Dinner And A Show

Header Image: Sunset After The Storm

“They sure know how to cook fish right!” Once again, I was admonished not to speak with my mouth full.

Gini and I were profoundly fortunate to have been raised in Florida. Surrounded on three sides by salt water with plentiful freshwater lakes throughout the state, it was only natural that fish was on the menu quite often. We were both blessed with parents who taught us the art of fishing and Gini was doubly blessed as her Mother taught her how to properly prepare the catch for the table. We weren’t aware of it when we were growing up, but our knowledge resulted in us becoming “fish snobs”.

An abundance of seafood eateries does not, unfortunately, equate to an abundance of correctly prepared seafood. Indeed, there have been long periods of time when we would shun any such restaurant, preferring to catch and cook our own seafood.

A few years ago, we stumbled across a small shack with a dozen picnic tables under an overhanging roof with a sign out front: “Fresh Mullet”. For anyone not raised along Florida’s Gulf coast, they would most likely think the place sold fish bait. There are apparently some scientific reasons that mullet found along our west coast taste good. I won’t go into that here. Striped (or black) mullet (Mugil cephalus) and white (or silver) mullet (Mugil curema) are the two varieties of mullet commercially harvested in Florida. The most common methods of preparing them are fried and smoked. We somewhat reluctantly ordered two mullet dinners. On our next visit, they had fresh grouper. On the next, shrimp. Each time we have been extremely satisfied with the results.

So there we were the other day, scraping up the crumbs of our most recent grouper meal and Gini wondering aloud if I felt like driving around before heading home. My usual reflexive response jumped out of my mouth like a mullet breaking the surface of the bay: “Is that a trick question?”

It was already late afternoon and there was a better that 50% chance of running into a thunderstorm, but that has never slowed us down before. We headed over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which spans Tampa Bay and entered Fort DeSoto Park as clouds began to darken in the east.

Along the east beach, a few shorebirds were scurrying along the receding tide line and exploring the wrack for small invertebrates hiding in the seaweed. Large Brown Pelicans were crashing into the deeper water and scooping up sardines. I had the bright idea to hurry to the north beach, thinking there would be millions of birds seeking the shelter of the dunes due to the approaching storm.

Wading across a shallow channel, I explored a sandbar that is normally teeming with birds. I found about a dozen plovers and sandpipers, a few seagulls and ten Black Skimmers. The protective sand dunes along the adjacent beach were devoid of any life. Except me. The storm front began to move westward into the Gulf of Mexico and it began to get dark. Really dark. Turning around, large raindrops smacked me in the face and streaks of lightning lit up the inky sky to the east. Removing the camera from the tripod, I wrapped my hat around it and trudged through the deep sand toward the car. Yes. I got wet.

As we sat in the car, thunder booming and rain pelting down, I asked Gini if she was ready to head home. Since she hesitated to answer, I took advantage of the moment and asked if she minded one more visit to the east beach. The rain had stopped and a break in the clouds just at sunset provided the light I had hoped would materialize. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, distant shoreline, moon, more gathering clouds and calm water provided a rewarding climax to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

There were several Wilson’s Plover at the east beach. We found a mix of adult and immature birds. The adults were already changing into their non-breeding plumage. A relatively large dark bill helps identify this species.

Wilson’s Plover – Adult
Wilson’s Plover – Immature
Wilson’s Plover – Adult

A bit larger than Wilson’s, the Semipalmated Plover has a smaller bill and shows more yellow in the legs. This one is still in breeding plumage.

In a few more weeks, this Red Knot will be a dull gray all over. Timing is everything.

Juvenile European Starlings have dark bills and some dark feathers with white tips beginning to show. This one was part of a flock of about two dozen.

Hopes of finding large numbers of birds at the north beach were dashed as storm clouds passed overhead. Birds, having time and again demonstrated they are mentally superior to yours truly, were most likely in the local cafe enjoying a shrimp cocktail.

A Black Skimmer searched for a last-minute snack before the heavy rains started.

Peeking through the sea oats among the dunes, dark clouds moved out into the gulf and teased us with a bit of blue sky. Directly behind me looked like midnight and the rain (not to mention the lightning) persuaded me it was time to find the car.

As I approached the car, a racoon wondered why I wasn’t climbing the nearest tree like she had. Didn’t I know it was raining? Everyone’s a critic.

Perfectly prepared fish dinner, a few birds, a little storm, sunset, moonrise. Our dinner and show could not have been better.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

24 Comments on “Dinner And A Show

  1. Enjoy your trip folks. Take your bins just in case there are birds from the window. Kids!!

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  2. Great set of pictures – I wonder if I will ever get to see a racoon in the fur (so to speak!) As we move out of winter here I can start looking forward to the arrival of our seasonal waders – I just wish I could see them in their breeding finery!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    PS: sorry about long gap between comments, being locked down is not great for me!

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    • Thank you, Stewart.

      I’ll see if I can box up one our backyard raccoons and get him to you by the summer.

      No worries about gaps between comments. I am a prime offender in that regard!

      Take good care. This, too, shall pas..

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  3. You can’t beat fresh fish well -prepared. We lived in New Orleans and grew to love Pompano en Papillote, Grouper and Red Snapper along with the various seafood bisques and courtbouillon. We found it difficult to imitate them at home, but any fresh fillet will taste great when broiled or gently baked with the proper herbs.. That storm was scary. If I hear thunder I figure the storm is getting too close. Our problem is that our walk takes us out over a mile into an area with no shelter, so we are extra cautious.

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    • There was a time when we seldom went a month without enjoying at least one of those three fantastic fish you mention!

      I totally appreciate being cautious! Just this little excursion reminded me I can’t outrun (okay, at my age, “out-walk”) one of our fast-moving thunderstorms.

      Here’s hoping we both enjoy a rewarding fall migration!

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  4. Good fish, cooked well is one of life’s great treats. The best seafood meal I ever had was in a small fishing village in Croatia where knowledge of fish and culinary expertise was part of the DNA of the inhabitants there. It was truly superb. Seeing those Wilson’s Plovers reminded me that most individuals I have seen of this species were from the causeway crossing over to Sanibel Island. Delightful little plover.

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    • If anyone ever challenges my intellectual acuity, I prove that I am an actual genius by showing them my marriage certificate. I married very well.

      Gini’s prowess with seafood is the stuff of legend.

      We’re fortunate to have Wilson’s Plovers all year and watching the change in plumages and observing the chicks is definitely a treat.

      We hope you and Miriam are well and we appreciate the migrants you are about to send our way.

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  5. You will be pleased to hear that this evening we dined on grilled Sea Bass caught along Pilling Sands Morecambe Bay, cooked by your truly. Divine it was but unfortunately we had no potatoes in the cupboard so we didn’t quite make fish and chips and settled for a dollop of mushy peas that Sue had in the freezer – ughh!

    Those waders of yours are so clever in eating the almost same diet that your fish also consume the sea worms, shells and tiny crustaceans that make the flesh of fish so wonderful. The only mullet that is plentiful around here is I believe the grey mullet and one to be avoided as they feed in the most unhygienic outposts. But I bow to your expert and experienced FL knowledge there.

    I’m looking forward to Greece in a week or two – Black Sea Bream on the bone!

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    • Your dinner description has me ready for fish dinner again. Mullet is definitely a product of its environment. When we were kids, there was a simple rule: mud – bad; sand – good.

      Sadly, today one must know more about the fishing grounds to be sure the quality of the water is good. Actually, some parts of our state have done very good work in that department over the past couple of decades.

      We hope the new week is treating you decently. I know you’re excited about heading to Greece soon!

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  6. Really enjoyed this story, and your images. Glad you weathered the storm ok – being out with my camera in the edges of the weather is one of my favorite activities.

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  7. Beautiful shots from my favorite place. Although I hadn’t been much this summer due to red tide. Was wondering if your favorite mullet place it Ted Peters? We use to go there often when Brett’s aunt lived nearby.

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    • Your beautiful photography from Ft. DeSoto always motivates me to head to the beach, Dina!

      We found a “hole-in-the-wall” spot in Ruskin, “The Fish House”. Wed-Sat only and only the outside picnic tables. But they know how to cook fish!

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  8. Wonderful post, Wally. You’ve made me nostalgic for both Fort DeSoto (haven’t been since way before the pandemic) and mullet (we used to eat them all the time when we lived in Satellite Beach).

    And I agree with shoreacres. Your photo of the sea oats, dunes and clouds is just gorgeous – well done.

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  9. I am so glad that you and Gini are kindred souls and can enjoy the good (and the important) things together. My father often reminded me that my skin is water proof. Sadly my camera (superior to me in many ways) is not.

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  10. It’s not getting wet that would worry me, Wally, but carrying camera and tripod when there’s lightning around and not much else to attract it other than me and the kit! I’m extremely relieved to hear that you got away with it.

    However, it does not get much better than birding and seafood in the same day, especially when the quality of both is so good. I am, to say the least, quite envious. Thank goodness I’d just had my evening meal before reading this or I might have drowned in – – no I won’t go there!

    It looks as if our cold, dull, and breezy weather is, at last, going to come to an end next week after a dreary few weeks. Maybe I’ll get out into nature once more.

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

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    • I’m with you, Richard. Normally, I don’t even venture out if it looks like lightning weather. Our Florida storms arrive faster than I can move sometimes, however!

      You are so right about seafood and birding in the same day! We are a couple of lucky natives.

      Here’s hoping your good weather materializes and you’re able to get out for a bit. Before then, I hope to catch up on your posts. (And everyone else’s, too!)

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  11. The photo just below the juvenile starling’s my favorite. As much as I enjoy the birds (and the raccoon!) that’s a wonderfully artistic photo. The strong lines and divisions make it seem almost architectural.

    I had some juvenile starlings at my feeders this year. It took me a while to identify them; they were at the same stage, with those bits of white feather seeming almost chevron-like. The bird I envy is that Wilson’s Plover in the first photo. It’s been so impossibly hot here I can’t think of anything better than sinking down into a puddle like that. Puddles made of sweat don’t quite cut it.

    Every time you mention eating mullet, I smile. Yours must taste better than ours; I’m sure it’s the water that makes the difference. As some have been saying of our stirred up waters recently, “That bay’s so muddy you could track a coon across it.”

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    • It was incredibly refreshing to be alone on the beach as those clouds rolled by. I was only ankle deep in water but it sure felt good. ‘Til the lightning got my attention.

      If you get a chance to visit Florida’s gulf coast, be sure to ask a local where to get fried mullet. And if the joint offers grits and tomato gravy, you know you’re in the right spot!

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