Beyond the BackyardFort De Soto

My First Trip to Fort De Soto

After hearing about Fort De Soto from birders all over the state, I finally drove over there to check it out. It was everything that people said, and better!

Sanderling - sunrise

Sanderling - sunrise

I’m not all that familiar with the shorebirds. Before I went today, I couldn’t tell a sandpiper from a plover — and hopefully some of the identities I looked up today will stick for more than a day! I think all the bird varieties that I saw today are fairly common. I was really excited at the quality of my pictures.

I was trying hard to get correct exposures in-camera, complete with fill flash (which I started using partway through the morning). I think I did OK, because I didn’t have to adjust exposure much in Lightroom.

Disclaimer: Don’t assume my bird IDs are right here – it’s really hard to distinguish between similar shorebirds, especially since some have already molted into their winter plumage, some have not, and some are in transition.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

I got to the North Beach at sunrise and stayed there for about three hours. I was amazed at the tameness of the birds – they didn’t care a bit about the crazy lady carrying around a big lens and a tripod. It was a nice change from the normal marsh birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve.

The first bird to meet me was this Willet, who was moving in and out of the surf in search of his breakfast.

Willet

Willet

The one bird that I did recognize this morning was the Laughing Gull, who also visits Circle B in the wintertime.  I’ve never seen a male in his full breeding plumage.  The gulls today were already in their winter plumage.

Laughing Gull - comfort first

Laughing Gull - comfort first

Laughing Gull - juvenile

Laughing Gull - juvenile

The sandpipers were so cute, running around in the sand.  They are so fast!  At one point a small flock of them flew out over the Gulf, and the silvery reflections that their wings gave off was beautiful.  They looked like tiny pipsqueaks in comparison to some of the other birds, especially the Black Skimmers.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

As I neared the conservation area behind Pavilion 5, I came across several decent-sized flocks of terns and skimmers.  From a distance, I watched them take off occasionally, then circle back around to where they started.

I had fun learning to identify the various terns that went by.  They flew up and down the beach calling to each other.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

When I was a kid, we had a joke in our family that we went to the beach to visit Pete the Pelican.  How did we know which pelican was Pete?  Why, he was the one out in front, of course!  (My grandfather is a quick thinker.)  So I laughed today when I saw Pete and photographed him.  He doesn’t have the pretty breeding plumage as some of my favorite pelican pictures…maybe I have to go back to Fort De Soto next spring!

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

I had never seen a Ruddy Turnstone before, but I thought I recognized the ones today from reading my Birds of Florida book.  I saw one bird still mostly in his breeding plumage, and another that had almost molted completely into his winter plumage.

Ruddy Turnstone - Breeding plumage

Ruddy Turnstone - Breeding plumage

Ruddy Turnstone - Alternate plumage

Ruddy Turnstone - Alternate plumage

I took a break from photographing the flocks of shorebirds and turned my attention to the little pond of water up on the beach.  There I was excited to see a Reddish Egret (White Morph) as well as a “regular” Reddish Egret.  I’d been wanting to see those – it’s one of the egrets that I don’t photograph regularly at Circle B and Gatorland.

Reddish Egret (White Morph)

Reddish Egret (White Morph)

The Reddish Egret that I saw on the beach was pretty far away, in the Conservation Area.  But as I left the park, I found another one on the side of the road.  The nice thing about Fort De Soto is that you can just pull over and take the picture!  The lighting was horrible by that point in the day, but here’s my proof that I did see a Reddish Egret:

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

I practiced panning a lot, trying to capture birds in flight.  I tend to pan too slowly, and the birds get out of the frame.  I need to pan faster, so that the birds have “flying room” inside the image.  I started to get better with practice…

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern with fish

Royal Tern with fish

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Royal Tern with fish

Royal Tern with fish

I was starting to lose track of all the bird I’d seen, but I was pretty sure that I hadn’t taken this guy’s picture yet.  I got home and identified him as a Black-Bellied Plover.  He’s molting into his winter plumage.

Black-Bellied Plover

Black-Bellied Plover

Last but not least, this guy sat on a lifeguard’s chair and fussed at me for a good portion of the morning.  I didn’t want him to feel left out, so I took his picture, too!

Fish Crow

Fish Crow

I think I forsee more trips to Fort De Soto in my future….I want to find the Mulberry tree that’s supposed to be so good for finding migrating songbirds!