Sometimes the best birds are the ones you find as you leave the beach!
On my last trip to Fort De Soto, I spent the morning wandering Outback Key. It was getting late in the morning when I decided to stop by the wading pools on my way back to the car. I’m glad I did – look at who I found!
American Avocets are regular winter visitors to Florida, but they seem to be getting harder to find. The last time I saw an Avocet was when I was helping with the Christmas Bird Counts in Lakeland. The best time to find them is in late spring, when they have molted into their pretty breeding plumage. In the wintertime they are mostly white, but in their breeding colors, they sport a beautiful red head. Occasionally I see posts of them at Fort De Soto, but I didn’t expect to find some myself!
Avocets are skittish, so I couldn’t get very close to them. I was thrilled to have my 100-500 when they flew right towards me, but I would have liked the Beast for some low-level preening shots. I followed these birds all the way back out to Outback Key, where they decided to have a party with the roosting gulls, terns, skimmers, and peeps.
Pretty soon these birds will fly north for the summer, where they will make their nests and raise their families in the northern Great Plains region. But they will always remember working on their tans at the beach, giving the photographer their best butt shots!
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