Beyond the Backyard

Shorebirds Returning to Florida’s Beaches

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Sanderling

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach

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Sunset on 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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Pleasant Morning at Fort De Soto

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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

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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

Sunrise at Fort De Soto

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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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at Fort De Soto

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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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

My First Trip to Fort De Soto

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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 […]