Fort De Soto

Fort De Soto is incredible for bird photography! My favorite time to go is in the spring, when the birds are in their breeding colors, and around September, when the terns congregate prior to migrating. The entire park is good for birding, but my favorite places are North Beach, the East Beach Turnaround, and the Mulberry bush area and East Beach woods (for migrating birds). Photography advice: Take every lens you can carry! I use my long lens for bird portraits and far-off rarities, my intermediate telephoto for flight shots, and my wide-angle for landscapes. Fort De Soto is one of those rare places where you can photograph both sunrise and sunset over the ocean!

Photography Advice

Check the website for road closures before you go!

Website

http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm

Fort De Soto Blog Archives

  • April Showers Bring…May Migrants!

    April Showers Bring…May Migrants!

    A cold front blew in migrant birds to Fort De Soto yesterday - lots of Bay-breasted Warblers, Indigo Buntings, tanagers, grosbeaks, and more!
  • Nanday Parakeets and Yellow Flowers

    Nanday Parakeets and Yellow Flowers

    Why would two photographers hop out on the side of the road? To photograph Nanday Parakeets in yellow flowers, of course!
  • Migrant-Hunting at Fort De Soto with my Dad

    Migrant-Hunting at Fort De Soto with my Dad

    A search for Fort De Soto migrants yielded Summer Tanager, Hermit Thrush, Orchard Oriole, and my one of my favorite birds: Roseate Spoonbill!
  • Fort de Soto Photography in Early April

    Fort de Soto Photography in Early April

    April is a great time to visit Fort De Soto for shorebird photography and the possibility of migrants
  • Seahorse Surprise at Fort De Soto

    Seahorse Surprise at Fort De Soto

    Fort de Soto's North Beach never disappoints. This time, it turned up a Ring-billed Gull with a seahorse surprise!
  • Say Goodbye to the Shorebirds

    Say Goodbye to the Shorebirds

    I headed to Fort De Soto in early May to say goodbye to the shorebirds as they leave for their breeding grounds. I saw two Snowy Plovers!
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Fort De Soto!

    Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Fort De Soto!

    A tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Fort De Soto let me photograph him as he re-fueled on his long migration journey.
  • Vacation Beginnings at Fort De Soto

    Vacation Beginnings at Fort De Soto

    My first photo outing in almost two months, on the wonderful beaches of Fort De Soto! My first Red Knot in breeding plumage... :)
  • Banded Piping Plover Information

    Banded Piping Plover Information

    The USGS Bird Banding Lab replied to me about the banded Piping Plovers that I saw at Fort De Soto back in September.
  • Crazy Photographer Alert

    Crazy Photographer Alert

    Rich captured some fun images of me from Fort De Soto. He had his first-of-fall crazy photographer sighting!
  • Fall Getaway to Fort De Soto

    Fall Getaway to Fort De Soto

    Rich and I escaped for a fall getaway to Fort De Soto, where we photographed migrating shorebirds and pretty Roseate Spoonbills
  • Lifer Snowy Plover at Fort De Soto!

    Lifer Snowy Plover at Fort De Soto!

    I scored my lifer Snowy Plover last week at Fort De Soto, along with several Piping Plovers. It was a four-plover trip! Not bad!
  • Magnificent Frigatebirds with my Dad

    Magnificent Frigatebirds with my Dad

    My dad and I had a great time photographing some Magnificent Frigatebirds at Fort De Soto. A great way to celebrate his birthday!
  • Shorebirds Leaving Florida for the Summer

    Shorebirds Leaving Florida for the Summer

    The shorebirds are leaving Florida for their nesting grounds. I photographed some of them in breeding colors at Fort De Soto a few weeks ago
  • The Quest for a Black Belly Concludes?

    The Quest for a Black Belly Concludes?

    My ongoing quest for black belly! Black-bellied Plovers often leave Florida before completing their molt. Did I finally get one?
  • Least Tern Fish Exchanges and Courtship

    Least Tern Fish Exchanges and Courtship

    Two weeks ago at Fort De Soto I got to photograph Least Tern fish exchanges and courtship rituals on North Beach. It was so much fun!
  • Beach Bird Heuristics for Rich

    Beach Bird Heuristics for Rich

    When my non-photographer hubby accompanied me to Fort De Soto, I gave him tips on finding good beach birds, like my very first Whimbrel!
  • Least Tern Fish Exchanges

    Least Tern Fish Exchanges

    On my last trip to Fort De Soto I photographed several Least Tern fish exchanges as these tiny birds performed their courtship rituals.
  • More Migrant Songbirds at Fort De Soto

    More Migrant Songbirds at Fort De Soto

    More shots of migrant songbirds at Fort De Soto, including a lifer Bay-breasted Warbler and some great American Redstarts.
  • Royal Tern Courtship

    Royal Tern Courtship

    I finally got to photograph Royal Tern courtship. The Royal Terns exchanged fish and crabs before mating on North Beach. What a fun morning!
  • Photographing Scarlet Tanagers Eating Insects

    Photographing Scarlet Tanagers Eating Insects

    I had such a great weekend at Fort De Soto with the migrant birds not too long ago, and one of the best parts was photographing the Scarlet Tanagers.  The bright red feathers and black wings of the males are very striking.  At the East Beach, I found about ten tanagers that were feeding near the entrance to the Privet Trail.  They didn’t seem to mind all the crowds and picnics that were going on.  They’d fly right up to me as they dove after insects. When I came across these images on my computer, I had to laugh.  The sequence was just too good to not share on the blog.  You see, bird photography isn’t as easy as the final images may make it look.  For every ten pictures that I take, I keep maybe one.  You may see why… Here the Scarlet Tanager spots a mosquito flying by him.  Good, he can eat it before it comes to sting me! So next he flies at the mosquito.  Of course I can’t move the camera and auto-focus as fast as he flies, so the shot is blurry and I clipped the wings.  If only the birds would give me …
  • Migrant Birds at Fort De Soto

    Migrant Birds at Fort De Soto

    Two weekends ago I had the most amazing morning photographing the migrant birds at Fort De Soto.  The trees were literally dropping with colorful birds.  Red tanagers, orange orioles, blue buntings and grosbeaks, and warblers everywhere.  It was a birder’s paradise. Good birding isn’t always good for the birds.  Most of these birds spend the winters in South America.  In April, they fly north to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.  Many cross the Gulf of Mexico, flying nonstop across the ocean in an incredible journey.  They take advantage of the winds to make their flight easier.  But when they encounter a front, their tail winds suddenly become headwinds, which can be deadly for the birds if they are still over water.  They land as soon as they can in what is called a “fallout.”  Fort De Soto is a place where such fallouts sometimes occur.  It offers the birds land, trees, fresh water, and a food source – mulberries. If you’re like me, you may have visited Fort De Soto several times and never known where the famous “mulberry trees” are.  Well, they are by the ranger’s house.  When you pull into the park, turn right …
  • Springtime Bird Photography at Fort De Soto

    Springtime Bird Photography at Fort De Soto

    April is my favorite time to visit Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The sandy beaches are beautiful, the spring winds are cool, and my toes get to wiggle in the ocean water as I photograph the birds molting into their breeding plumage.  An April visit always has the possibility of a fallout, where migratory birds are caught by rainstorms as they cross the Gulf of Mexico, so they land at the first opportunity – Fort De Soto!  But even if it’s a slow day for migrants, the North Beach springtime bird photography opportunities are spectacular. My husband thinks I’m nuts, but I love to start a good morning at Fort De Soto with a sunrise, even though that means getting up early enough to drive from Orlando and still arrive 30 minutes before sunrise.  Yep, I’m crazy, but at least I’m not the only one.  It was great seeing Michael, Donna, Susan, and Daniel at the park this morning.  We all had the same problem with the sunrise – lens fog!  My early shots were long exposures with my ND filter, but I didn’t move into position with the palm trees in the foreground until well after sunrise, …
  • Great Horned Owl Nest at Fort De Soto

    Great Horned Owl Nest at Fort De Soto

    Two weeks ago, my dad and I drove over to Fort De Soto to photograph the Great Horned Owl nest.  At the time, the owlets were two weeks old.  Ever since I saw Marina Scarr’s highly honored image in the Windland Smith Rice photo contest, I’ve wanted to see a similar scene – the mother owl with her owlet tucked under her wing, with only his face visible, nestled in his mom’s feathers.  I hardly dared hope that I might get a comparable image. We left Orlando at 5am in order to arrive at Fort De Soto a little after sunrise.  With my recent crazy hours at work, I forgot to check for road closures.  We were dismayed to pull up at the entrance gate to find that the roads were closed for a bike race, and wouldn’t re-open till 9:00!  So we returned at 9:00, and the sun was already starting to cast harsh shadows.  We pulled into the North Beach parking lot and joined the gaggle of photographers with long lenses all pointed at the nest.   I gasped with delight when I registered what was in front of me – Mother Owl with not one, but two owlets nestled …
  • The Chase

    The Chase

    While at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend, I captured a fun sequence of images.  The Sandwich Terns were in a feeding frenzy over the ocean.  I tried to photograph them as they grabbed their fish from the ocean.   One grabbed a huge fish, dropped it in mid-air, then dove and caught it again.  It was a very exciting chase, and I was very happy when I checked the back of my camera and saw that I’d caught the whole sequence!  
  • Feeding Frenzy at Fort De Soto

    Feeding Frenzy at Fort De Soto

    I had such a good time photographing the terns and gulls in their feeding frenzy at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.  I got to North Beach just after sunrise.  The feeding frenzy from the night before continued as hundreds of birds dove into the waves and pulled out their breakfasts.  There were so many birds!!  It was hard to know what to shoot first.  There wasn’t a lot of light, so I started with group shots… It was a nice breezy morning.  I followed the flock up and down the beach as they fed.  My still images weren’t capturing the masses of birds as well as I wanted, so I switched into video mode.    I chuckled as the gulls all walked to my left to get out of the way of a beach-walker. The sun took its time to peek out that morning.  I didn’t have enough light for good flight shots, so I put my wide-angle lens on and tried for some pleasing blurs.  Some well-known photographers pride themselves on making pleasing blurs, and often I look at their images, carefully crafted to be blurry, and think to myself, “hey, those are the accident shots that …
  • Sunrise at Fort De Soto

    Sunrise at Fort De Soto

    We stayed the night at the beach over Labor Day weekend, and I enjoyed the opportunity to shoot sunrise at Fort De Soto without having to drive for two hours! Except I was dismayed to arrive and find that the park is more strictly enforcing its hours. There was a “do not enter” sign that blocked the road until just before 7:00. That left me only about ten minutes before sunrise to get to East Beach. I was disappointed, as I’d wanted to photograph the Sunshine Skyway all lit up in the early dawn. :( There were flocks of egrets and ibis gathered at the ocean’s edge as the sun peaked out over the horizon. It’ll be another month or so before the sun comes up directly over the bridge. Maybe by then the sunrise will be late enough that I can try again for my bridge shot! This was my first time using my 5D Mark III for sunrise at Fort De Soto, and I enjoyed having a full-frame camera with my wide-angle lens. After photographing the sunrise over the bridge, I walked along the beach looking for interesting foreground elements to include in the scene. There were pretty …
  • Shorebirds Returning to Florida’s Beaches

    Shorebirds Returning to Florida’s Beaches

    Although it’s still really hot outside, fall migration is underway, and the shorebirds are returning to Florida’s beaches.  Most of our shorebirds fly to places like Alaska and northern Canada to breed.  They leave in May looking all spiffy in their breeding plumage, fly to their breeding grounds, raise their kids, and return to Florida in late August.  Hard to believe, huh? Rich and I spent some time at the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.  That’s always a good place to look for shorebirds in afternoon light.  I took my groundpod and crawled around in the mud to get eye-to-eye with the birds.  Yes, Rich assured me that I was crazy.  But I had a good time! These little Sanderlings are bright white in their winter plumage.  They are tricky to photograph because they never stand still!  They are always running about, sticking their little beaks into the mud as they search for food.  They got used to me lying on the beach, though, and this one came running right up to me. I saw five or six Black-bellied Plovers at the East Beach turnaround, all in various stages of molting.  Some were already …
  • Sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach

    Sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach

    Rich and I did an overnight trip to Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.   I got to do one of my favorite things: photograph sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach.  It’s so beautiful there.  I love the white beach and the unspoiled coastline.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was great.  We came across this writing in the sand: We had our off-Friday before the long weekend, so we headed to the beach on Thursday afternoon in order to avoid the holiday crowds.  I was happy to find the beach deserted except for dozens of Sandwich Terns and Royal Terns.  There were lots of juveniles in the flock, all begging to be fed.  Mom would basically stand there and ignore them.  After they pestered her enough, she’d fly off and encourage them to go fishing with her.  Sometimes it worked.  Often the juvie would stay back on the beach, pouting! The afternoon light on the beach is so sweet.  I waded into the ocean in order to get the right angle for the shot of the terns above. As the sun started to set, I put on my wide-angle lens and looked for sunset …
  • Fort De Soto with My Dad

    Fort De Soto with My Dad

    After visiting the Black Skimmer colony with my dad on Father’s Day, we decided to head to Fort De Soto to explore.  It was mid-day, and we knew we’d see more people than birds.  Still, it’s hard to be half an hour away from Bird Photography Paradise and not at least stop by!  I’m glad we did, because we had a great time.  I think I got some decent pictures, too. We started on North Beach, where we hiked the length of the beach.  I had the Beast attached to my Black Rapid strap, and I found it surprisingly comfortable to carry that way!  We got lots of comments about our cameras from the people enjoying the beach.  Photographers are practically the only ones on the beach at 7am, but by 10am we’re certainly outnumbered, and I guess we do look a little out of place! Snowy Egrets are common birds in Florida, but this one was so pretty against the ocean waves.  I loved watching him walk through the surf.  His feet are so long and his toenails are huge!  I kneeled to photograph him, but the waves kept breaking right behind his head.  So I settled back in …
  • Pleasant Morning at Fort De Soto

    Pleasant Morning at Fort De Soto

    For the past three weekends in a row, I’ve planned a visit to Fort De Soto.  I even planned to go and stay overnight so that I’d have more time with golden light.  Then there were thunderstorms.  And rain.  And clouds.  Two weekends in a row!  So this past weekend I finally made it there. When you drive into Fort De Soto and come to the flagpole, you have to make an important decision.  Going left takes you to the East Beach, where you can view the sunrise as the sun peeks up over the Sunshine Skyway bridge.  Or you can go right, which takes you to North Beach, one of the best places I know for nature photography.  I’d been opting for pre-dawn bird portraits on North Beach as I made the long drive from Orlando, but as the first glimmers of daylight showed me some gorgeous clouds, I opted to turn left and shoot the sunrise.  I’m so glad I did.  I think this is my first Fort De Soto sunrise with any sort of clouds in the sky! Fort De Soto in April can be spectacular during migration.  For the millions of neotropical songbirds that cross the …
  • Windy and Cold at Fort De Soto

    Windy and Cold at Fort De Soto

    Somebody needs to tell the groundhog that he really mis-predicted the weather this year.  Instead of his projected early spring, we got freezing cold temperatures well into April!  Still, Fort De Soto is an awesome place for springtime bird photography, even if there’s wind and cold.  I spent a very pleasant evening and morning at the North Beach lagoon and saw all sorts of birds in their gorgeous breeding colors. When I first arrived at Fort De Soto, there were very few birds.  We checked the East Beach turnaround, and there were no shorebirds at all, due to the wind.  There are almost always birds at the North Beach conservation area, but not that afternoon.  Finally I tried the North Beach lagoon, where the wind wasn’t so strong.  There I found exactly two oystercatchers and this Ring-Billed Gull.  Despite the cold, I got a little wet and got my camera low.  I was rewarded when the gull grabbed his dinner and flew toward my camera! It’s hard to go to Fort De Soto and not get some sort of great shot. :) I enjoy trying my lens at landscape photography while I’m at the beach.  I’m learning to place elements in …
  • Peaceful Blue…

    Peaceful Blue…

    After 13 hours of work today, I needed a reminder of one of my favorite places to relax: Fort De Soto in Tierra Verde, FL.  I photographed this juvenile almost-turned-adult plumage Little Blue Heron at Fort D back in early September.  I’ve been itching to go back ever since.  Look at that blue water…isn’t it relaxing?
  • Fishing Buddies

    Fishing Buddies

    I had such a good time watching the gulls and the pelicans at Fort De Soto on my last visit. Those gulls are smart – they hang around the pelicans, and when the pelicans grab a big mouthful of fish, the gulls swoop in and steal a bite. I watched them do it over and over. This was my best shot of the behavior. What lazy gulls!
  • Alone in the Crowd

    Alone in the Crowd

    The Sandwich Terns at North Beach made me laugh. I’m not sure if they were trying for courtship behaviors, or if they were just being silly. I watched several bring in nice fish, then just stand there trying to get attention from everybody else. Why didn’t they just eat their fish? Sometimes the crowd would catch on and start up a chase, but a couple of times the tern finally gave up and swallowed it himself. Funny birds.
  • Cue the Yawn!

    Cue the Yawn!

    It’s Friday…thank goodness! This Royal Tern seems to understand how I feel at the end of the week. Time for a weekend of photography and rest!
  • Time to Grow Up!

    Time to Grow Up!

    While photographing the terns at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend, I heard the incessant fussing of a hungry juvenile. It didn’t take me long to spot the fusser, who looked all spiffy in his fresh juvenal plumage. (Adult shorebirds at this time of year have worn feathers, and are easily distinguished from their recently-molted offspring.) This juvenile was so insistent that Mom give him a nice breakfast. The only problem was that Mom wasn’t cooperating. It’s a harsh lesson to learn when you find that you are grown up and responsible for feeding yourself!
  • North Beach Sunset

    North Beach Sunset

    This was the same sunset as the close-up Great Blue Heron sunset shot from a few nights ago. This wide-angle shot is a very different perspective! I was a little sad to see the changes in North Beach since the tropical storms re-shaped the beach. The terns practically had their own little beach with the way the water pools are formed. I was there at low tide. Daniel said that at high tide, you have to go wading to make it all the way up the beach!
  • Flying Sandwiches

    Flying Sandwiches

    I really enjoyed my Labor Day morning at Fort De Soto this past weekend. When I arrived at North Beach just after sunrise, I found the beach covered in terns. It was funny how the photographers walked right past Big Red to instead focus on the masses of terns. I practiced a lot of panning that morning, trying to quickly lock focus on the fly-bys and pan with them to get them well back in the frame. This one was my best.
  • Orange and Black

    Orange and Black

    Last Sunday at Fort De Soto, I walked onto North Beach and wondered what kinds of pictures I could take. The beach was crowded with people, the birds had all retreated into the bird sanctuary (smart birds!), and the sun was hiding behind the clouds. But as the sun got lower in the sky, it glowed a beautiful orange, and I found a lone Great Blue Heron who became my major subject of the evening.
  • Sunset Blast-Off

    Sunset Blast-Off

    Rich and I spent a happy couple of days at Fort De Soto over the Labor Day weekend. I know the shorebirds have been congregating there as they prepare for their fall migratory trip to South America. North Beach in the early mornings is a bird photographer’s paradise with hundreds of subjects in incredible light. I was really hoping to get some blast-off shots of the large flocks, but I found that the signage for the conservation area got in the way a little too much. But I did get this shot as the birds flew at sunset. More pictures coming soon as I go through all my images…
  • Springtime Bath

    Springtime Bath

    This is a Laughing Gull shot from this spring that I finally got around to processing. I love this shot because it reminds me of what a happy morning it was when I took it. The breeze was cool, the sun felt good on my face, I was out on the beach for the first time in months, the sand between my toes, and this happy gull in fresh plumage was enjoying the morning too as he splashed around in the ocean. Life was good!
  • They’re Ba-ack!

    They’re Ba-ack!

    While I haven’t been out to see them myself, reports from Birdbrains indicate that the shorebirds are starting to arrive back in Florida for the winter. Yes, winter. It’s July! These birds are incredible. They get all spiffy-looking in their breeding colors in May, fly to the Arctic, have their babies, and arrive back in late July with those spiffy feathers well-worn from their long trip. Amazing, huh? We’re happy to welcome them back to the Sunshine State. Hopefully later this weekend I’ll have an opportunity to get back out to photograph some of them! :) This Least Sandpiper was molting into his breeding colors when I photographed him back in April. He will have lost the pretty brown tones by now. PS – If you had trouble playing the Squirt video in my last post, try again. I wish that the various browsers would standardize a way to stream video!! I’ve now tested it in IE, Firefox, and Safari.
  • A Quest for a Black Belly

    A Quest for a Black Belly

    I was on a quest this spring to photograph a Black-Bellied Plover in full breeding plumage.  As I visited Fort De Soto periodically throughout their molting time, I was able to catch them at various stages of color.  I got close to catching a fully molted bird, but not quite…maybe next year!
  • Long-Billed Curlew

    Long-Billed Curlew

    I wanted to go to Fort De Soto this morning, to try for a Black-Bellied Plover in full breeding plumage.  But it was a long week, and I opted to relax instead.  So here’s an image from several weeks ago…  
  • East Beach Sunrise

    East Beach Sunrise

    I had fun photographing the sunrise on the morning that I went to Fort De Soto to look for migrants.  When I arrived at the East Beach turnaround, the sun was just beginning to peek out from over the horizon.  I spotted a Great Blue Heron near me, so I tried to position him for a nice silhouette. There were TONS of gulls in the distance.  It was incredible just to sit back and listen to them.  It’s moments like these when it is fun to have video on my camera. 
  • Piggy-Back Rides – Fort De Soto Laughing Gulls

    Piggy-Back Rides – Fort De Soto Laughing Gulls

    I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to photograph Laughing Gull courtship behaviors over the past two weekends at Fort De Soto.  My mom asked me, “what’s with your recent interesting in photographing…that?”  Well, it’s fun!  Birds can be such clowns when it comes to flirting.  And what photographer can resist a good action shot? The courtship begins with fussing.  Lots and lots of fussing. The female runs around begging the male for food. She pokes her beak at his face, just like her babies will soon be poking hers.  Then he regurgitates food for her to eat.  I guess in the birdie world that’s a nice thing to do… Sometimes he offers her food that hasn’t already been digested! After the food offering, the male hops onto her back for a piggy-back ride. What began with much fussing, ends with much fussing…
  • A Rainbow of Color at Fort De Soto

    A Rainbow of Color at Fort De Soto

    After last weekend’s fallout of migratory birds at Fort De Soto, I so wanted to take a vacation day on Monday to go birding there.  But I was good and responsible…and I went over on my next off-Friday.  Wow!  It was my first migration experience and it was just incredible.  I had a total of 9 lifers for the day. I started out the morning with the sunrise at the East Beach turnaround, then couldn’t resist the morning light at North Beach for an hour (more on that in another post).  By 9:00 I had made my way to the East Beach woods, where most of the migrants this week have been reported.  I got out the car and immediately saw a small bird hopping around in the oak tree near my car.  That Black-and-White Warbler was the first of a bunch of fun finds.  Thrushes abounded, and within minutes I had collected two lifers: a Gray-Cheeked Thrush and a Veery. This female Summer Tanager was in the oak tree at the start of the Privet Trail.  Her bright yellow caught my attention, and then she was such a good acrobat that I spent at least twenty minutes watching her. …
  • Preview of Coming Attractions…

    Preview of Coming Attractions…

    I had the most incredible day today!  I went to Fort De Soto to check out the migrants, and I finally got my first Scarlet Tanager male, along with a ton of orioles, grosbeaks, buntings, and a few warblers.  Birders kept telling me that today was a “slow” day in comparison to last weekend’s fallout…but to me, it was awesome!  I stopped at Lake Morton to check on the swan babies, and look what I found… More coming in upcoming posts…just as soon as I finish blogging about last weekend’s photography!  I love the springtime and baby birdies!
  • A Stop at the Fort De Soto Pier

    A Stop at the Fort De Soto Pier

    While we were at Fort De Soto last weekend, I told Rich that we needed to stop at the Gulf Pier to look for dolphins, and maybe sea turtles.  Rich went along, but didn’t expect to see much.  When we arrived, we were seeing dolphins every five seconds!  They are hard to photograph, though, because they dive so quickly.  You barely have time to focus on them before they go back under water.  Nor can you pre-focus, since they don’t always come up at the same spots  But I did get some fun shots… There were tons of Brown Pelicans at the Fort De Soto pier.  It was kinda fun to watch them dive for fish.  This one unfortunately has had an encounter with a fisherman.  Look at his pouch! It’s fun to watch the birds at the pier.  They are so fast to grab the fish away from the fisherman.  It’s a great place if you want to get action shots…as long as you’re not a fisherman than wants to keep his fish!
  • Three Hours Sitting in One Spot at Fort De Soto

    Three Hours Sitting in One Spot at Fort De Soto

    Rich and I returned to North Beach at Fort De Soto on Friday morning.  It was great – he dropped me off, went to get breakfast, and brought me breakfast on the beach!  What a great hubby.  In the meantime, I had found a couple of Laughing Gulls demonstrating courtship behaviors at the tidal pool by the concession stand.  I plopped down in the sand with The Beast.  Three hours later, I still hadn’t moved.  It was a great morning, with all sorts of fun birds parading past me as I watched and waited. It didn’t take long for a large flock of Black Skimmers to join the gulls at my tidal pool.  The light was awesome in the early morning.  I love how the water sparkles with the colors of the sunrise.  The skimmers came to roost in front of me, and every so often, a Herring Gull would fly by and spook them.  The entire flock would take off, circle around, and eventually return to me.  It made for some fun flight shots. I had hoped the Reddish Egret White Morph would pose for me.  I have plenty of shots of his cousin Big Red, but I’ve only …
  • Escape to Fort De Soto

    Escape to Fort De Soto

    Rich and I took a much-needed day off from work last Friday and escaped to Fort De Soto for a weekend photography adventure.  We were glad we went Thursday night, which allowed us to get in one day of photography before the rains came.  And of course, we missed the terrific migrant activity that the storms brought later in the weekend.  Oh well! Our first stop at Fort De Soto was the East Beach, which I love in the golden afternoon light.  The little shorebirds are so tame.  They don’t mind too much when they are followed by The Beast!  I was hoping to find some shorebirds in pretty breeding plumage, and they did not disappoint.  This little Semipalmated Plover’s black stripes are striking. At one point I looked up to see that an American Oystercatcher had landed in the surf and started to take a bath.  After the birds bathe for a while, they shake out their feathers, giving you great action shot opportunities.  The East Beach turnaround area is great for birdie baths, since the the water is so shallow.  Look at those wings! After I had photographed every single bird on East Beach at least a dozen …
  • More from the North Beach Shores at Fort De Soto…

    More from the North Beach Shores at Fort De Soto…

    I had such a good morning at Fort De Soto a few weekends ago, and it’s taken me that long to finish going through my images!  I had four lifers that day: Common Loon, Red Knot, Lark Sparrow, and my first non-captive Great Horned Owls, with baby!  Combine that opportunity with the awesome light at North Beach, and you get a happy photographer with a full memory card. :) The tidal pools by the concession stand were quite productive that morning.  I was hoping for Snowy or Piping Plovers, but they didn’t want to give me any more lifers for the day.  Instead this Great Egret gave me nice flight opportunities… This Snowy Egret posed in his breeding plumage.  He didn’t fluff up his plumes for me, but look at that bright yellow lore! The Long-Billed Curlew and White Ibises were at the pool too.  Then a Marbled Godwit wandered up.  It’s great when you sit down low in the sand and the birds just parade past your lens. :) The next to come by was this Wilson’s Plover.  He’s fast!  He scurried by, then found a snack in the sand. A bunch of Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls, and a …
  • Long-Billed Curlew

    Long-Billed Curlew

    Can you imagine going through life with a bill as long as your foot?  I watch the Long-Billed Curlew at Fort De Soto preening, and he amazes me.  That long bill is great for digging up crabs from deep in the sand, but it’s pretty awkward to use to scratch an itch!  I was rewarded with several great opportunities to photograph the curlew last weekend.  I hope to make it back in late April as the shorebirds show off their breeding colors before heading back up to the Arctic.   
  • Shades of Red

    Shades of Red

    The White Ibises at Fort De Soto last weekend were sporting some very brilliant breeding colors.  A group of them fed for me in the little pool near the concession stand on the North Beach.  When bright white birds with great red beaks stand there patiently pulling crab after crab out of the water, it makes this photographer very happy… :)
  • Looney Tunes

    Looney Tunes

    I saw my first-ever loon yesterday at Fort De Soto.  I’m pretty sure he’s a Common Loon.  He was swimming not too far from shore along the North Beach.  I had been thinking how neat it would be to see a loon, then I looked up, and there one was!  Not many mornings give you that kind of luck, and this wasn’t my only lifer of the morning.  More on that tomorrow… :) 
  • My Turn!

    My Turn!

    Two years ago, Dyeyo found a Great Horned Owl nest at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  He showed me his pictures, and I went with him the next weekend to see the babies, but they had already fledged.  Ever since then, I’ve been itching to have “my turn” with Great Horned owlets.  Today my turn finally came at Fort De Soto, where there is a Great Horned Owl nest in an oak tree at the North Beach parking lot. Baby was not particularly cooperative – he spent most of his time facing away from the photographers!  Occasionally he would look our way as he preened.  Then he settled down to sleep.  This was my best shot from the morning.  He’s so ugly that he’s cute!
  • Eyes on You

    Eyes on You

    I photographed this Osprey at Fort De Soto park two weeks ago. I thought it was cool how he flew directly at the camera, with both eyes looking straight ahead. He dove several times for fish, but he went away empty-taloned.
  • "Sunrise" Skyway and Fort De Soto Birds

    "Sunrise" Skyway and Fort De Soto Birds

    The best colors of sunrise are often about half an hour before sunrise, and this morning the colors were totally worth the early wake-up call and two-hour drive to Fort De Soto!  I arrived around 6:45 and made my way to East Beach, where the sun was just starting to show itself on the horizon.  The orange colors in the sky were amazing.  I played with my 24-70 and my 70-200 lenses, trying to figure out which focal length I liked best.  I also bracketed for HDR. The sun angles are changing quickly lately, and right now, you can catch the sun rising over the Sunshine Skyway bridge if you position yourself on the East Beach.  Friends Michael and Dan joined me as the sun peeked out over the bridge.  With no clouds in the sky, the sun was blinding and bright as it rose.  I used Live View so that I could adjust the framing without looking at the sun. It was a great morning to be out with friends.  The temperatures were nice and cool, and I was glad I had grabbed a sweatshirt on my way out!  After the sun was up, we headed to North Beach …
  • Early Fall Migrants at Fort De Soto

    Early Fall Migrants at Fort De Soto

    Rich says I must have lost my marbles.  I got up at 4:45 this morning and drove to St. Pete in order to search for Marbled Godwits.  It’s been a few months since I’ve gone to the beach, and I was in the mood for some nice shorebird photography.  It’s funny that after photographing lots of birds around the state for the past few years, I still haven’t seen some of the most common birds, including the Marbled Godwits.  But I did today! It’s a little weird to think that fall migration has already started.  It’s only July!  It’s still really hot out!  But a variety of shorebird species leave Florida in late spring, lay their nests and raise their young in the tundra of Alaska and northern Canada, then immediately turn around and fly back down to Florida.  It’s a really long trip for these little birds. I arrived at North Beach at Fort De Soto just after sunrise, around 7:00 in the morning.  The area around the concession stands was simply covered in Laughing Gulls.  They feed around the picnic tables, where people share their picnic lunches (some willingly, others  not!)  The gulls are starting the molt into …
  • Of Drunken Sailors and Crab Legs (Fort De Soto)

    Of Drunken Sailors and Crab Legs (Fort De Soto)

    After a long week at work, I was itching for a photography adventure.  So I got up at 4 on Saturday morning and drove to Fort De Soto for sunrise.  But I did have a great morning at North Beach, enjoying especially the antics of the Reddish Egrets.  They are too funny! I arrived just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.  I resisted the temptation to photograph the orange fireball in the eastern sky, and instead I hurried to North Beach.  The tidal pools in front of the concession stand were still and as yet unlit by the rising sun.  A couple of Great Egrets were feeding there, and their reflections in the purply-pink water were quite nice.  Especially when one reached down and grabbed a minnow for me! It wasn’t long before I ran into a Reddish Egret.  I saw several of them over the course of the morning, most of them stalking their breakfast by doing their “drunken sailor dance” (see below).  My favorite shot of the morning was this portrait of the Reddish Egret, in the clear water of the Gulf. Brown Pelicans flew up and down the beach.  I know these are common birds, …
  • Sunrise at Fort De Soto

    Sunrise at Fort De Soto

    Rich came with me to Fort De Soto for sunrise this morning.  He can’t remember the last time he watched the sun rise!  We went to East Beach to see the sun come up over the Sunshine Skyway.  Then we went the North Beach lagoon, then we found the famous mulberry trees.  It was a slow day for migrants—we saw only an Indigo Bunting, a Black-Throated Blue Warbler, and a Cape May Warbler.  I got a glimpse of the Black-Hooded Parakeets, but no pictures.  But the morning photography at North Beach was awesome. Here’s a panorama of the sunrise at East Beach, with the Sunshine Skyway as a backdrop: When I got to North Beach, I headed towards the lagoon.  I was happy to find a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron standing perfectly still along the dunes within a few feet of me.  This is another common bird at De Soto, but I have little experience photographing him. I saw my first American Oystercatcher along the shore and I positioned the Beast to photograph him.  As I focused, the bird started to run off and fuss.  “No!  Wait for me to get a picture first!”  But the bird was fussing because his …
  • Sunset at Fort De Soto

    Sunset at Fort De Soto

    Rich and I visited Fort De Soto for sunset this evening.  It was fun to share the park with Rich, who’s never shared my early-morning zeal for sunrises and golden-light bird photography.  It was also the first time I’d been to Fort De Soto in the afternoon.  We headed to East Beach first, where the light was finally right to photograph the shorebirds at the turnaround.  Then we went up to North Beach for the sunset.  The mosquitos weren’t bad and we had a great evening! At the East Beach turnaround, we found a small flock of shorebirds, including plovers, sandpipers, and dowitchers.  Some of the birds have started to molt into their breeding plumages.  Others are still in their alternate plumages.  I’m not all that good at shorebird identification, and the varying plumages and half-stages make it even more difficult. :-p  (If I’ve mis-identified one of these birds, please post a comment or .) A couple of Red-Breasted Mergansers came up onto shore.  I’ve never seen one of these guys up close, as they don’t come often to the Circle B Bar Reserve or any of the other places where I regularly go to photograph.  I thought it was …
  • Quiet Morning at Fort De Soto

    Quiet Morning at Fort De Soto

    I drove over to Fort De Soto on Saturday morning in hopes of finding some early migrant warblers.  There have also been a Reddish Egret in full breeding plumage and a Long-Billed Curlew hanging out at the North Beach lagoon.  I had high hopes of some good photography, but unfortunately, it was a pretty quiet morning. When I first arrived, I was on the lookout for the eagle’s nest that’s on the Tierra Verde peninsula before the entrance to the park.  I knew I’d found it when I saw the line of photographers, most of whom were lined up on the side of the road with their 500mm and 600mm lenses.  I pulled over and joined the crowd.  The nest is beautiful in the morning light.  It’s out in the open, one of the most photographable nests I’ve ever seen.  When I arrived, the adult was sitting near the nest, and one juvenile was in the nest.  The adult flew away, leaving the baby to sit in the nest and munch on his breakfast.  Some of the other photographers stood waiting, hoping that the adult would bring in food.  I watched for a while, then left to go to the …
  • Beautiful Morning at Fort De Soto

    Beautiful Morning at Fort De Soto

    Dyeyo and I visited Fort De Soto this morning. After my last trip there in September, I was looking forward to beaches covered in birds. But the North Beach was almost totally empty! We ran into a nice couple from England who have been vacationing at De Soto for the last month. They said that they had never seen the beaches so empty. The occasional bird would fly by as we stood on the North Beach wondering why we’d driven for two hours to photograph an empty beach. The sun was just rising and the light was beautiful. I think this is a Least Tern. I have trouble identifying all the different terns, especially in their varying plumages. I kept missing the Brown Pelican fly-bys, and I was getting a little annoyed, because the light was awesome and it made their feathers sparkle with iridescence. Finally I caught a bird flying in the right direction. Of the three or four pictures I took, this was the only sharp one. At first I was confused as to why the Brown Pelicans have white heads. But then I read that they have white heads in the winter when they are in their …
  • Fort De Soto Panorama

    Fort De Soto Panorama

    I stitched together some pictures from yesterday’s trip to Fort De Soto and made a panorama: I also took a little video of the biggest flock of gulls and sandpipers. It’s fun to hear the waves and the calls of the birds.
  • My First Trip to Fort De Soto

    My First Trip to Fort De Soto

    After hearing about Fort De Soto from birders all over the state, I finally drove over there to check it out. It was everything that people said, and better! I’m not all that familiar with the shorebirds. Before I went today, I couldn’t tell a sandpiper from a plover — and hopefully some of the identities I looked up today will stick for more than a day! I think all the bird varieties that I saw today are fairly common. I was really excited at the quality of my pictures. I was trying hard to get correct exposures in-camera, complete with fill flash (which I started using partway through the morning). I think I did OK, because I didn’t have to adjust exposure much in Lightroom. Disclaimer: Don’t assume my bird IDs are right here – it’s really hard to distinguish between similar shorebirds, especially since some have already molted into their winter plumage, some have not, and some are in transition. I got to the North Beach at sunrise and stayed there for about three hours. I was amazed at the tameness of the birds – they didn’t care a bit about the crazy lady carrying around a big …