Posts Tagged With: piping plover

Honeymoon

Salt water sloshed over the transom as our small boat motored from the relative calm of the shallow flats into the deeper waters of the channel which would take us through Hurricane Pass to the Gulf of Mexico and “big fish”. The little 15-foot craft was laden with four teenagers, fishing tackle, ice chest and groceries. As we approached the pass, the waters of the Gulf were all capped in white foam and appeared to form a watery wall warning against entry. Good sense prevailed. We came about and were content pulling in speckled trout and Spanish mackerel from the shallower but more peaceful waters of the bay. As Gini waited patiently for me to place another bait on her hook, she let the line and empty hook drag lazily through the turquoise water. “I got a fish!”, she exclaimed. A plump trout joined his friends in the ice chest. That was 50 years ago.

Catching fish with no bait. That’s the sort of person she is. A few weeks ago, as she was waiting for me to return from a hike, a wren flew in the open car window, perched on my pack in the back seat, chirped at her and flitted away. Strangers, birds, fish – and me – cannot resist her magical charm.

Old maps called it Sand Island. The local settlers referred to the place as Hog Island. In the 1940’s a northern developer built a dozen thatched huts on the sand and together with Life magazine ran a contest for newlyweds. The lucky winners got to spend two weeks on “Honeymoon Isle”. World War II interrupted blissful lives and the huts fell into disrepair. The name stuck, however. We spent many happy days on the beaches, sandbars and waters around Honeymoon Island when we were young. A bucket of cold chicken, watermelon, catching fish, playing in the clear waters under impossibly blue skies … how wonderful Life can be!

The state of Florida began acquiring the land on Honeymoon Island in the 1950’s and eventually placed it into the state park system. A causeway built in 1964 facilitated public access. Condominiums, concessions and crowds soon followed. Today almost one million visitors annually visit this park which has been consistently ranked in the top five beaches in the entire country. Now when Gini and I visit, our selective vision still sees only sand and water.

I recently traveled to Honeymoon Island with two talented birders and we spent a chilly but productive morning combing the beach, marsh and upland trails. With relative low temperatures and a “brisk” wind coming in from the Gulf of Mexico we didn’t have too many sunbathers to step around. We found over 60 species including five species of Plover, a group of 60 Red Knot, an unusually good look at a Clapper Rail and an uncommon White-crowned Sparrow.

It was a great day of birding.

Yes, of course there are pictures!

 

Even if you don’t get a good look at the Spotted Sandpiper, its characteristic tail bobbing as it feeds is a pretty good indication of its identification. In breeding season, the undersides will be covered in large dark spots.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

A Black-bellied Plover comes in for a landing on the shoreline. It lacks its namesake black belly during the winter.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

Our smallest sandpiper, the Least Sandpiper, enjoys a bath in the cold water.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

One of the small “peep” sandpipers, the Western Sandpiper is distinguished from the Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers by dark colored legs and a slightly longer bill which normally droops a bit at the end.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

 

Semipalmated Plovers are named for a partial webbing between the middle and outer toes but you need to be pretty close to see that feature.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

Just a bit larger than the above Semipalmated Plover, relatively large black bills help identify the Wilson’s Plover even at a distance.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

 

Piping Plovers have a short “chunky” looking bill compared to other plovers. This species is threatened and endangered worldwide. The bird in the fourth image below sports a yellow leg band (ring) which was likely attached near the Great Lakes. I couldn’t get a look at the band number.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

 

Even smaller than the Piping Plover is the Snowy Plover. Its bill is a bit slimmer and these guys seem to always be running, screeching to a halt to probe the sand and then running off down the beach again. Unfortunately, this species is also threatened.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

 

Flipping over a rock can sometimes yield a meal for the Ruddy Turnstone and that’s how they got their name. They are also quick to turn over shells and, in this case, a whole pile of seaweed. Once this bird moved all the grass a horde of other birds swooped in to scoop up the goodies.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Dunlins nest in the Arctic tundra and spend winter along our coasts. They have a longish bill which is usually curved downward. They can look fairly plain in their non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Similar in size to the Dunlin, Sanderlings also nest in the Arctic. It’s very pale in non-breeding plumage and its bill is not as long as a Dunlin’s and is usually straight. These are the birds we see at the beach in winter right at the edge of the water being chased by the waves.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

Another tundra breeder, the Red Knot is normally pretty gray looking by the time they arrive in our area for the winter. Occasionally, they will begin to attain their beautiful reddish plumage in late spring before returning to the Arctic to nest.

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

 

Okay, I not only got carried away with a bunch of words but tried to stuff a lot of photographs in here as well. So, this adventure is —– TO BE CONTINUED.

 

Additional Information

Honeymoon Island State Park

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 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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