Monday, November 26, 2012

Fort De Soto Park, FL - 21 Nov 2012

Piping Plover
Robin and I flew into Tampa International Airport yesterday to spend Thanksgiving with my baby sister,  (Dr.) Michelle.  We met her for dinner at the Parkshore Grill in St. Petersburg, then spent the night at her apartment.  Dr. Shell had to work today, so Robin and I headed south to Fort De Soto Park for a much-needed birding/digiscoping outing.  The looked promising, with clear skies and temps headed for the mid-upper 70's.

We arrived at the park just before 9 am and immediately headed for the boat launch to our right.  Osprey were nesting just off the parking lot, and flocks of Royal Terns, Laughing Gullls, Sandwich Terns, and shorebirds (American Golden Plover, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Ruddy Turnstone) were roosting on the piers.  This American Golden Plover was snoozing just off the launch site, so I grabbed a few pics from inside the car.

We stopped at the headquarters to pick up a map and check out any rarity sightings.  I walked around out behind the building to the shoreline and found a few shorebirds willing to be photographed.  Willet, Forster's Terns, and a nesting Osprey were cooperative subjects.  A Common Ground Dove flew past me while walking back to the car, but continued into the woods.

An American Kestrel was perched on the wire next to the parking lot, so I ran and got the scope.  Robin and I then digiscoped it for the next 10 minutes while it scanned the roadside and preened.

"Speak louder, Sonny. I can barely hear you!"

We drove to the East Beach to look for shorebirds, and shorebirds we found!  Willet, American Golden Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Sanderlings, Least Sanpipers and Ruddy Turnstones were foraging all up and down the beach.  Unfortunately the birds were severely backlit by the rising sun, so I my lighting was not the best.  Still, I dropped to my stomach and attempted to photograph them from ground level.

The birds were quite tame. I was able to get within a few feet of birds as they worked their way past me. Fast shutters were needed, since they picked up their pace as they got closer.  Despite the less-than-stellar lighting I got some nice, sharp images w/ the 300/2.8VRII.  All was going great until I started feeling a burning sensation in my arms.  FIRE ANTS!  Frick!  Scrambling to my feet I brushed off a half-dozen of the little demons and headed back to the car.  The burning sensation was much like walking through a field of bramble while covered in sweat; but more intense.  Ouch!

This Gulf Fritillary was sunning itself next to the car. Gorgeous little 'long-wing' butterfly!

We headed back toward the North Beach area, but stopped several times along the way to photograph the several Loggerhead Shrikes that were perched alongside the road.  The powerlines that run the length of the road make great perches for these birds, as well as the numerous American Kestrels.

At the extreme end of the North Beach I hiked through the trees to the water's edge and found a large flock of Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Black Skimmers, and shorebirds roosting on a small sandspit.  Too far away for useful digiscoping I turned my attention to a small group of Dunlin that were foraging along the near shoreline.  Among them were a very cooperative Willet, and a Piping Plover.

As I followed them a Reddish Egret flew in and settled down in the water a few yards from shore.  I spent some time digiscoping the hunting egret, then turned my scope onto a Snowy Egret that appeared in front of me.

Wanting to get some images of the skimmers, I doffed my boots, hiked up my pant legs, and waded across the small lagoon to the main beach head.  BTW, the tiny cockleburs / sandburs that grow in this area are razor-like, especially when you find them wedged in your toes. Ouch, again!

As I headed toward the flock of roosting gulls/terns/skimmers I came across another couple of Piping Plovers and a Semipalmated Plover. This particular Piping Plover had several bands on its legs.  From my digiscoped images I was able to make out the following:

Left leg - Orange band on tibia

Right leg - Metal band on tibia - best I can read is -2277 over -03541-
                Orange over Blue band on tarsus

I sent the information to the Great Lakes Waterbird Research Program at the University of Minnesota and got an almost immediat response from Alice Van Zoeren, who informed me that the USGS band (metal w/ numbers) ID'd the bird as a hatchling from Ludington, MI this past summer (2012)!  Thanks for the great response, Alice!

An American Oystercatcher was foraging along the shoreline and approached to within about 50 feet before flushing and flying across the beach.  I was able to get a few images of it before it flew away. 

Overhead an Osprey was challenging a Belted Kingfisher to determine which bird was better at hovering over open water.  The Osprey won.  The Kingfisher made several dive attempts, but failed to catch any fish.  The Osprey snared a small redfish on its first attempt.

The Black Skimmers spent most of the time sleeping w/ their beaks tucked in their wings.  When one or two birds did finally stir I was able to catch some nice images of the long, lower bill and the severely-shortend upper bill.

While waiting for the skimmers to wake the Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns provided some nice portrait shots.

Having taken almost 1000 digiscoped images I decided to head back to the car.  As I was just about to unload the gear a half-dozen Wood Storks flew overhead and provided some ridiculously-close photos against the blue sky.  You could even see the iridescent green in their flight feathers when the sun hit just right!

1 comment:

Laurent said...


Had a similar experience in Florida with another Michigan piping plover.

crummy digibinned pictures, obviously, but enough for a ID of the bands....

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