Posts Tagged With: semipalmated plover

That Primitive Urge

“Propelled by an ancient faith deep within their genes, billions of birds hurdle the globe each season, a grand passage across the heavens that we can only dimly comprehend and are just coming to fully appreciate.”  – Living On The Wind, Scott Weidensaul

 

It was cold. Just the thought of reaching outside the sleeping bag to find the zipper made me shiver and curl up even tighter. But the darkness was ever-so-slightly beginning to yield to inevitable sunrise. The tall grass around our small tent was barely discernible and resembled the stockade wall of a fortress. My brother, Steve, made the sacrifice and wriggled free of his goose-down cocoon and applied a match to the small burner which would soon heat enough oatmeal to fortify us both for an eventual beach adventure. A week before Christmas found us exploring what Maryland locals call “the Eastern shore”, that coastal expanse sandwiched between the huge Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Later in the day we would hike the rugged Atlantic shoreline of Chincoteague and admire the wild ponies of Assateague Island. At the moment, though, we relished hot oatmeal, trying to gulp each spoonful before the frigid air cooled it too much. Breakfast was interrupted when Steve asked:  “What’s that sound?” What followed was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in nature. Canada Geese. Tens of thousands appeared as a dark cloud from the west and gradually swept over us like a tidal wave of noise and darkness. We sat and marveled at the spectacle during which we literally couldn’t hear each other shouting. The geese were a small part of a huge number of migrants along the coast and had roosted in a nearby corn field during the night and were now moving toward the marshes and ponds to feed. What a glorious way to start a day!

More recently, while driving near Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Gini and I stumbled upon a field being plowed which contained over 500 Sandhill Cranes. Although Florida has a resident population of these large birds, each fall sees huge flocks migrating from the mid-west of the United States. That many cranes trumpeting can be deafening!  Last winter, we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and were excited to find hundreds of Northern Pintail and thousands of shorebirds enjoying the shallow water impoundments.

Such large numbers can provide a very dramatic birding experience. But at the moment, it’s August in Florida and it’s really hot and humid. It’s difficult to think about the above scenes of masses of migrating birds. Nevertheless, some sort of migration seems to always be happening in the bird world. Right now, a few species are beginning to head south for the winter and for the birder who’s willing to put up with high temperatures, regular thunderstorms and voracious mosquitoes, there are rewards to be found.

I travelled with two birding friends the other day to the southern part of our county (Polk) where there is a commercial sod operation. These fields can be productive for migrating shorebirds, especially if bad weather forces them to stay put for awhile. Alas, our weather was perfectly clear. We found plenty of Boat-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer, but only a smattering of shorebird migrants. A couple dozen Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plover probed the soft soil of the fields. We did manage to hear an uncommon King Rail in a nearby wetland. Next, we visited a large dairy but again found no shorebirds to speak of. We did find a Solitary Sandpiper and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with young. Not far from the dairy we heard three more King Rails at various locations. We visited Paynes Creek Historical State Park in Hardee County and found a few Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and an eastern Wood-Pewee, all likely migrants. A nice bonus was at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. We know they breed in this park but it’s always a treat to see this strikingly handsome bird! Our last stop of the day was back in Polk County along the Peace River Hammock Trail. We could only hike a portion of the trail due to flooding and the clouds of mosquitoes were particularly dense, but we found three Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a couple of Ovenbirds for our efforts.

Not a large number of migratory birds for the day but a very rewarding trip!

 

The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is very active, usually travels in groups with other species and can be quite curious.

Lake Parker Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

One of the earliest warblers to migrate through our area is the Yellow Warbler. Some individuals can be very bright still in their breeding colors and others, especially first year birds, can be almost dull looking.

Banana Lake Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Although the Northern Parula breeds in Florida, during migration the trees become full of these brightly colored birds.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A quiet warbler which resembles a thrush is the Ovenbird. They can often be seen on the ground scratching through leaves but will stop for a look at an old guy stumbling over tree roots.

Fisheating Creek WMA

Ovenbird

 

True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone and will check out any spot of mud for a meal.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Solitary Sandpiper

 

Pectoral Sandpipers resemble a larger version of a Least Sandpiper. As they feed, they seem to be always leaning forward about to fall over.

Avon Park Cutoff Road-Sod Fields

Pectoral Sandpiper

 

The Semipalmated Plover have very small bills and are not very large birds (seven inches). Normally seen in coastal areas, they can be found almost anywhere during migration.

Pool Road

Semipalmated Plover

 

One of our residents, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has thrived during the past couple of decades and can be found in large numbers throughout its range.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Also a resident, the Red-headed Woodpecker has not adapted very well to loss of traditional habitat and populations have seriously decreased in the past 20 years.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Florida is blessed with a climate which produces some sort of flowering plants throughout the year. Insects appreciate that. A White Peacock poses briefly.

Locklar Road

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

A small Delaware Skipper goes deep into the bloom of a Wild Potato Vine, a member of the morning-glory family.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

 

Dragon down! A Needham’s Skimmer got a bit too close to the water and became too wet to fly.

County Line Road (Polk)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

 

As migrants begin their long journey to warmer climates, we look forward to the privilege of sighting a few birds we don’t otherwise have an opportunity to observe. Hopefully, you, too, will be able to spot a few visitors as they snack their way through your neighborhood!

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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

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