Posts Tagged With: sandwich tern

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

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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