Posts Tagged With: fort island beach

The Plan

Several weeks ago the Spring migration was winding down and we wanted to see if we could locate shorebirds on the return flight from South America to their northern breeding grounds. It’s not that I’m anti-social (do NOT ask Gini her opinion), but I gravitate toward areas which might be less visited by humans. Even if the potential for species diversity is not as great, if it’s just the two of us it seems, well, more intimate and “special”. I’m selfish that way.

Pine Island came to mind. There are at least four different communities in Florida bearing the name “Pine Island”. This one is in Hernando County at the end of a really nice country road which snakes through the vast flat salt marsh on the Gulf Coast. On past trips, the last stretch of road has produced Clapper Rails, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, Bald Eagles, rainbows and is a wonderful prelude to the actual beach area. The beach is small but across the channel is a mudflat which attracts all sorts of birds. The view from the beach is the open Gulf of Mexico and with a scope at this time of year could yield mergansers and loons.

I checked the weather forecast and recent birding reports. Sandwiches were packed, a breakfast of granola and fresh orange slices got us off to a great start and we set out into the pre-dawn darkness. One little thing I forgot to check, tidal charts. That “wonderful prelude” road was filled with water and no speck of mud was in sight. No worries. To the beach! That’s odd. We’ve never seen anyone at the entrance station before. It’s usually put your money in the slot and get a ticket. “Good Morning, folks! How many dogs do you have?” Uhhh, none. “Oh, that’s okay. Enjoy your day.” Dogs?? Yes, today was “Bark Island” day, a twice-monthly affair when dog owners could bring their pets to the beach, unleash them and sit back and watch the fun! I made a valiant effort to set up the scope and scan the water for signs of floating feathered fowl. Nothing. A Laughing Gull landed nearby hoping for a chunk of bread. Three dozen yapping balls of fur convinced him to take flight to the Yucatan. Sigh. Time for Plan B.

Just around the corner was Bayport Park, a nice county facility with new modern boat ramps, fishing pier and picnic area. A small wooded area sometimes held good numbers of migrating warblers. Not this day. I saw a pair of Horned Grebes about a thousand miles out in the bay who sensed I was looking at them and submerged never to be seen again. Sigh. Thank goodness for Plan C!

Down the road was a lovely hardwood swamp with an old logging road through it and several hiking trails to explore. The Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area is home to black bears, bobcats, turkeys (!), owls and possibly some of those resting warblers. Alas, it was not to be. Once more, I had failed to check a little detail. Today was the first day of the Spring Turkey hunting season. Boom! Blam! We heard the fun long before we came face to face with orange vest-clad hunters fanning out from the trailhead in all directions. Okay, full disclosure. I didn’t really have a Plan D. Quick thinking, however, salvaged our day.

Not all that far north was the town of Crystal River and a road which ran parallel to the actual Crystal River to the Gulf of Mexico. At the end of the trail is Fort Island Gulf Beach. Another very small beach directly on the Gulf. Listen. Hear that? No barking! No booming or blamming! A few hardy souls (obviously not from Florida) were wading into the chilly water pretending it was as wonderful as a warm bath. Right.

On the beach, in addition to shivering tourists, we found several dozen napping Black Skimmers, a few hundred Laughing Gulls, a young Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, Royal Terns, a Least Tern and a not very common Bonaparte’s Gull.

We enjoyed our sandwiches under a bright blue sky with a salty breeze making us comfortable in Florida’s ample sunshine. An Eastern Bluebird yanked a fat grub from the ground, took it to a utility wire above us and enjoyed his lunch, too.

Photographs with size comparisons coming up. There will be a test so study hard!

 

The Royal Tern is the second largest tern in North America with only the Caspian being larger. The Royal has an orange-yellow bill while the Caspian’s is red. Except for a short period during breeding, the Royal’s forehead is white and the Caspian’s is either black or “smudgy”. (During our visit, we noted several Royal Terns with bands/rings.)

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

This is only the second Bonaparte’s Gull I’ve seen. It’s one of the smallest gulls in the country and has a distinctive graceful flight. It often swims on the water’s surface like a duck.

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull

 

Least Terns are the smallest terns in North America and breed along Florida’s coast. They usually nest near beaches but will also use the flat roofs of buildings. This can present problems because some buildings use tar to hold gravel in place. The tar can become very hot and burn the birds’ feet or become stuck in their feathers.

Least Tern

Least Tern

 

One of our largest gulls is the Herring Gull. It takes four years for a juvenile Herring Gull to reach adult plumage. In their first year they are mostly mottled brown and gradually change to more and more gray and white. As adults they will sport light gray backs, black wingtips, white heads and underparts. This appears to be a first-year bird.

Herring Gull - Immature

Herring Gull – Immature

 

Herring Gull - Immature, Laughing Gull

Herring Gull – Immature, Laughing Gull

 

The lineup. From left to right: Royal Terns, Herring Gull, Least Tern, Bonaparte’s Gull (in front), Laughing Gull and Ring-billed Gull. I tried to get them all to face the camera but I think they spotted someone down the beach with a sandwich.

Gulls and Terns

Gulls and Terns

 

As the sun was almost directly overhead, many of the birds thought it was a fine time for a nap. A Laughing Gull and Black Skimmer snooze on the sand.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

One bird who was not asleep was this Eastern Bluebird. He saw us break out our sandwiches and jumped into the grass, pulled up a juicy grub, beat it on the ground to tenderize it and took it above our heads and gulped it down. Yum!

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

 

I recently blathered on about planning (The Importance of a Plan). This is where I admonish: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Even back-up plans can go awry. In my case, I’m very blessed to have a partner who genuinely enjoys just exploring our world, with or without a plan. And, for me, THAT’S all I ever need!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Mellow In The Marsh

Toward the end of the calendar year, holidays seem to bunch up like Hummingbirds at a freshly filled feeder.  Shopping must be completed!  Menus must be planned!  Parties must be attended!  What’s left of bank accounts must be balanced!

One must approach this potential mayhem by being organized, remaining calm and sensibly prioritizing all that must be accomplished in order to survive this festive season.  As a couple of pragmatic veterans of many, many, many joyous annual celebrations, we instinctively know what we have to do.

Get out of town.

Florida’s “Nature Coast” is an area from Pasco County, just north of the Tampa area to Wakulla County, where the “bend” of Florida’s panhandle begins to head west.  This is not an area (yet) of cartoon-rodent influenced carnival rides, five-star hotels or glistening white-sand beaches bordered by glistening white-painted condominiums.  Instead, one can find vast hardwood swamps, clear rivers fed by underground springs, salt marshes teeming with wildlife, small eateries serving fresh seafood and actual native Floridians (an endangered species) going about their lives secretly hoping the highways will become overgrown with weeds and cut them off from any further invasion of “civilized” society.

That’s where we spent a glorious day recently instead of going to the mall.  Yes, we do feel guilty.  Extremely.

We arrived in the Bayport area just as the rising sun touched the expansive salt marsh along the drive to Pine Island.  The grass took on the golden glow of the winter dawn and we just sat still and took it all in.  The grass seemed to come alive as wading birds began to call and crabs scurried across the mud hoping the tide would soon return to help them hide.  Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Northern Harriers soared overhead in their patient search for the first meal of the day.    From the fishing pier at Bayport, we watched squadrons of Brown Pelicans splash down in the shallow water, scooping up gallons of small fish.  Terns and Gulls wheeled noisily above us and a pair of Horned Grebes floated and dived in the deeper waters of the boat channel.  A Green Heron stood motionless in the reeds waiting for a blue crab to become careless.  In the picnic area is a stand of hardwood trees which makes a fine place to find songbirds.  In just a few minutes, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, Palm Warblers, Pine Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers and Eastern Phoebes.  Our early lunch sandwiches were enjoyed under palm trees with an unobstructed view into the seemingly infinite blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.  It was Winter and warm and the soft sand begged us to go barefoot.  Butterflies gathered nectar from bright, blooming flowers all around us, birds filled the air with joyful noise and we were utterly alone in our mutually shared universe of happiness.  THIS is our holiday.  THIS is our realization of how blessed we are.

Here are a few images of our day.  We hope your holiday season is full of peace and joy!  See you next year!

 

The salt marsh takes on a special glow at sunrise.

Salt Marsh

Salt Marsh

 

Wood Storks are known locally as “Flinthead” due to the gray coloration of the skin on their heads.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

We were fortunate to find a Clapper Rail at the edge of some reeds.  These birds are much more likely to be heard than seen.

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

 

A Greater Yellowlegs found a tidal pool and ran around like crazy trying to corral small fish.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Bright orange Gulf Fritillaries added a splash of color to the marsh.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

 

Bayport Park has a very nice new picnic area and boardwalk.  Here we found a half-dozen Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Female)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Female)

 

Yellow-rumped Warblers liked the picnic area, too.  This one was curious about what I was doing there in the middle of winter.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

Even the visiting Monarch butterflies enjoy a day at the beach!

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

 

This purple beauty is the Glade Lobelia and was quite prolific in the ditches along a back road.

Glade Lobelia (Lobelia glandulosa)

Glade Lobelia (Lobelia glandulosa)

 

Non-breeding plumage of the Sanderling helps it to blend in with the light-colored beach sand.

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

Dozing Dunlin duo.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

One of my favorite Florida natives enjoys fresh fish almost as much as I do.  This Osprey just caught a mullet and found a handy buffet table in the form of a dead tree branch.  He stared at me for a bit just to let me know he would NOT be offering me any of his lunch!

Osprey

Osprey

 

This has been a spectacular year in our lives and we feel enriched to a large degree by all the kind friends we have made through this amazing medium of “blogging”.  Thank you all so very much for your positive response to our humble efforts.

 

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

Gini and Wally

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

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