Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Bird Photography at Fort De Soto

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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

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

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

Fishing Buddies

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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!

Beyond the Backyard

East Beach Sunrise

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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. 

Beyond the Backyard

Piggy-Back Rides – Fort De Soto Laughing Gulls

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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…

Beyond the Backyard

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

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The Black Skimmer colony that I posted about yesterday is at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a non-profit bird hospital. I enjoyed walking around and seeing the birds that are under treatment there. They have so many pelicans! Black-Crowned Night Herons hung around all over, offering nice photo ops. When you walk out to the beach, there are birds everywhere. There’s the skimmer colony, but the skimmers are just some of the crowd. The gulls and terns practically cover the beach. I had to laugh as I watched the Laughing Gulls strutting up and down the beach in their fading summer plumage. Their black heads look so scruffy as they molt! All the times I’ve visited Fort De Soto, I’ve wanted to get pictures of the Willets in flight. They are so common as they walk up and down the shore, but they fly very quickly. Normally I have the tripod-mounted Beast and by the time I see the bird and get set up, I miss the shot. At the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary beach on Sunday, I was using my 70-200 + 2x TC combo, and my reaction time was faster. I finally got my sharp flight shot of a Willet.

Beyond the Backyard

Early Fall Migrants at Fort De Soto

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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

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

Sunset at Fort De Soto

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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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Quiet Morning at Fort De Soto

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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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Spring is in the Air at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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  It’s amazing how different a place can look after two weeks.  The weather kept me from Circle B last weekend, and I think it’s driven a lot of the birds away too.  The ponds that used to be covered in American Coots and American Wigeons were virtually empty.  Not an American White Pelican did we see.  I counted a lone Wood Stork.  Only the Sandhill Cranes roosted as usual, but they had to move to higher ground.  All the recent rains have refilled the dry pond beds – Circle B looks like a marsh again!   Robins greeted us high in trees above the parking lot as we arrived.  I heard lots of American Goldfinches as well.  As we turned onto Heron Hideout, the American Kestrel was on a dead palm on the west side of the trail.  Blue-Winged Teals have already moved into the new ponds.  I love photographing on Heron Hideout at dawn.  The water is usually still and the sun angle is perfect for awesome reflections.  I know Blue-Winged Teals are common, but they are so pretty. There is a dead tree at the "Four Corners" intersection that houses a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and his family.  I’ve […]

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 […]