Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Bird Photography at Fort De Soto

Posted on
Red-Breasted Merganser

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, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Pleasant Morning at Fort De Soto

Posted on

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Windy and Cold at Fort De Soto

Posted on

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Escape to Fort De Soto

Posted on

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Early Fall Migrants at Fort De Soto

Posted on

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Of Drunken Sailors and Crab Legs (Fort De Soto)

Posted on

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, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunrise at Fort De Soto

Posted on

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 […]