“The Golden Hours.” Ever since humans began drawing on cave walls it was an established fact that the hour or so just before and just after sunrise and sunset produced the most pleasant light for reproducing a subject. That special glint in the eye of a wooly mammoth just seems so much more amber at dawn than the flinty look of evil it has at mid-day while you’re looking for a boulder to hide behind. We all know photographers who put their lens covers on after 9:00 a.m. because, well, there just isn’t any reason to attempt to create art in such harsh light. Since I am not a professional photographer, I carelessly disregard such rules and can often be found outside actually taking pictures of birds and things at (gasp!) high noon. The argument could be made that my results prove the rule, but that’s beside the point. More often than not, I attempt to be outdoors relishing the special light of the golden hours while crawling on my belly in wet sand toward a group of nervous peeps who invariably take to the air just as my autofocus shows me a beautiful frame of empty beach. But I try. At least the sky IS nice looking so early in the morning.
It must be satisfying to be a meteorologist in Florida. On any given day, there is a 50% chance of rain. How badly could you mess that up? As we drove across Tampa Bay the other day, from atop the massive Sunshine Skyway Bridge, we could look to the right and see the entire expanse of the bay and the metropolises of Tampa and Saint Petersburg in the distance. Looking left we saw the Egmont Key lighthouse beating out its rhythm of warning. Beyond was the infinity of the Gulf of Mexico. Also in our view were dark cloud formations to the west and north. This is when the words of the weatherman returned: “50% chance of rain – after noon.” It was 7:00 a.m. Our plans of a morning filled with birding relied on the rain not starting until after noon.
We approached the east beach area of Fort DeSoto Park with a beautiful sky and rising sun to the east and a solid, inky black sky to the west spitting large drops of rain and flashing lightning over our heads. I managed to click a few images of a brave company of birds trying to grab a quick breakfast before the tempest began in earnest. As native Floridians, we knew that often patience can be rewarding when it comes to our weather. Within less than 30 minutes, the dark void to the west began to lighten. The winds calmed. Water stopped leaking from above. White puffy clouds appeared in a light blue sky. We rejoiced. For about 20 minutes. Light rain hinted that we should seek shelter again. More downpour but for only 15 minutes. This game of hide-and-seek with the sun continued all morning. We may have seen less birds than usual but we also encountered much less human traffic than normal. A plus. After a light brunch of fresh orange slices and granola, we alternately birded, talked in the car while it rained, fished, drove through puddles and generally enjoyed a simply wonderful morning together on the edge of the world.
Although we didn’t find huge numbers of birds today, there was a nice mix of species on one stretch of shoreline. It helps to have a variety literally side by side for size comparison. We don’t often get great looks at Common Terns and it’s always great to see a Marbled Godwit. More and more shorebirds will be arriving in the coming weeks and we look forward to more coasting – come rain or come shine.
Not quite as striking as during breeding, the Common Tern is nevertheless quite handsome. These strong fliers travel a great distance each year between breeding and wintering grounds.
Just a bit larger than Common Terns, Sandwich Terns in non-breeding plumage usually show clean white foreheads and a slender dark bill with a yellow tip. The wing-stretch in the second image gives you an idea of how long the wings are on these long-distance fliers.
Least Terns, the smallest of all North American terns, are also one of the most feisty birds around when it comes to defending territory or young.
This group shot is not clear, but it shows the relative sizes of the following (left to right): Sandwich Tern, 2 Least Terns, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern.
Least Tern, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern
Among the smallest of the plovers, the Semipalmated Plover gets its name from having partially webbed feet. The similar looking Wilson’s Plover has a much stouter all black bill. The Common Ringed Plover is nearly identical to the Semipalmated but after breeding in the Arctic is seldom seen in North America. The second image isn’t great but is an attempt to show the webbed feet.
Black-bellied Plovers change from startling black and white during breeding season to fairly drab gray and dark gray during the winter. The transition produces some pretty neat patterns!
At barely six inches long, the Least Sandpiper is one of the smallest sandpipers. A slightly downcurved bill and yellow-green legs help separate it from the similar Western Sandpiper.
The feeding action of the Short-billed Dowitcher has been described as an “old-fashioned sewing machine”. These birds are changing from the rich bronze breeding colors to their drab brown and gray winter plumage.
A bird’s gotta eat! Even in the rain, the Marbled Godwit maintains an air of elegance.
White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill, each beautiful in their own manner. They were discussing the two-legged creature on the beach with the really knobby knees. I think they were just jealous.
Roseate Spoonbill, White ibis
It’s always a treat to watch the Roseate Spoonbill feeding. The bill goes back and forth in shallow water, special nerve endings on the bill help detect food, water is filtered out and lunch is swallowed.
A head shake.
We always find something interesting at Fort DeSoto. It’s that kind of place. Be sure to pay attention to the weather forecast. Then go birding anyhow. A little coasting in the rain can be good for the soul.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”. See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for