Posts Tagged With: willet

Sturm und Drang

Last month was pretty wet, even by Florida standards. I gave up on “water resistant” boots and just wear what are marketed as “all-terrain running shoes”. Not that I am likely ever to be caught running. Even in bear country, I’m sure to go with someone likely to be slower than me. (No, not my Gini! No critter would ever challenge her!) This type shoe at least dries fairly quickly. The “water resistant” footwear gives up resisting sooner than later and never dries out as long it’s on your foot. So you walk around with your feet encased in little air-tight hothouses. Fun.

As native Floridians, we are required by law to visit the coast often. Usually, for us, this means salt marshes, river mouths, mud flats – you know, the good spots! We avoid most sandy beaches as they are littered with bodies greased up and turning over regularly until well-toasted on all sides. This trip, however, we specifically targeted an area described as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches!!”, Fort DeSoto Park in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Why would we be so insane as to go to a popular beach, on purpose? Storms. There had been three days of large, rolling thunderstorms moving across the state from the Atlantic Ocean and marching westward out into the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, such weather confuses birds and one can spot some unusual species on this piece of land jutting into the gulf. Such sightings are much more common during migration, but even in summer, we have been surprised.

Alas, no surprise species today. We did find a few shorebirds busily probing the tide and wrack lines as ominous clouds formed, dissipated, re-formed and thunder rolled. It was nice to see the beach with nothing but breakers and birds!

Fort DeSoto is located on Mullet Key, an island at the entrance to Tampa Bay.

(From an unofficial website about the fort. See Additional Information.)

 

Much has happened on this tiny island:

 

  • during the Civil War, Union troops had a detachment on both Egmont and Mullet Keys. Union ships were looking for blockade runners
  • during WWII the island was used for bombing practice by the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima;

 

 

Fort DeSoto is a premier birding spot during spring and fall migration. Its location serves as an important rest and refueling point for a very diverse group of birds. To appreciate how significant this park is, show up any day during the height of migration and try to find a parking spot!

Also, the park has terrific fishing from shore or from two long piers as well as a very large and well maintained boat ramp. Boaters can easily access the Gulf of Mexico for deep water species, Tamp Bay for excellent flats fishing or simply enjoy probing myriad small islands, sand bars or cruise along the beaches. Camping is available (reservations recommended) and there are several nature trails for those who just want to hike. Use the park’s official website (see Additional Information) to check the calendar for special events (runs, biking, tournaments, etc.) as the park will fill quickly at these times and there are likely to be road closures.

We accomplished exactly what we had hoped on our short evening visit. Saw a few birds, enjoyed the salt water environment, watched stormy weather from an empty beach and can’t wait to do it all again.

 

Red Knots are in transition from breeding to non-breeding plumage.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

The Least Sandpiper is North America’s smallest shorebird (5 inches/13 centimeters).

Fort DeSoto Park

 

With its substantial black bill, a Wilson’s Plover stands out in a group, or in this case, all by herself enjoying a stretch by a rain puddle.

Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto Park

 

One of our larger shorebirds, a Willet, is in hot pursuit of a small crab. He caught it, crunched it to disable it and swallowed it whole – without any garlic lemon butter!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

“You look f a b u l o u s!” A Snowy Egret admires the handsome creature staring back at him from one of nature’s mirrors.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Large Gray Kingbirds breed along many of Florida’s coasts then retreat to warmer climes for the winter.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Fort DeSoto is a fairly reliable location to find Reddish Egrets. Watching them hunt is an amazing experience as they engage in what seems at times to be a very choreographed dance. Incredible birds!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Thunderstorm activity is prevalent in August and this evening’s sunset was mostly obscured as clouds moved along the horizon and along the beach. The large stone slabs in this image used to be a support for a gun emplacement, from what I understand.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Weather can change quickly along the coast and the pastel reflection from the setting sun belies the black stormy sky which just preceded this photograph. Across the channel is Egmont Key and its lighthouse marking the entrance to Tampa Bay for ships arriving from and departing for the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Beaches are for more than sizzling your skin! Storms, shorebirds and sunsets are for all of us!

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

 

Additional Information

Fort DeSoto Park (Unofficial Website)

Fort DeSoto County Park (Official Website)

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

After The Storm

There are times, more and more frequently lately, I sound like an old person. Not the wise old person of biblical or vintage movie standards. More like the pessimistic curmudgeon we all encounter at some point and vow to never, ever become. Driving in darkness the other morning towards the salt water should have filled me with joy and anticipation. However, I heard myself declare, to no one in particular: “I really don’t like technology sometimes.” From the other side of the vehicle I heard a little sigh. Gini was pretty sure I would be following up with more information and knew she didn’t need to prod any further. That little sigh was enough encouragement for me to bemoan the invention of intermittent windshield wipers. “Used to” I continued, “you could just turn ’em on and hum any song you wanted and match the beat to the steady rhythm of the wipers.” “Now you not only have to fiddle with the things constantly, they never match any tune at all.” Newer cars even have moisture sensors and the blame things spring into life the moment a Hummingbird breathes on the car and the driver is so startled it’s a wonder there aren’t more single-car accidents at the sudden surprise.

The weatherman promised the thunderstorms would move inland shortly after sunrise. I kept seeing flashes of lightning to the west and the rain along our journey was light (resulting in the wipers having to be set on the slowest setting, not suitable for humming even a dirge). By the time we crossed the last major highway and eased onto the quiet stretch of backroad to the coast, the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn. That weatherman is a genius.

This particular backroad is better than many. Its serpentine design won’t allow one to travel very fast and punishes those who try with a saltwater and mud car wash. Salt marsh on either side of the road for miles with an occasional hammock of oak and palm trees – all roads should be like this! Everything seemed fresh after the cleansing thunderstorms roared in from the Gulf of Mexico during the night. We had hoped to spot a Clapper Rail as we have previously but it was high tide and there was too much water for wading birds. We would return later in the day as we planned to enjoy Gini’s picnic lunch on the small beach at Pine Island at the end of this road. In the meantime, we savored the salt marsh and were treated to several rainbows celebrating the passing of the storms, delicious cloud formations, a Bald Eagle welcoming the rising sun, the salt air aroma and warm, moist breeze moving across the marsh.

We visited nearby Bayport Park and found a few warblers in the picnic area, Belted Kingfishers, more Bald Eagles, gulls, terns and an amazing variety of fungus. By the time we eventually hit the beach for our picnic, a few clouds gathered overhead and a small shower accompanied our lunch. As we relaxed under a covered table, the Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns treated us to a loud chorus while we ate and the rain and lunch were over at the same time. We explored a couple of parks we had not been to previously and as the sun headed to its resting place so did we. It was another Good Day!

I know you keep thinking if a picture is worth a thousand words why doesn’t he just skip all those unnecessary words?? A good question. As I ponder the answer, here are a few of those pictures.

 

As the clouds began to clear just at sunrise, the early morning light confirms the Bald Eagle is not a bad looking bird at all.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

The vast salt marsh, an island hammock, lingering storm clouds and a rainbow. What a way to start your day!

Morning On The Marsh

Morning On The Marsh

 

Salt Marsh

Salt Marsh

 

A fishing boat heads to port bathed in multi-colored light.

Rainbow Boat

Rainbow Boat

 

True to their name, these flowers declare: “Morning Glory”!

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

 

An immature Royal Tern begs for food. I think Mom flies away often not so much to search for food as to get a little relief from that incessant whining.

Laughing Gull, Royal Tern

Laughing Gull, Royal Tern

 

A Willet scans the edge of the tide for anything that looks like breakfast.

Willet

Willet

 

This Least Sandpiper appears to still be leaning against the wind of last night’s storm.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

Size, large bill, black and white plumage – all help to identify the Black-bellied Plover.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

At Bayport Park, every few feet we found a new variety of fungus. (Please tell Gini that I completed this entry without any reference whatsoever to anything resembling a pun. She still won’t believe you, though.)

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

 

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

 

During our rainy lunch, a Laughing Gull dropped by in anticipation of a handout. He was quite disappointed to discover we were not the tourists he is used to hassling for a bit of hot dog bun.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

 

After the rain, a Snowy Egret really stands out against the wet bright green foliage.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

As we departed Pine Island for home, we enjoyed a view of the Gulf of Mexico and a Great Blue Heron shopping for supper.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Long ago we learned to not let the weather interfere with our exploration. We hope you will discover that some of the best memories occur after the storm. Just try to drive with your wipers set on one speed so they can keep up with your singing!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Bayport Park

Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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