East Beach Sunrise and Migrant Birds at Fort De Soto

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It’s been way too long since I visited Fort De Soto. I headed there on Monday morning to photograph sunrise, see some shorebirds, and maybe luck out with a handful of migrants. It turned out to be a spectacular day.

I pulled up to East Beach about fifteen minutes before sunrise, inhaled a deep breath of the salt air, and saw a Sandhill Crane wandering near a pavilion. It was the first time I’d seen a Sandhill Crane at the park. I followed him down the path until I saw a glimpse of the orange sky and the Sunshine Skyway bridge in the distance. That’s when the first magic happened, as the bird let me frame the sunrise with his call of good morning…

Welcoming the Sunrise
Welcoming the Sunrise

The morning light was soft, and the warmth of the sun felt good among the springtime breeze. I followed the crane in the direction of the bridge. Pelicans, gulls, and terns fished for their breakfasts in the water. Willets and Sanderlings darted among the lapping waves. It felt so good to be at the beach!

East Beach Trees at Dawn
East Beach Trees at Dawn

My plan for the morning was to photograph the sunrise at at East Beach, photograph shorebirds at North Beach, and then check the mulberry trees for migrants. But then the magic interfered. I saw a Prothonotary Warbler darting among the sea grapes, and I heard the tiny voices of migrant buntings and warblers and orioles. My plan quickly changed to “grab the Beast and start trying to capture all the tiny darters!”

Tennessee Warbler on Sea Grape
Tennessee Warbler on Sea Grape

The sea grapes were full of tiny Tennessee Warblers. Sea grapes are a source of nectar, and I think the birds were also drinking the dew that had accumulated on the leaves. Tired after a night of flying across the Gulf of Mexico, they were happy to find food.

Indigo Bunting (Male)
Indigo Bunting (Male)

Also busy foraging in the Sea Grapes were the Indigo Buntings. I love watching the bright blue males, and their feathers sparkled in the beautiful morning light. The females are a pale brown. The male in the image above has almost finished his molt into breeding plumage, but you can still glimpse bits of brown from his winter feathers.

Osprey with Nesting Material
Osprey with Nesting Material

Over my head, a pair of Osprey were building a nest. Periodically one of the birds would fly out, find a stick, and bring it back to the nest. I had to laugh as I saw him grab a really big stick, fly with it over the ocean, and then drop it into the waves. It’s hard work building a nest. But as much as I love photographing birds with nesting material, the migrants quickly diverted my attention…

Orchard Oriole (Immature Male)
Orchard Oriole (Immature Male)

This Orchard Oriole hopped to the top of a Sea Grape branch as if to pose for me. At first I was happy to find an Oriole amidst the warblers and buntings, but then I found a ton of Orioles, all feasting on agave blooms…

Oriole Bliss (Agave Blooms - Century Plant)
Oriole Bliss (Agave Blooms – Century Plant)

I didn’t know the name of the plant at the time, and after doing some reading, it’s a “Century Plant” that only blooms once before it dies. The nectar was just what the hungry birds wanted after a long nighttime flight. At least half a dozen birds hopped from flower to flower, flapping their wings and squabbling over their feast.

Baltimore Oriole (Male) on Agave Plant
Baltimore Oriole (Male) on Agave Plant

Another agave plant was nestled behind some sea grapes, and through a small window in the leaves, I could see orioles coming to nectar. The bird above is a male Baltimore Oriole, and the one below is a male Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole (Male)
Orchard Oriole (Male)

Migration is such a feast of colors! The male orioles are bright orange, and the females are bright yellow. There was a perch above the agave plants where the birds would wait their turn. It made for beautiful portraits…

Baltimore Oriole (Female)
Baltimore Oriole (Female)

The orioles weren’t the only birds who enjoyed the nectar of the agave. I saw a couple of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds dart in and nectar when the flowers were free. It’s almost impossible to imagine that these tiny birds fly 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico in one night. The poor bird must have been famished.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Blue, yellow, orange…where was red? I didn’t see any male Summer or Scarlet Tanagers in their bright red coats at East Beach that morning. This female Summer Tanager isn’t as brilliant as her male counterpart, but her feathers shone beautifully in the bright morning light.

Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager

My last bird at East Beach was a Cape May Warbler. Then I headed off to the mulberry trees, where as it turned out, I found more colors of the rainbow. More on that in the next blog post!

Cape May Warbler
Cape May 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!

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