing edge to the wings which is characteristic in adults.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

If you have any interest in observing birds, you will understand the process of continually being in “birding” mode.  If you do not yet consider yourself a birding enthusiast, beware!  Just by looking at this blog you are in danger of becoming one of us!  Then you, too, will be committing random acts of bird watching – just because you can.

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

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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