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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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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