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

Wilson’s Plover Nest

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Wilson's Plover on Eggs

On the morning that I photographed sunrise at Washington Oaks, I also made a stop at the Matanzas Tern Colony. In previous years, I’ve spent some very special mornings lying on the sand, watching the Least Terns and their tiny chicks. I was a little worried that the birds would find a new nesting site after their colony was devastated by Tropical Storm Beryl last year. But they came back! This year the birds seem to have nested higher in the dunes (which is good, as I write this in the wake of Tropical Storm Andrea). The Audubon Society has also roped off a much bigger stretch of the beach this year, probably partially because they were irritated that photographers kept getting too close to the birds last year. I was glad to see that the birds have a bigger space this year, even if it means I don’t get as many good shots. Very few Least Terns nest in Florida, and I think it’s important to protect their beach. Luckily for me, there was a very photographable Wilson’s Plover nest on the beach that morning. I’ve never had the opportunity to photograph nesting Wilson’s Plovers before, so I was […]

Beyond the Backyard

Least Tern Courtship

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Ever since my terrific morning photographing the Least Terns at Fort Matanzas last spring, I’ve been counting the days until their return. I couldn’t wait to have more opportunities to photograph these little birds. They return to Florida in the last few weeks of April and begin their courtship behaviors immediately. Their nests are tiny indentures in the sand, and their babies will hatch in late May to early June. The Least Terns are the smallest in their family of birds. There are several hundred birds in this colony near Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine. The Audubon society ropes off their nesting area so that people cannot accidentally walk on their nests. Not that you could miss the adult birds…they fly, they fuss, and if you get too close, they dive-bomb you! They were not particularly defensive last weekend since their babies haven’t hatched yet. Some birds were already on eggs, and others were still courting. The exchange of fish is an important part of the courtship ritual. The male will fly in with a fish, try to find his mate in the group of birds below, then land and hand her the fish. Sometimes she accepts it willingly. Sometimes […]

Beyond the Backyard

Tern Colony at Matanzas Inlet

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I’d heard about a Least Tern Colony at Matanzas Inlet.  It’s the biggest in Florida, numbering up to 200 nests (and yay for Audubon’s success in closing the beach to vehicles that were running over the nests and chicks!!) Since I was in the neighborhood this morning, I stopped by to check it out.  Except there wasn’t much to see!  The nesting zone is up in the dunes, and it is roped off so that people can’t inadventently step on the birds.  Their nests are just little hollows in the sand, easily missed by even the most careful people.  I was careful not to get too close, since disturbing the adults in late-morning heat can be detrimental to the eggs.  But all I could find were two nests.  It was a little disappointing. I did get a consolation prize, though.  There was a Wilson’s Plover with three tiny fuzzballs–I mean, three tiny chicks.  They ran up and down the beach very quickly on those tiny legs.  They were hard to catch with the camera!  I was hand-holding the Beast, too.  But I got one decent shot.  

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 […]