Posts Tagged With: snowy egret

A Day At The Beach

When we were children, Gini and I spent many summer days at the beach. She grew up exploring the edges of the Gulf of Mexico while I dipped my toes in the chilly Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Miami. Both her father and mine were avid fishermen and our respective families consumed a LOT of fresh fish over theĀ  years. My family moved to Tampa when I was around 10 years old and discovering the relatively warm, calm waters of west coast beaches was a pleasant revelation.

We have been fortunate in our life together to have lived in other parts of the United States and Europe. To this day, we have found nothing to compare to the magnetic pull of salt water, bountiful sun, warm breezes, gentle tides and total pleasure of Florida’s west coast. It is magical. It is comfortable. It is restful. It is – Home.

About a month ago (with all that has transpired in the interim, it seems like a lifetime), we crossed the four mile long Sunshine Skyway Bridge and turned toward a favorite destination, Fort De Soto Park. The view from the top of the bridge at over 400 feet (122 meters) tall is spectacular. To the east one can see the skylines of Saint Petersburg and Tampa across the vast shallow waters of Tampa Bay. To the west is the lighthouse at Egmont Key and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. As your gaze moves a bit north, the huge American flag flapping above the headquarters at Fort De Soto captures your attention.

There are two long piers in the park and, as usual, each was busy with fishermen pulling in all manner of fish. Feathered fishermen were stationed nearby hoping to be tossed morsels the humans didn’t want to keep. Herons and egrets have also become adept at working open the tops of bait buckets and helping themselves, much to the displeasure of the human anglers. Large schools of sardines and other small fish swirl around the pier structures and attract larger fish. Naturally, where there is food there will be predators. Humans, birds, fish, dolphins – all taking advantage of nature’s buffet.

In addition to the hustle and bustle around the piers, miles of sandy beach offer a quieter venue for observing shorebirds working the tide line for small fish and crustaceans. Just offshore, squadrons of pelicans cruise just above the tops of the waves. Gulls and terns hover above the salty turquoise setting and plunge headlong into a school of small fish.

A short hike from a picnic area takes one through a small wooded area to a more remote section of beach. Along the way, Gray Catbirds and Palm Warblers were busily gorging on insects in preparation for their northern migration soon. Just off the beach, a Red-breasted Merganser pair dove for a meal. Out of eight Osprey nests, six had chicks visible. A Bald Eagle caught a fat trout and headed for its own nest not far away. An unexpected treat, a Great Horned Owl with a young chick had a nest with what has to be one of the best views in the park. A flock of bright green Nanday Parakeets crashed into the trees and put an exclamation point on the tropical feel of the day!

At the boat ramp there were plenty of gulls, terns, egrets and herons hanging about hoping returning fishermen would dump unused bait overboard as they pulled boats from the water. Brown Pelicans soared overhead hoping for the same thing. Looking a bit out of place, a Spotted Sandpiper paced along a dock, characteristically bobbing its rear end as it walked.

As we lingered over a dinner of fresh seafood at sunset, we agreed that despite all that is going on in the world, we remain two of the most blessed individuals on the planet.

Why, yes, I did take a few pictures of the day. How kind of you to ask.

 

A plethora of pelicans. Dozing Brown Pelicans and a few Double-crested Cormorants.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Forster’s Terns were in abundance as they hovered, spotted a succulent sardine and splashed into the briny. My unofficial observations estimate they were successful only about 10% of the time.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Almost as numerous as Forster’s, Sandwich Terns were taking full advantage of the schools of finny snacks.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Party crasher. A Bottlenose Dolphin slashed through the sardine school and headed toward shallow water near the beach to take a census of the mullet. (“One” – gulp, “two” – gulp …..)

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Patience, thy name is Snowy Egret. This bird stood its ground on the rocks as waves splashed all around, finally found what she had been looking for and scooped up a couple of sardines. Worth the wait!

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

A path through the woods ended at a more remote section of beach where raucous Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday, formerly Black-hooded Parakeets) screeched and argued over preferred perches. There are several established populations of these “pet-store” birds around the country having been let go or escaped.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

Right on the beach, a Great Horned Owl occupied a nest with a terrific view. The spot is on a small point projecting into Egmont Channel where she can see the sun rising over Tampa Bay and in the evening watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Her chick looked very healthy.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

A walk east of the owl’s nest was a dead-end trail. A secluded area there was busy with feeding shorebirds. A Dunlin and Least Sandpiper worked the wrack line as I lay on the sand and watched. Fascinating.

Fr. DeSoto Park

Dunlin – right, Least Sandpiper – left

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Least Sandpiper

Fr. DeSoto Park

Dunlin

 

The tall blooms of this Century Plant (Agave americana) will soon attract resident and migrating hummingbirds.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

More fishing. A Tricolored Heron stretches from its mangrove perch to snag a minnow from a passing school.

Fr. DeSoto Park

 

At the boat ramp area, a Brown Pelican keeps an eye out for discarded bait or fish tossed overboard by returning fishermen.

E.G. Simmons Park

 

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay. The constantly bobbing rear end helps identify the Spotted Sandpiper. In another month or so, it will begin acquiring the spots on its underparts which are its namesake.

E.G. Simmons Park

 

 

This was a very special day for us. Not just because we are totally prejudiced toward our Florida beaches, which we are. The day was a celebration of 52 years of being husband and wife. We are so looking forward to the next 52!

We truly hope you are all well and safe and are able to find positive things upon which to focus. Better times are just around the bend …..

 

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

 

Additional Information

Fort De Soto Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Coasting East (Afternoon)

“Can we go around again?”

Like a child at the fair who just got off the pony on the Merry-Go-Round, Gini’s wide brown eyes were hard to resist.

“Yes, but first let’s explore a couple of other spots.”

She concealed her initial disappointment well. Fortunately, new sights and sounds created just as much excitement and awe as our morning excursion around Black Point Wildlife Drive had.

After our lunch of fresh shrimp, we headed toward Bio Lab Road with a bit of trepidation. Last year’s Hurricane Dorian, which devastated portions of the Bahamas, damaged portions of Merritt Island NWR, including Bio Lab Road. Repairs were completed several weeks ago and the road is in much better condition than it was before the storm. Powerful wind and wave action altered some of the shoreline and a lot of trees were downed or damaged.

Bio Lab Road still had plenty to offer! Lots of birds, fish jumping in the lagoon, a healthy population of alligators and even blooming flowers. A breeze coming in from the Atlantic Ocean was very refreshing.

Our next objective was Gator Creek Road. Extensive mud flats make this area prime hunting territory for shore birds and waders. There were thousands of birds there to greet us. Okay, they couldn’t have cared less about us. They were all extremely active as they chased fish, shrimp, crabs and small creatures in the shallow water and in the soft mud. We were not offended at being ignored.

It was getting late and I had promised a certain brown-eyed beauty one more ride on the Merry-Go-Round. Black Point Wildlife Drive had just as many birds in the late afternoon as it had early in the morning. We were fascinated at the diversity on display.

Reluctantly, we headed out of the refuge. One more stop. Just before crossing the bridge into Titusville is Parrish Park, which has picnic pavilions, fishing areas and boat ramps. Just at sunset, the parking lot fills with gulls preparing to roost for the night. On one of the docks, we found an immature Herring Gull as well as an adult flying overhead. Another dock was crowded with a group of Ruddy Turnstones, probably planning to rest for the night.

Crossing the bridge as the sun dropped below the western horizon, the lights of Titusville began to twinkle in the darkening sky and we glanced at each other with that look of total satisfaction which results from a special day together.

 

Love is in the air. A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were inspecting potential nesting sites. A little flirting was also observed.

Merritt Island NWR

 

More signs of love. This Northern Flicker apparently visited the local tattoo shop and had a pretty red heart inscribed on his back. (Actual facts: The eastern version of the Northern Flicker was once called the “Yellow-shafted Flicker” due to the yellowish undersides of wings and tail. The “Red-shafted Flicker” is usually found in the western parts of North America. The eastern species has a red crescent on the nape, the “heart” seen here, and the male has a black malar stripe.)

Merritt Island NWR

 

Death stare. This Osprey was convinced we wanted his Speckled Trout. Took his photo and moved on so he could eat in peace.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Medium-sized Forster’s Terns are mostly silvery-white with a black eye patch, a dark bill and orange feet. During breeding season, they will develop a black cap and the bill will turn orange.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Throughout the refuge, clouds of pink can be seen as Roseate Spoonbills are somewhat common here. It’s fascinating to watch these large waders sweep their rounded bills through the shallows as they filter small shrimp and fish.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Wintering American Avocets line up and march across a shallow mud flat herding small minnows and then slashing with their long curved bills as they gorge on the briny buffet.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A drab-looking Black-bellied Plover almost disappears in the mottled salt marsh habitat. Soon, the males will become a striking figure in bright white and black breeding attire.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Afternoon alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A Snowy Egret wonders how the Roseate Spoonbill can catch anything by swishing back and forth with that funny-looking beak. He thinks stabbing with a nice pointy bill is definitely more effective.

Merritt Island NWR

 

At Parrish Park, just outside the refuge, an immature Herring Gull prepared to hunker down for the night. An adult flew above the boat ramps toward a roost of her own.

Merritt Island NWR

Herring Gull – Immature

Merritt Island NWR

Herring Gull – Adult

 

Another dock about to become a hostel for the night. These Ruddy Turnstones began to huddle up as daylight faded.

Merritt Island NWR

 

 

Our drive home was a mirror-image of our trip’s beginning. Orange and purple sky rapidly turned black. Touching hands. We agreed it had been a glorious day. The western sky began to brighten as we neared the light pollution of Orlando. Our timing wasn’t too awful as a mix of folks going home from work and Disney World visitors had thinned a bit so we could reach almost 20 miles-per-hour for a few miles.

Home. Planning our return visit.

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Parrish Park – Titusville

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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