Posts Tagged With: fort de soto

Salt, Sand, Sun

Once upon a time, a child was born in a quaint village in southeast Florida, U.S.A.  The village was inhabited in those days by wealthy individuals from the northern territories who grew tired of hiring people to shovel snow from the steps of their mansions so they drifted to the south and settled in the land of perpetual sunshine.  The local natives spent most of their time serving these wealthy migrants by providing them with housing, food, sun-tanning lotion and all the services which the northern tribal members had long ago forgotten how to do themselves.  My father was one of the locals who constructed housing and thus, in his own small way, contributed to the expansion of the little village known as Miami.

A memory of that time is one that has remained near the front of whatever recall mechanism causes one to envision prior events.  Our family took frequent trips to the beach.  I remember playing in the warm salty water, digging in the sand, eating ice cold watermelon and walking out a long fishing pier.  The fishing pier was both fascinating and scary.  Scary because I was afraid I would fall through the cracks in the boards to the roiling sea water below.  Fascinating because of all the sights, sounds and smells associated with a fishing pier.  There was a bait shop and watching the little fish in the holding tanks was great fun.  A huge sign over the bait tanks had colorful pictures of the fish one could catch in these waters.  All types of birds stalked the pier for discarded bait and fish parts.  When someone hooked a big one, there was a lot of excitement, yelling of encouragement and general running about.  It was wonderful!

Yesterday, as I was stretched out on the wet beach sand, that memory made a glorious appearance within my gray matter.  It was so strong and I was enjoying it so much, I almost forgot to snap a photograph of the Black-bellied Plover walking straight toward me.  It was a bit after sunrise, the breeze was cool, the gentle surf was washing up bits of broken shells, gulls and terns were overhead, the plover, Willets and Sanderlings were probing the soft sand for breakfast and I could have drifted off for a nap quite easily.  Of course, in another couple of hours, I would be trampled by hordes of sun-worshippers and the bird calls would be drowned out by the roar of jet skis, but it was nice for now.

This was quite a different Fort De Soto than the experience we had during our last visit.  (See our prior posts, Spring At The Fort-Part One and Spring At The Fort-Part Two.)  At that time, the park was full of migratory birds fueling up for their continued journey to the north.  Now, there were no colorful warblers munching mulberries or throngs of shorebirds with their complex plumages.  Just us natives.

High tide meant that the wading birds were elsewhere.  The North Beach and lagoons were inhabited by a few shorebirds and Black Skimmers.  The Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Least Terns and Royal Terns cruised just off the shoreline plunging suddenly when they spotted a school of fish.  A lonely Magnificent Frigatebird patrolled the upper air space, waiting for one of the above-mentioned birds to grab a fish which he would attempt to steal.

We visited the two fishing piers where the most successful fishermen were the Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Laughing Gulls, who were stealing bait from buckets as soon as the humans turned away.  Bottlenose Dolphins scooped up great mouthfuls of small fish all around the pier and, closer to the beach, Stingrays cruised in small groups, graceful as they moved their “wings” in unison through the shallow water.  Small fishing boats began to ply the productive waters off the beach and a pilot boat headed past the Egmont Key lighthouse on its way to the Gulf of Mexico to guide a large ship through the deep channels of the otherwise very shallow Tampa Bay estuary.

The day was beginning in earnest.  Time to head home.

 

It wouldn’t be a day at the beach without the Brown Pelicans cruising just above the waves and splashing down into a school of fish.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

 

When you’re a bird and have an itch in the center of your back, you either need a good friend or must become creative to scratch it.  This Willet was able to contort his neck enough to use the back of his head to provide relief.

Willet

Willet

 

 

The Sanderling displays the proper probing technique for obtaining breakfast on the beach.  It’s nice to see them in their breeding plumage as opposed to the pale gray and white winter coloring.

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

 

This female Black-bellied Plover is the one which almost ran over me as I was reminiscing.  As with the Sanderling, the plumage is quite a contrast to her non-breeding mottled gray appearance.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

 

Black Skimmers are the only birds with a lower mandible longer than the upper.  These specialists fly low over the water and “furrow” with that lower bill to gather fish.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

 

Out on the fishing pier, a group of Snowy Egrets wait for an unattended bait bucket from atop a sheltered area.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

 

Egmont Key is an island at the entrance of Tampa Bay with an active lighthouse.  Pilot boats ferry captains experienced in navigating Tampa Bay out to waiting cargo ships anchored in a waiting zone a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  The local captain will pilot the large ship into the bay and to its destination port.

Pilot Boat Heads To Sea

Pilot Boat Heads To Sea

 

Royal Terns were very active along the beach and around the fishing piers.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

 

Family groups of Bottlenose Dolphins were also doing their part to control fish populations along the beach and around the piers.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin

 

This Brown Pelican took one look at my face and put on the brakes.  (I get that reaction a lot.)

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

Stingrays are common along our beaches.  It’s important if you wade or go swimming around here to remember to do the “stingray shuffle”.  Stirring up the sand encourages them to scoot away before you step on one and receive a painful sting.  (If you should get stabbed with the ray’s barb, try to put hot water on it and seek medical attention right away.)

Stingray

Stingray

 

Immature White Ibises don’t attain the full white plumage of an adult until toward the end of their second year.

White Ibis (Immature)

White Ibis (Immature)

 

 

An intent Snowy Egret concentrated on a fisherman placing freshly caught bait into a bucket.  He won’t be on that railing for long!

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

A fisherman of the human variety poles his skiff through the shallow water just off the beach.

Poling The Flats

Poling The Flats

 

 

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Spring At The Fort – Part Two

When we set out to explore a natural area, we generally have a plan in mind.  Granted, it’s usually a very rudimentary plan (“Go there.  See Birds.”), but it gives us a starting point.  As mentioned in our last post (Spring At The Fort – Part One), our plan for the day was to try and locate migrating warblers.  As we also mentioned, we didn’t adhere strictly to our plan (which is pretty normal for our trips).

Fort De Soto is just one of those places with so much to offer, it’s difficult to avoid distractions.  As you can see from the image below, Fort De Soto Park is located on an arrowhead shaped island.  Along the “edges” of the arrowhead are beaches.  The interior of the island consists of a variety of habitat, including stands of pine and hardwood, freshwater ponds, bays, inlets, marshes and mangroves.  To the west is the Gulf of Mexico.  East places you in Tampa Bay, an estuary of over 400 square miles (1036 square kilometers).  The area is a magnet for water loving birds of all types.

 

Fort De Soto Park (From GoogleEarth)

Fort De Soto Park (From GoogleEarth)

 

(Alas, we did not visit one of the most productive areas for shorebirds, the North Beach.  By the time we visited other areas, this popular beach was packed with humans attempting to turn white skin red.  We’ll save this area for another day and arrive on scene by daylight.)

 

We ended Part One with an image of a Palm Warbler out of his normal element, exploring the shoreline of the beach.  It therefore seems only fair we open this segment with a water bird behaving like a warbler.  This Snowy Egret took note of all the attention the warblers were receiving and decided to perch on a tree limb and do his best warbler imitation.  It worked.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

Two Laughing Gulls engaged in communication.  Passing the time of day?  Something more intimate?  Laughing at the two-legged animal laying in the mud?

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

 

It was apparently a bit early for these Dowitchers and Dunlins as most of them are still trying to wake up.

Resting Shorebirds

Resting Shorebirds

 

The Ruddy Turnstone not only turns over stones in search of breakfast, but shells, grains of sand and a good chunk of the beach as well.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Black-bellied Plovers at this time of year are in transition from their winter to breeding plumage.  Hard to miss this large plover with the very stout bill.  In flight, their beautifully patterned tail is distinctive.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

I found an isolated mangrove pool just off the beach with a number of Dowitchers and Dunlin resting, preening and feeding.

Dowitcher, Dunlin

Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

Overhead, there was continuous flight activity.  One of the most common sights was small groups of White Ibis moving from one spot to another.

White Ibis

White Ibis

 

A relatively small sandbar was apparently THE place to be!  Packed onto the bar were gulls, terns, skimmers, sandpipers, plovers, dowitchers and maybe even a curlew.  Unfortunately, a jet ski broke up the party, but I’m sure most will return.

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers, Shorebirds

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers, Shorebirds

 

Dowitchers were abundant in the park.  Their long bills are well suited for probing the soft mud and sand.  Once they’ve eaten for a bit, time to fly to that favorite spot on the beach for a nap.  “Now, go away while I sleep!”

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

 

With plumage which blends nicely with the broken shells and sand of the beach, the diminutive Least Sandpiper is easy to overlook.  These are energetic feeders and ‘run-stop-feed-run’ almost constantly.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

Dunlins are quite common here and are often seen with Sanderlings and Dowitchers.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

A Semipalmated Plover joins a Sanderling in the never-ending search for a meal.

 

Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover

Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover

 

An unwelcome sight for most birds, the Magnificent Frigatebird is a master at aerobatics.  This female caused quite a stir as she flew over an Osprey nest with young.  The Osprey were loud and relentless in driving her away.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

 

It’s interesting to see different species together.  In this case, we can compare the relative sizes of a Dowitcher and a White Ibis.

Dowitcher, White Ibis

Dowitcher, White Ibis

 

 

As we ended our day, a Least Tern stood guard over the beach.  These small birds are fearless and as they’re beginning to build nests on the beach, no potential threat will be safe from their screeching attacks.  Now, if we could only teach them to read the signs indicating the protected areas set aside for them!

Least Tern

Least Tern

 

We had a great day at The Fort.  We’ll be back soon and often.  Thanks for letting us share it with you.

 

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

 

 

Additional Resources

Fort De Soto Information

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

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