Early Fall Migrants at Fort De Soto


Rich says I must have lost my marbles.  I got up at 4:45 this morning and drove to St. Pete in order to search for Marbled Godwits.  It’s been a few months since I’ve gone to the beach, and I was in the mood for some nice shorebird photography.  It’s funny that after photographing lots of birds around the state for the past few years, I still haven’t seen some of the most common birds, including the Marbled Godwits.  But I did today!

It’s a little weird to think that fall migration has already started.  It’s only July!  It’s still really hot out!  But a variety of shorebird species leave Florida in late spring, lay their nests and raise their young in the tundra of Alaska and northern Canada, then immediately turn around and fly back down to Florida.  It’s a really long trip for these little birds.

I arrived at North Beach at Fort De Soto just after sunrise, around 7:00 in the morning.  The area around the concession stands was simply covered in Laughing Gulls.  They feed around the picnic tables, where people share their picnic lunches (some willingly, others  not!)  The gulls are starting the molt into their basic plumage for winter.  They look pretty scruffy as their black heads start to get white feathers.

Terns flew by me often as I walked along the beach.  They are fun to try to photograph as they carry fish.  The light on North Beach is just perfect in the first few hours of daylight.  It’s so easy to get good pictures – just dial in an extra stop of exposure compensation and try to frame a bird in flight!

I think the Royal Terns were the most plentiful, followed by the Sandwich Terns.  They are hard to identify at this time of year because they are starting to molt into their basic plumage, and because there are a lot of first-year birds in their juvenal plumage.

I’m not too great at my tern identification, but I’m pretty sure the guy below is a Forster’s Tern.  Both he and the Marbled Godwits were new birds for me this morning.  Couple that with the American Avocets at Viera Wetlands earlier this weekend, and I’ve had a pretty good birding weekend!

Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern

Rich will be happy to hear that I saw several roped-off Sea Turtle nests.  The Wilson’s Plover nest areas are still roped off, too.  As I approached those, I came across about half a dozen Semipalmated Plovers running around in the sand.  They were pretty far up in the dunes, and one posed nicely on the edge of a dune with the pretty blue ocean behind him.  I got low quickly, added an extra stop of exposure (the sun was pretty bright by this time), and waited for the bird to give me a good head angle.  He did!

I was surprised to see no Reddish Egrets on this trip.  They are such fun to watch as they go fishing.  Another of my De Soto favorites is the American Oystercatcher pair that seems to hang out past the tree protruding into the ocean.  They’ve been there for the past three times I’ve been to De Soto, over the last four to six months.  I was hoping that they  might have a baby with them, but they didn’t.  I know they were a mating pair this spring, so I wonder what happened to their nest… :(

The sun was high, the beach was hot, and the beachgoers were abundant by around 9:30.  So I decided to leave De Soto and make another stop on my way home.  That side trip will be the topic of tomorrow’s post…

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!

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