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.
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!