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

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

Tiny Stilts and Willets at Merritt Island NWR

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This morning I was off to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) in search of baby Black-Necked Stilts.  I’d seen a very photographable nest there last weekend, and I was hoping to see chicks there today.  At first I was disappointed – the nest was deserted. But I drove around some more and found some little stilts.  Aren’t they cute? I found these guys on East Gator Creek.  First I located their parents by listening – the stilts are very loud when they are in protective mode.  After I heard two adults fussing in a particular area, I watched for the chicks.  I found these three in a little pond by the mud flats.  They stood by calmly as their parents tried to chase off all other birds—and given then number of Roseate Spoonbill fly-bys, this was no easy task.  Those poor parents must be hoarse by the end of the day! I was also lucky to find a Willet with her young chick.  I’d never seen a baby Willet before.  These guys were just running along one of the mud flats on East Gator Creek.  They ran so fast that I only had a few seconds to capture some […]

Beyond the Backyard

Of Drunken Sailors and Crab Legs (Fort De Soto)

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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

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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

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 […]