Beach In Winter
Header Image: Sandbar With Pelicans and Shorebirds
Mid-January. Cold front scheduled in a couple of days. Where to go birding?
If you happen to be native Floridians who love to bird-watch, there is only one place to go in winter.
THE BEACH !
We made it to North Beach at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg, Florida just after sunrise. The glow of the early morning sun gives everything a very special look. Heading across the mud which had only recently been covered by the Gulf of Mexico, dozens of small shorebirds scurried to and fro probing for a breakfast morsel. The mud soon gave way to the sugary white sand for which this beach is famous. Standing at the tide line, blue water stretched to infinity.
Perhaps there is no actual difference in the aroma of the air at the beach and the aroma of the air 60 miles inland. Psychologically, “salt air” affects my mood. Of course, a sky filled with screeching and wheeling gulls and terns, fish jumping, a diverse array of birds up and down the shoreline – perhaps the combination of all of the above has something to do with mood enhancement.
Fort DeSoto Park offers a surprising amount of diversity considering its relatively small area. Beaches, lagoons, wooded tracts, fishing piers – all attract an amazing collection of birds which can be affected by time of year and weather. Fall and spring migration here can be nothing short of stupendous. Many shorebirds nest among the sand dunes and, as we discovered, even in winter there are plenty of birds to enjoy.
A mid-morning peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with fresh strawberries was made even more enjoyable by our view of a sandbar packed with American White Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Willets and dozens of sandpipers. It was not that long ago Gini and I motored our skiff through Bunces Pass into the Gulf of Mexico for a day of fantastic fishing a few miles off-shore. Great memories.
We visited the two fishing piers and enjoyed the very active terns and Brown Pelicans crashing into schools of small fish. All that activity got the attention of a trio of Bottlenose Dolphins who slashed through the swimming buffet scattering the small fish which were picked off by the avian shoppers.
At the East Beach turnaround, we found more small sandpipers, larger Willets and a group of Red Knots. Alas, our observation was cut short with the arrival of a group of parasailers who unloaded their gear in front of us and in short order the water and sky were crowded with humans and their toys.
Colorful and fun!
Sigh. Time to move on.
I know. It’s not “our” beach. I shall try to be more tolerant. (No promises.)
A few images of our morning may help enhance your mood, too.
During winter, tides are more extreme due to the moon’s proximity. The shorebirds appreciate all that exposed real estate!
Dunlin are plentiful here during winter and, as most other shorebirds, are dressed in drab plumage. No matter what they wear, they are fun to watch.
Another shorebird we see in large numbers at this time of year is the Sanderling. Pale overall with clean undersides, they always seem to be afraid of getting their feet wet as they scurry away from incoming waves.
Osprey. The pre-eminent fisher.
An oak tree near the beach provided a great perch for this Loggerhead Shrike. Not a bird one might associate with the beach.
A Royal Tern spotted a potential snack. A quick turn by the tern and splash! Sardine for breakfast.
Although not generally common, this is a great area to find the Reddish Egret. This one spent a good amount of time preening in the early morning sun.
A group of Red-breasted Mergansers flew into a lagoon I was walking around, settled in and had a successful foraging session.
With plain wings and a distinctive black patch behind the eye, a Forster’s Tern appreciated the dolphins pushing a school of small fish close to the surface.
Bunces Pass provides a navigable gateway for boats headed into the Gulf of Mexico. Know the tides and follow the channel markers or you’ll run aground!
Wind over a long period of time can shape trees as they grow. This old oak certainly had its fair share of twists. Gini imagines a pair of eyes peering at her and branches reaching out.
Several dozen Lesser Scaup floated peacefully in one lagoon, sleeping and preening. A male in the foreground was napping with one eye on us as a female in the rear was on full alert.
For us, visiting the beach in winter is every bit as good as any other season! We hope you have a special place which helps lift your spirits any time of the year.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!