Posts Tagged With: lighthouse

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: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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

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