Early May Shorebirds at Fort De Soto

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In early May I headed to Fort De Soto to say goodbye to the shorebirds who were preparing to leave for their northern breeding territory. It’s the best time of the year to find Red Knots in breeding plumage, Black-bellied Plovers with actual black bellies, and enjoy the courtship activities of the birds planning to stick around for the summer.

When your first bird of the morning shows off his breakfast triumphantly for your camera, you know it’s going to be a good day…

Ring-billed Gull with Breakfast
Ring-billed Gull with Breakfast

Photographing Black-bellied Plovers in their breeding plumage has been an ongoing challenge for me. During the wintertime, these birds molt into drab gray colors. They only get their namesake black bellies just before they migrate to the tundra of Alaska to breed. On this particular morning, there were several birds sporting glossy black feathers as they waded in the shallow waters.

Black-bellied Plover in Breeding Plumage
Black-bellied Plover in Breeding Plumage

Red Knots are another good bird that passes by Fort De Soto in early spring. These birds are impressive for their migratory feats. They fly from southern Argentina to the Arctic tundra. It’s a long trek for relatively small birds! I learned a lot about them reading The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey by Deborah Cramer. After learning about their history, I stood in awe watching them wander the shorelines…

Red Knot emerges from the ocean with breakfast
Red Knot emerges from the ocean with breakfast
Red Knot Playing Peek-a-Boo
Red Knot Playing Peek-a-Boo

Later, a flock of 50 or so Red Knots flew by. Most were partially morphed into their red breeding plumage, and others were still in their drab winter colors.

Red Knots in Flight
Red Knots in Flight

The Royal Terns were very active that morning. Pairs of them were courting, strutting to impress their mates on the beach. Overhead, the males brought in fish to impress their prospective mates.

Royal Tern Courtship
Royal Tern Courtship
Royal Tern with Fish
Royal Tern with Fish

The Royal Terns weren’t the only terns with courtship on the brain. The Least Skimmers have returned to Florida and were also exchanging fish as part of their courtship rituals. As the sun rose, a Least Tern flew by with a fish, making a nice silhouette image.

Least Tern Courtship
Least Tern Courtship
Least Tern with Fish
Least Tern with Fish

Possibly the “best” bird of the morning was this Snowy Plover. These tiny white birds scurry at the edges of the waves. They are tough to find because they are so rare, and tough to photograph because they rarely stand still. The only thing cuter than a Snowy Plover adult is a Snowy Plover chick…and I’m hoping to find one of those some day!

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

Bark! Bark! The distinctive call of Black Skimmers caught my attention, and I quickly focused to photograph the small flock flying by. I’m looking forward to photographing their babies at their breeding colonies this summer.

Black Skimmers
Black Skimmers

I ended up sitting at the edge of the mud flat near a mixed flock of skimmers, terns, and gulls. The terns were amazingly cooperative for head shots.

Royal Tern Head Shot
Royal Tern Head Shot

A group of kids went by and suddenly the whole flock took flight. I was glad I had my shorter lens with me as I aimed and shot at the mass of moving feathers. This last image was one of my favorites from the morning. I love the motion of the birds in flight!

Shorebirds in Flight
Shorebirds in Flight – Mostly Common Terns

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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