Posts Tagged With: ruddy turnstone

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

A Little Beach Music

Standing in the wet sand gazing westward over the Gulf of Mexico as the light of the rising sun streamed over my shoulders, I could not discern any horizon at all. I was at the edge of the universe. Within my gaze was a vast nothingness. Within my imagination was everything. Waves washed over my feet in a rhythm as old as time. To the inexorable beat of this geologic drum the soprano screeches of gulls, terns and myriad shorebirds added a chaotic cacophony which reached into my reverie and jerked me back to the reality of a new day.

Gini and I have often talked about this land of our birth, the “Sunshine State”, being “in our blood”. We feel fortunate to have lived in several states within America as well as in Europe. After a time in each of those marvelous spots we found ourselves longing to return to the warmth, humidity, sand, salty air, evening breezes saturated with the sticky sweet scent of orange blossoms, Cuban sandwiches, deviled crabs, mullet jumping in the bay and, perhaps most of all, the irresistible pull of the music of the beach.

Today I was with a good friend and outstanding birder and we were visiting Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast in Manatee County. Just north of Sarasota and south of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the island caters to vacationers and offers many rentals near some really beautiful white sand beaches. We specifically paid an early morning visit to the southern end of the island at Holmes Beach. If we hoped to see any shorebirds it would have to be early before the folks with jogging shoes, beach chairs, metal detectors, fishing poles, BBQ grills and tanker trucks filled with tanning lotion began their daily duties.

We found a group of roosting terns, gulls, skimmers and smaller shorebirds and were challenged to identify and count all the individuals amongst the feathers, flapping and yapping. About the time we had a count on one species, the whole group shifted on the beach and we had to start over. As the sun rose over the condominiums, we headed for the parking lot and were satisfied to have found over 100 Black Skimmer, 90 Laughing Gull, 50 Sanderling, 45 Royal Tern, Ringed-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red Knot and even three Barn Swallows swooping low over the surf. Although our final species tally was only 19, it was fun trying to get accurate counts on what we did find. (Side note: When walking in deep beach sand, one must multiply the distance traveled by five for the sake of accuracy. For example, I only walked one-half actual miles but with the “sand factor” I logged the mileage as “2.5 miles”. We birders DO like to be accurate. No, really.)

 

To paraphrase an old television commercial: “A birding blog without photographs is like a day without sunshine.” Herewith, your daily dose of Sol’s rays.

 

The first sunlight of the day illuminated a Sandwich Tern as she scoured the shallow water for a school of breakfast fish.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

 

Larger than the Sandwich Tern, this Royal Tern with its bright orange bill displays impressive wingspread while making an abrupt turn to get a better look at something in the water.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

Great Blue Herons seem equally at home on the beach, lake, river or swamp. A true “generalist” when it comes to locating food.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Willets always seem to be late for an appointment. Probably with a hermit crab.

Willet

Willet

 

Red Knots are not that common in our area so it’s always good to see one scooting along the surf line.

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

True to its name, a Ruddy Turnstone picks up a stone (okay, maybe it’s a shell) to see if anything good to eat is underneath.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

The Knot and the Turnstone seemed to like each other’s company. (More likely, one was hoping the other would locate a seafood bonanza.)

Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone

Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone

 

Bright orange fungus on a piece of driftwood offered a bit of color on the stark white beach.

Fungus

Fungus

 

American Oystercatchers are fairly large creatures and have pretty impressive bills for capturing all manner of prey. This one materialized along the beach and found a likely fishing spot where he chased small crabs.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

 

 

Appearing quite stately among the scurrying Sanderlings, a Ring-billed Gull staked out his own spot in the morning sun among shells broken by the pounding waves.

 

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

The bill of the adult Black Skimmer looks quite substantial from the side but when viewed head-on has the appearance of a razor. A young Skimmer will soon obtain the handsome black plumage of his parents.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer (immature)

Black Skimmer (immature)

 

Typical of most kids, a juvenile begs his mom for food. She says, “I just fed you!”. Then yells at him to go clean his room. Poor kid finds a spot in the sand, flops down and heaves a big sigh as he’s pretty sure no one cares at all about him, especially those pesky Sanderlings in the background, preening all the time. (It’s quite common for Black Skimmers, adults as well as juveniles, to rest their large bills on the ground.)

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

 

No matter where you live, we hope you all have your own version of “beach music” which, no matter how hard you try, simply cannot be resisted.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Holmes Beach

Anna Maria Island

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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