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Lifer Snowy Plover at Fort De Soto!

Rich and I spent a night at Fort De Soto last week, right before the long Labor Day weekend.  I like visiting Fort De Soto during the week!!  The beach wasn’t crowded at all.  I was the only photographer on the beach for a good part of our visit.  I scored a lifer Snowy Plover on North Beach, along with a bunch of Piping Plovers (two banded).  The Piping Plover is a Florida state bird for me, as I’d only seen them previously in Massachusetts.  All together, it was a four-plover weekend.  Not bad!

Lifer Snowy Plover!

Lifer Snowy Plover!

This is my lifer Snowy Plover.  It’s not often that a lifer shot is actually a decent shot.  Usually my lifer shots are terrible blurs or virtually unidentifiable.  This little plover let me get a pretty good look at him.  Boy are all the little plovers fast!  They run very quickly on those tiny legs.  The Snowy Plovers are much more striking with the dark black lines of their breeding plumage.  Maybe I’ll have to head to South Florida next spring to find one of those! :)

Banded Piping Plover B02

Banded Piping Plover B02 – Yellow Over White, Blue over Orange.  Click on photo to see larger.

Banded Piping Plover T30

Banded Piping Plover T30 – Green over Blue, Yellow over Green.  Click on photo to see larger.

I was surprised to see lots of Piping Plovers running around.  They migrate through Florida each year during the spring and fall, so there’s a limited window of opportunity to see them.  I was happy to find two banded Piping Plovers, and I made sure to get photos of the bands, which I am reporting to bandedbirds.org.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

The plovers all look kinda similar, so I’m including photos of the other two plovers that I saw this weekend.  (They are some of the shorebirds that I can actually identify.  I’m still working on some of their sandpiper cousins!!)  The above is a Semipalmated Plover, who has also lost the dark lines of his breeding plumage.  He is darker than a Piping Plover, and the dark bar wraps all the way around his chest.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

This last plover is a Wilon’s Plover.  They are a little bigger than the other plovers.  Snowy Plovers and Piping Plovers are described as “more cute”, and although that sounds like a subjective interpretation, it’s easily understood once you’ve seen all four birds in person!

Many of these plovers are protected species in Florida, and it was great to see them all together on the beach.  I didn’t expect a lifer on our little get-away!! :)

 

Least Tern Chicks (from June)

A few weeks after photographing the Least Tern courtship rituals and dances, I returned to the Least Tern colony to see if there were any babies.  There were!  It was a rainy morning, with the sun coming in and out from behind the clouds.  The sand was hot as I laid down with my tripod after spotting the first objects of my visit…tiny Least Tern chicks!

Tiny Sisters

Tiny Sisters

The Least Tern chicks are so cute!  The parents nest in tiny scrapes on the beach.  A small indentation and Mom’s careful shelter – that’s all the protection that these little guys get on the beach.  They are born with pale white and black fuzz, which helps them blend in on the beach when Mom’s away.  I was thrilled to get a shot of them sitting alone.

Least Tern and Chick

Least Tern and Chick

Most of the time, chicks that are a day or two old stay under Mom.  I lay still for over half an hour watching the scene above.  Occasionally a chick would wiggle.  But it was so cool to spend time with these birds, and watch the incredible patience of the parents as they took care of their babies.

Mom, I Want To Tell You A Secret...

Mom, I Want To Tell You A Secret…

A little way down the beach, a chick wiggled out from under Mom and stood next to her.  He was so tiny! Photographers often do “beach cleanup” with Photoshop at this location, but I actually like the shells in the foreground.  They show relative size of the birds.  The Least Terns are the smallest terns, and the chicks are just a little bigger than a shell!

Double Yawn

Double Yawn

Apparently it’s tiring to bake on the beach all day!  The sand is incredibly hot, and the chicks love to stay in the shadow of Mom’s wing.  Then everybody perks up with the approach of Dad, with a nice fresh fish for breakfast!  Mom and Baby call out a welcome as Dad flies in.

Family Meal

Family Meal

Surprise!  Sometimes there are two chicks under Mom, and they both pop out when a fish comes in.  I love the hopeful expressions on both chicks’ faces as Dad offers the fish.  Both babies were so sure that they were going to get it.  Eventually Dad gave it to the one on the left.

First Poop?

First Poop!

The rains eventually came and I had to leave.  But before I did, I got to see one of life’s special little gifts. Yep, the chick’s first poop! :)

Least Terns in Love

I spent a lot of time with the Least Terns this spring.  At Fort De Soto, I observed their courtship several times.  As you may remember from my previous post, the terns exchange fish as the male proves to his prospective mate that he can provide for her and for the chicks.  If the female accepts the offering, the male hops onto her back for a little piggy-back ride.  Eggs are incubated for about three weeks, then tiny chicks are born.

I had never seen the full mating sequence play out before this spring.  At Fort De Soto, I saw some frenzied courtship dancing, which involved the male shaking his head repeatedly while holding the fish in his beak.  The female flapped her wings to show her interest.  But the terns at Fort De Soto got distracted and didn’t end up giving me a photo op.  So a few weeks later, in St. Augustine, I was excited to see the same frenzied courtship dance.  I had a feeling I knew what would happen next…

I was surprised at how long this dance went on, at least a minute or more.  (Enough for the photographer to get focused, get bored, shoot some video, and not miss any action!)  I thought the male was going to wear himself out, shaking his head so much!  But he finally decided to hop onto her back and give her the fish…

Fish Exchange

Fish Exchange

I was really excited to capture the transfer of the fish!  He was only on her back for about two seconds.  She made me laugh as she hunkered down on the beach, still holding her fish…

Least Terns in Love

Least Terns in Love

And as fast as it started, it was all over.  The birds started roaming the beach again, then one of them flew off.

In the next post…the concluding chapter of the Least Tern courtship! :)