It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out with the camera. On Friday I escaped to one of my favorite places in the world – Fort de Soto. The North Beach sandbar has grown into a wonderful expanse of beach that is perfect for the birds. Plenty of shorebirds were staged there for spring migration. I had a great morning wandering around and saying hello to my old friends.
It was a five-plover morning: Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Semi-palmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, and Wilson’s Plover. It’s not often that you can find all these beautiful birds in one small area! I was surprised to see the piping plovers still hanging out in Florida. Migration fascinates me — how do the birds know when it’s time to head home?
Early May is the best time to catch a Black-bellied Plover with an actual black belly. These birds winter in Florida in their alternate plumage, which is a whitish-gray. They start to molt into their breeding black just before they fly to the Arctic in May.
You can’t go to Fort de Soto without laughing at the antics of the Reddish Egrets. They come to fish in the shallow waters, erratically throwing their wings up to cast shadows on the fish below. Some of my friends call this the “drunken sailor dance.” Photographing these beautiful birds never gets old!
I spotted another bird who is a joy for the photographers but a challenge to the breeding birds: Yellow-crowned Night Heron. This bird stalks and eats the ghost crabs that live on the key. The heron also targets the baby shorebirds, so in a month or so, he’ll be persona non grata on the key. But I couldn’t resist photographing him silhouetted against the blue ocean backdrop.
I saw several banded birds that morning: Piping Plover, Red Knot (2), and Snowy Plover. I’ll be reporting these and post back if I find out more about the stories of these birds. I know the Snowy Plover is “Coconut” who was banded last year on this same key.
The light got harsh as the morning went on. I spotted a lone Red-breasted Merganser splashing in her lagoon bathtub, then later I found her drying off on the beach. She seems to have missed the migration memo this year!
I was heading back to my car when I spotted the best birds of the morning. I’ll give you a hint about who my next post will feature: American Avocets! :-D
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!
Thank you for sharing an outstanding trip! Definitely whetted my appetite for a Fort foray! Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait a bit as I’m not supposed to be in the sun for more than a half-hour for the next couple of weeks. Don’t let all the shorebirds grow up before then!
Very nice photograph of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. And I look forward to a few Avocets being showcased soon.
Thanks for the salt and sand, Jess!
You’re in luck, Wally. Shorebird breeding is running a little late this year. They are waiting for you! Hope you get back out on the trails soon!