Last weekend my wonderful husband accompanied me on a return trip to Fort De Soto. Rich is not a birder, and while he enjoys getting out and seeing nature, he doesn’t understand my patience to sit and watch the same bird for hours on end. He made a huge sacrifice and got up early with me for sunrise. We arrived at North Beach at 7am, and I made a beeline for a group of gulls and terns. Rich said he was going to take a walk. What a great opportunity for me to send a scout to check out the rest of the beach for more birds!! Teamwork! So I asked Rich to call me if he saw any good birds. Sure, he said, but what’s a good bird? So we came up with some beach bird heuristics that I thought would amuse my blog readers…
The gulls with the black heads, the ones that sounds like they are laughing at you, are pretty common birds. But even common beach birds can be fun to photograph. A bird on another bird’s back is a good bird!
Birds with long curved beaks are very good birds. At this time of year, the exceptionally-long-beaked Long-billed Curlew has left Fort De Soto. But the shorter-beaked Whimbrel still shows up occasionally. I’ve made many visits to Fort De Soto hoping to see this bird, and I always seem to miss him. Until Easter weekend, when I got a few quick snapshots first thing in the morning. It’s always a good day when the lifer count goes up! :)
Beach birds with long orange beaks are good. They are the American Oystercatchers, and at this time of year, they are often in pairs. I’ve read that several pairs nest at Fort De Soto, and I would just love to see their little babies. I almost got a shot of this pair mating. The male was hopping onto the female’s back when the female decided she wasn’t interested. She took off running, leaving her partner flapping in mid-air. He chased after her fussing madly. Then they reconvened together on the beach, with this willet looking on as chaperone. Hey, this is a family-friendly beach, guys!
Birds with black bellies are good birds. The Black-bellied Plover above is almost finished with his springtime molt. In the winter he’s a drab gray little guy. In April and May he starts to sport the black belly. Regular readers of my blog may recall my ongoing quest for a black belly. This guy is getting there, but he wasn’t black enough to please me…
Red birds are good beach birds. Not just Big Red, the resident Reddish Egrets who always put on a good show with their “drunken sailor” dance. Lots of the shorebirds, like the Short-billed Dowitcher above, are getting a brownish/reddish hue in their feathers right now as they molt into their breeding plumage. May is just about the only time in Florida that we get to see these birds in their fancy feathers. When they return from their Arctic breeding habitat in a few months, their feathers will be well-worn after thousands of miles of flying.
White birds with black heads are good birds. These are the terns. They are all courting right now. I got some great images of the Royal Terns mating a few weekends ago. Then on my first night of this particular visit, I got to see Least Terns exchanging fish as part of their courtship ritual. I was really hoping Rich would find a nice flock of these guys on the beach somewhere, but I think they’ve moved off to other beaches to make their nests.
Birds doing a lot of fussing are probably good. Like this pair of Willets, who had a long pre-mating ritual. The male flapped his wings and announced his intentions to his mate. I was surprised at how long he went on, and I switched into video mode to capture his calls. He edged closer and closer until he finally hopped onto her back….
This was followed by some fun still photography moments…
Even my favorite Roseate Spoonbills show up occasionally at Fort De Soto. Pink birds are always good birds! (But Rich didn’t need to be told that!)
So Rich headed off on his walk and I continued photographing the shorebirds around the lagoon area. After several hours, I hadn’t gone far and I hadn’t gotten any calls, either. When I met back up with Rich, he was reading near the wooden bridge. I asked him if he’d seen any good beach birds. None at all, he said!
Well, it was probably the safest answer. :)
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!