Beyond the BackyardFort De Soto

Shorebirds Returning to Florida’s Beaches

Although it’s still really hot outside, fall migration is underway, and the shorebirds are returning to Florida’s beaches.  Most of our shorebirds fly to places like Alaska and northern Canada to breed.  They leave in May looking all spiffy in their breeding plumage, fly to their breeding grounds, raise their kids, and return to Florida in late August.  Hard to believe, huh?

Flocks of Birds at East Beach
Flocks of Birds at East Beach

Rich and I spent some time at the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.  That’s always a good place to look for shorebirds in afternoon light.  I took my groundpod and crawled around in the mud to get eye-to-eye with the birds.  Yes, Rich assured me that I was crazy.  But I had a good time!

Sanderling
Sanderling

These little Sanderlings are bright white in their winter plumage.  They are tricky to photograph because they never stand still!  They are always running about, sticking their little beaks into the mud as they search for food.  They got used to me lying on the beach, though, and this one came running right up to me.

Black-bellied Plover
Black-bellied Plover

I saw five or six Black-bellied Plovers at the East Beach turnaround, all in various stages of molting.  Some were already fully in their winter plumage (no black on their bellies).  The one pictured above still has traces of his black face and belly, but he’s losing them fast.

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

This little Least Sandpiper blended in well to his mud flat surroundings.  He’s the smallest sandpiper, and his yellow legs distinguish him from his cousins.

Juvenile Laughing Gull
Juvenile Laughing Gull

The migrants weren’t the only birds at the East Beach.  I saw several juvenile Laughing Gulls hanging out with their parents.  Their parents are already in basic plumage.  You can distinguish the juveniles by the brown on their feathers.  This one was having fun splashing around in the clear blue water.

It was fun to say hello to our shorebirds again.  The beaches feel awfully empty in the summertime without them.