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.

Red-breasted Merganser
Great Egret, Red-breasted Merganser
Little Blue Heron, Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser

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!

23 Comments on “Beach In Winter

  1. The cold front didn’t bring any snow?? hehe πŸ˜‰ Beautiful shots, Wally, love your Osprey capture, makes me miss ours which will be back here on St Patrick’s Day (thereabouts). πŸ€—πŸ€—

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  2. Thank you for sharing your wonderful impressions and good cheer. I also have a number of special places that lift the spirit, but can only dream of seeing such a variety of birds in the middle of winter. 😊

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  3. The head and neck feathers of the Reddish Egret always make me smile, and this one’s post shows that kind-of-raggedy-kind-of-punk aspect of them wonderfully well. The other thing that caught my eye is the fish the osprey is carrying. We’d not see anything like that here! My best guess is Pompano, but that could be wrong. It sure makes for a wonderful, Florida-ish photo.

    We’ve had a couple of enthusiastic cold fronts, with freezing temperatures and sub-freezing wind chills. Today? I looked for my dust cloth. Tomorrow, I’ll see about getting out — we’re going to be all the way up to 50F!

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    • Reddish Egrets can be entertaining just by standing still. But, oh, they usually do so much more!

      Good eye! I ran after that Osprey hoping he would drop that delectable Pompano! Outstanding seafood!

      Same here on the weather front. (Oops, a pun.) Today was unexpectedly fun as the front was passing through. Windy, wet, cold – and pretty good birding. Tomorrow clear but c-c-cold.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful photographs, Wally. The early bird really does get the worm. I am especially drawn to the excellent picture of the Forster’s tern, a species that breeds here in the summer, generally in small numbers near the shore of Lake Erie. In recognition of its plain wings it is generally referred to here as “Frosty Forster’s!”

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    • Thank you very much, David.

      It is all too easy to overlook some of our “plain” birds, but the beauty of all our avian neighbors cannot be denied. I need to work on obtaining photos of the terns and gulls (and other “coastal” birds), in both breeding and non-breeding plumage.

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  5. I’m impressed by your ability to make early starts to your day, Wally, especially as your days are currently more than two hours longer than ours. I guess that you must have been on the road before 06.30 if you were in position just after sunrise. Our alarm is usually set to wake us up at 06.45, but we’re rarely ready to venture out before 09.00! If I thought that an earlier start would bring me such results as those shown here, I would be more than tempted, even though it would mean leaving Lindsay behind.

    It seemed strange that, by coincidence, you started with three species of bird that we are, thankfully, familiar with in UK, and count amongst some of my favourites. I will never tire of watching Sanderling scurrrying along the water’s edge.

    I hadn’t realised how beautiful a Forster’s Tern was until I saw your image.

    Thank you for this splendid post, which has got me looking forward to our own forthcoming trip to the coast in a few weeks time.

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

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    • You are correct about our early start. We left before 6:00 due not only distance but the morning commuter traffic between here and there is ferocious!

      Aren’t shorebirds a treasure! I love just sitting at the edge of the surf at marvel as dozens of Sanderlings move around me as if they are one organism.

      Gini and I hope you and Lindsay have a special time at the coast!

      In the meantime, take good care.

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  6. Thank you for the update Wally. It was very nice to see your photos. I haven’t been over there since before the pandemic – it’s a long drive for us.

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  7. We are so blessed to have so many good places to enjoy nature! You took some amazing photos…the Osprey is great! Love seeing the shorebirds too. We both traveled to the Gulf Coast this week. With the changing weather, it does seem like there are a lot of different birds to enjoy, even on the drive over. Enjoy your weekend and thanks again for being there for me. Your help with bird IDs is very much appreciated! Hugs, Diane

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    • You are right. We’re so spoiled with having a great selection of places to explore Florida’s natural resources. Many are just a short distance away, too.

      Happy to help anytime. Hope I got some right!

      Cold but clear morning forecast for tomorrow. Birds await!

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  8. A couple of familiar birds there and if I squint a little it could look like several places along our coast, but I bet it’s several degrees warmer!

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  9. Another Wonderful post Wally. Well worth travelling the 60 miles to see all those birds. great shots by the way. I love the Red Heron. I think I would have watched him preening for ages. It always lifts my spirit when I read what you write at the beginning. You are such a wonderful story teller. Thanks for that. I hope Gini and you are well and will soon be off on another birding adventure.

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    • Good evening, Margaret!

      We always love our excursions to the coast. As a matter of fact, I did spend a long time just watching Big Red preening!

      Gini says to assure you we are both very well, indeed, and has already set the alarm for tomorrow morning’s trip. Time for bed!

      All the best.

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  10. Your photos are a window into the clear air and slanted sunshine of tropical winter. Great collection of birds and bird photos – and fantastic shot of the osprey with his fish! I was curious about your statement that tides are more extreme during the winter “because the moon is closer to us”. I checked on the NOAA website… it says “When the Earth is closest to the sun (perihelion), around January 2 of the calendar year, tidal ranges are enhanced. At aphelion, when the Earth is furthest from the sun, around July 2, tidal ranges are reduced”. Every month, during the Moon’s perigee in its elliptical orbit around the Earth, the more significant lunar tide gets a little boost from the solar tide. So, I think you’re right about the observed winter tides being more pronounced… but it isn’t because of the change in distance to the moon, the winter boost is due to the change in distance to the sun.

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