Dyeyo and I visited Fort De Soto this morning. After my last trip there in September, I was looking forward to beaches covered in birds. But the North Beach was almost totally empty! We ran into a nice couple from England who have been vacationing at De Soto for the last month. They said that they had never seen the beaches so empty.
The occasional bird would fly by as we stood on the North Beach wondering why we’d driven for two hours to photograph an empty beach. The sun was just rising and the light was beautiful.
I think this is a Least Tern. I have trouble identifying all the different terns, especially in their varying plumages.
I kept missing the Brown Pelican fly-bys, and I was getting a little annoyed, because the light was awesome and it made their feathers sparkle with iridescence. Finally I caught a bird flying in the right direction. Of the three or four pictures I took, this was the only sharp one.
At first I was confused as to why the Brown Pelicans have white heads. But then I read that they have white heads in the winter when they are in their alternate plumage.
It was low tide, and we walked up the North Beach up to the boat-launching strip. Most of where we walked had been underwater on my previous visit, which I guess was at high tide. Few birds flew by. We finally came across a low patch where several wading birds were taking advantage of the low tide. Another photographer had the good idea (and the right tripod) to wade right into the water to position himself in the optimal light. The birds were very tolerant and let him come right up to them. Dyeyo and I didn’t want to get so wet, so we contented ourselves with this juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, who was on the edge of the watery area. I loved how his feathers glistened in the beautiful morning light. He stalked a fish, but unfortunately scooped it up and ate it with his back to the camera. Didn’t his mother teach him to look at the camera?
Dyeyo spied a dolphin jumping in the water a few yards away. This kayaker probably had the best view of him:
Disappointed with the lack of birds at the North Beach, we tried the East Beach, and found it equally devoid of shorebirds. A few gulls and pelicans were keeping some fisherman company out in the water. The Sunshine Skyway made a fun backdrop. We watched some pelicans fishing, but they were very backlit, and my pictures are not very impressive. We hiked up the East Beach and found a Spotted Sandpiper in a little pond. Then we hiked back to the car on a little trail we found running parallel to the beach. It turned out to be great for little birds. We saw several Black and White Warblers, American Goldfinches, a Pine Warbler, and heard the usual Eastern Phoebes, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, and House Wrens.
We turned right as we exited the East Beach parking lot and drove up to the little turnaround at the end of the peninsula. There we finally found a small crowd of shorebirds.
By this point, it was around 11:00 in the morning, so the sun was pretty high. The birds were backlit and the shadows were harsh. Thank goodness for Shadows and Highlights in Photoshop Elements…I was able to lighten the shadows significantly and produce some fun portraits of the birds. Most of these guys are pretty common, but we did see a Wilson’s Plover, which we were told is a bit rare.
The Dunlin were so funny to watch. It was clearly their mid-day naptime, and they sat on one leg to sleep. But then they would hear a noise, start, and then hop around on their one foot in order to reposition themselves further from the threat. Dyeyo was convinced that the poor birds only had one leg! But my bird book indicates that this is common behavior for these lazy shorebirds.
There were lots of Semipalmated Plovers running around. They are similar to the Wilson’s Plovers, but the Semipalmated have orange eyerings and spots on their beaks, and the Wilson’s Plovers have a fatter beak.
This poor little Ruddy Turnstone huddled against a wall of seaweed while the rest of the birds ran along the shoreline. It wasn’t until I got home to see my pictures that I noticed that he is missing a foot. He managed to move around pretty well when he needed to, though.
The tiny Sanderlings were so quick! Their pure white feathers are very pretty.
I think this guy is a Long-Billed Dowitcher. Or a Short-Billed. Apparently the two are very much alike and mostly distinguishable by voice. We didn’t heard this guy calling much, because he was too busy taking a bath. He had such a good time splashing around. We laughed as we watched him.
Why bother with birdbaths when you have the entire Gulf in which to splash around?
These tiny Least Sandpipers raced up and down the beach. They were the smallest birds of the crowd, and probably the quickest too.
The Black-Bellied Plovers’ winter plumage is so different than their summer colors that I saw in September.
Bird List: American Goldfinch, Black and White Warbler, Black-Bellied Plover, Black-Crowned Night Heron (juvenile), Black Skimmer, Brown Pelican, Dunlin, Eastern Phoebe, Herring Gull, House Wren, Laughing Gull, Least Sandpiper, Least Tern, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Red-Breasted Merganser, Ring-Billed Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Plover, Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Want to learn more about nature photography at Fort De Soto?
Check out my Fort De Soto page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!