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:
- it was surveyed by Robert E. Lee before the civil war
- 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.
The Least Sandpiper is North America’s smallest shorebird (5 inches/13 centimeters).
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.
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!
“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.
Large Gray Kingbirds breed along many of Florida’s coasts then retreat to warmer climes for the winter.
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!
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.
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.
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!