Posts Tagged With: marbled godwit

Coasting In The Rain

“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.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

 

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.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

 

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.

Least Tern

Least Tern

 

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

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.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

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!

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

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.

Least Sandpiper

Least 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.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

 

A bird’s gotta eat! Even in the rain, the Marbled Godwit maintains an air of elegance.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

 

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

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.

 

Feeding.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A head shake.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Preening.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

If You Can’t Find The Bird You Want, Want The Bird You Find

(With apologies to Stephen Stills and Clifton George Bailey.)

 

Although we don’t often respond to “rare bird alerts”, it does happen occasionally.  This wasn’t actually a “response”.  A friend called and asked if I’d like to go birding and we decided to go to the coast and see if we could locate the Bar-tailed Godwit which had been seen for the past two weeks.  (See – not exactly an urgent “response”!)  It would be a life bird for both of us.

Our target was Fred Howard County Park in Tarpon Springs (Pinellas County), just north of Clearwater.  The park is a pleasant place to visit any time and has a nice beach, great picnic areas under large pine trees and plenty of facilities to make a family outing a success.

The good news about visiting the beach in winter is there aren’t too many beachgoers.  The bad news about visiting the beach in winter is, well, it’s winter.  Wind chill can be brutal!

We knew we were in the right place as the shoreline was dotted with lumps in down-filled jackets and ski caps all bearing enough optical gear to make the shareholders of Canon, Nikon and Swarovski rub their collective hands together in glee.  Happily, the shoreline was also crowded with smaller lumps wearing their own down.  Of course, the guest of honor had yet to make an appearance.

Not willing to commit to standing and shivering for hours, we decided to explore the beach for other goodies and figured we would know if the Bar-tailed Godwit showed up as the crowd would likely go wild.  We were rewarded with quite a variety of birds and left quite happy.

We visited three other areas in the vicinity and had a great day along the coast despite not seeing the object of our trip.  Worth exploring are:  Robert K. Rees County Park, Anclote Gulf County Park and William E. Dunn Water Reclamation Facility.  The latter is where we found over 1500 Redhead Ducks.

On our way home, we stopped in at Ben T. Davis Beach (at the western end of Courtney Campbell Causeway, Hillsborough County) and found a nice collection of shorebirds at dusk preparing to roost for the night.

Some of the highlights of the day included the aforementioned large group of Redheads, a large number of Common Loons at each stop we made, large numbers of Marbled Godwits, Willets and Black Skimmers, a half-dozen Red Knots and a flock of Nanday Parakeets.

 

A few photographs survived my cold and shaky hands.

 

Wintering Redheads found a refuge in the protected area of Tarpon Springs’ water treatment facility.  There were also a few Lesser Scaup, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Pied-Billed Grebe, Gulls and Terns here.

Redhead

Redhead

 

A Red-breasted Merganser was busy feeding under a fishing pier, oblivious to the dozens of people stomping overhead.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

 

This Anhinga will eat well after spearing a delicious Mangrove Snapper!  It’s really interesting to be able to watch from above as this large bird dives for fish, using its wide tail as a rudder to abruptly change directions.  The bird eventually positioned the fish to toss it into the air and swallowed it head first so it wouldn’t be stuck by the fish’s dorsal fins.

Anhinga

Anhinga

 

An Osprey flies away with a Needlefish for brunch.

Osprey With Needlefish

Osprey With Needlefish

 

Horned Grebes were actively feeding but were some distance from shore, making a decent photograph (for me) a challenge.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

 

This winter has seen an uncommon number of Common Loons.  They were numerous at each stop we made along the coast.

Common Loon

Common Loon

 

A Great-blue Heron seemed to take perverse pleasure in marching through groups of resting shorebirds.  He walked through the same group of birds six times in about ten minutes.

Black Skimmer, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull

Black Skimmer, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull

 

Black Skimmers look for a suitable landing area after flying in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Once they settled down, they fixed their gaze on me.  I backed away and left them in peace.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

Not very common is the Piping Plover.  This little fellow simply wouldn’t turn around for a better photo.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

 

Another not-so-common species in our area is the Red Knot.  Up the beach from this one, I found one with a leg band and flag.  After submitting its identification number, I discovered he was originally caught and banded in New Jersey six years ago and has wintered on the same beach (Ben T. Davis) every year since.  He normally stops in August and September along the central Georgia coast.

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

With such a large bill, preening must be a challenge for the Black Skimmer.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

Marbled Godwits and Willets settle down for the night.  A close-up shows a comparison in their bill design.

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet

Marbled Godwit, Willet

 

American Oystercatchers hunt for a late evening snack as the tide begins to recede.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

 

Flashes of bright green caught our eye as Nanday Parakeets began to gather for their nightly roost.  Also known as the Black-hooded Parakeet and in the pet trade as Nanday Conure, this species has settled along the central-west coast of Florida after escaping or being released over a period of several decades.  It’s estimated that over 1,000 birds now exist in the wild in Florida.

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet

Nanday Parakeet

 

 

So, we never did see the Bar-tailed Godwit.  We did, however, see an incredible number and variety of beautiful birds, breathed in fresh salty air, walked in sugar-white sand and found some new places which will be more fully explored in the future.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Fred Howard Park

Robert K. Rees County Park

Anclote Gulf County Park

William E. Dunn Water Reclamation Facility

Ben T. Davis Beach

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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