More Coasting Along

Header Image: Least Sandpiper

Our trip took place on March 10 and we were a bit late in the season to see as many migratory waterfowl as we might have seen three or four weeks earlier. Continuing my personal goal of “always late”, the first part of this post was late and this final chapter is much later than anticipated.

Life interferes with plans. (All is good, just busy.)

After a leisurely lunch under the shady oaks, Gini and I meandered around Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve for a few more wonderful hours. This is the kind of place where you wonder what might be around the next bend and there actually IS something there! Perhaps a Reddish Egret dancing for lunch. It could be an alligator contemplating whether he wants Gallinule again for dinner. A flight of American White Pelicans can almost blot out the sun as they pass overhead. Dowitchers in a line appear to be busy sewing in a quiet lagoon, their long bills moving straight up and down in unison.

A lazy drive along Bio Lab Road was filled with wondrous sights. The road runs along Mosquito Lagoon which is sandwiched between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean. West of the lagoon is mostly salt marsh and it was busy with all manner of wading birds as well as several hundred Blue-winged Teal. Dragonflies and butterflies were abundant as Spring began its warming of the earth and water. A few wildflowers added a bit of color to the afternoon.

Time was proceeding faster than we liked, as usual. A short visit down a couple of side roads revealed more birds actively feeding and bathing and preening. We needed to head home but decided to make one more circuit around Black Point Wildlife Drive. It’s amazing how much difference a few hours can make in what can be observed at the same spot. Many birds had moved some distance into the wetlands and a spotting scope was needed to identify most of the species. Others, such as a few dozen American Avocets, were busy enjoying a shallow-water dinner before the sun disappeared.

Speaking of disappearing – we reluctantly headed west over the Indian River toward home.

After lunch, a Great Egret flew over the entrance to a side road. We took that as a sign we should explore further.

Each Spring, all along the U.S. east coast, horseshoe crabs crawl ashore and deposit eggs into the sand. Shorebirds depend on the energy-rich eggs to help them complete their migratory flights to breeding grounds. We found a small group of Least Sandpipers and Sanderlings feeding along a stretch of beach where horseshoe crabs were present. The Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) is not really a crab but is more closely related to scorpions and spiders.

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper, Horseshoe Crab

Wading birds love the reserve’s diverse habitat which consists of beach, lagoons, fresh and salt water streams and marshes. This Tricolored Heron was stalking a salt water lagoon for crabs, fish and shrimp.

Almost everywhere we went, we found fluttering Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) butterflies.

On Common Beggarticks/Spanish Needles (Bidens alba)
On Fire On The Mountain (Euphorbia cyathophora)
Fire On The Mountain is sometimes called Wild Poinsettia.

American White Pelican flocks were abundant all throughout the reserve. During breeding season, adult birds develop a “horn” on their upper bill.

Walking along a canal, we found this Tricolored Heron perched in a mangrove tree. The bright blue at the base of the bill and white plume on its head indicate it’s a breeding adult.

On the railing of a boat dock, this bug looks almost metallic. It’s a member of the large Longhorn Beetle family and is most likely Mecas cana cana. (Thank you to my friend Roy Morris and also Robert Androw at for help with the identification.)

Laughing Gulls are one of Florida’s most common gull species. In breeding plumage, the black head appears “silky”.

Typically, Short-billed Dowitchers are found mostly in salt water habitat whereas its Long-billed cousin prefers fresh water. During migration, all bets are off. The two species are very similar in appearance but have different calls to help tell them apart. Our trio gave us a few calls to let us know they are Long-billed Dowitchers.

A group of American Avocets looked like some sort of synchronized feeding team as they all dipped and raised their heads in unison. Further along, we came across a group who had finished dinner and settled in for the night, along with some sleeping Blue-winged Teal.

Our day on the East Coast was all we hoped it would be. Sure, we always want to see “more” birds or something “rare”. For us, beginning a day watching the sun rise up from the Atlantic Ocean and spread its light over the marsh while we hold hands – that’s pretty hard to beat. Seeing a bit of nature’s beauty along the way didn’t hurt.

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

28 Comments on “More Coasting Along

  1. Don’t worry, you haven’t moved into the late zone until you have a 3 year backlog of trips you are trying to get caught up in. I get teased about that all the time, but like you said, life wrinkles plans. What a gorgeous blue on that Tricolored – not sure I have had the opportunity to see one in full breeding coloring. Is it possible to look at a Sanderling and not have a smile on your face !?! ..ssssooooo cute . Another excellent post.


    • Just do like I do. Post from a current trip and work your way backwards through your archives. (Okay, that doesn’t really work ’cause my backlog is still there. But it sounded like a good plan on paper.)

      Love those coastal specialties!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As always, your captures are exceptional, Wally! I especially love the Tricolored Heron in breeding colors, that beak is stunning with that bright blue. All those American Avocets you have there, when us up here in Maryland are going ga-ga over a single one that’s strayed off course. 😉 Merritt Island NWR looks wonderful, I would like to visit it some day soon!


  3. This wonderfully illustrated post from you, Wally, has made me realise how much I too get excited about coastal birding. Sadly, this year because of Lindsay’s knee op, we’re going to miss our customary May visit to the Outer Hebrides and their fabulous beaches, where birds are plentiful and humans relatively rare. Instead, we’re going to have to settle for a short visit to the coast of Dorset.

    Amongst your superb images, there are some stand-out ones for me, and they are the Tricolored Heron, the Longhorn Beetle, and the trio of Long-Billed Dowitchers – the latter brought a grin to my face!

    Sorry for the late visit – as you say, life sometimes gets in the way.

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


    • Isn’t it amazing how different our experience can be by just visiting a different habitat? We’re fortunate that we can reach both east and west coast as well as myriad habitats in between without having to travel too far.

      Now, having the time to do all that – aye, there’s the rub!

      Your replies are always exactly on time, and we appreciate your visits.


  4. It always pleases me to see a fine portait of a ‘common’ bird like the Laughing Gull. They’re one of my favorites, but like sparrows they’re seemingly ‘everywhere,’ which sometimes leads to them seeming to be invisible.

    Bidens alba shows up on Galveston Island, as well as those Great Southern Whites. The Fire on the Mountain intrigued me. I would have assumed it was Euphorbia heterophylla, the Wild Poinsettia. Those wild ones surrounded my house in Liberia, and I wondered if that was their native territory. Turns out it wasn’t. In an unusual twist, E. heterophylla is native to Mexico, but spread to Africa. I couldn’t find any information about how that happened, but it’s a reminder that non-native or invasive plants can move in several directions.

    Our White Pelicans usually are gone by now, but I saw three of them in the sky last week. Whether they were stragglers, or had decided to hang around and enjoy our summer is hard to say.


    • I’m trying hard to pay more attention to the “common birds”. For one thing, they are, well – common. As such, they often offer good photographic opportunities. Not to mention, they are all beautiful in our world.

      Once one begins exploring Euphorbia, the euphoria wears off quickly. I grew up in Miami and Tampa and Dad always made sure we had plenty of poinsettias around as it was Mom’s favorite.

      We have both American White and Brown Pelicans all year but the numbers of White diminishes greatly as migrants return home.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really enjoy watching the Avocets. They seem to share a mind, all pointed one way, and then switching and all pointing the other way. Add me to the first-readers list for the Dowager Dowitcher of Euphorbia Marsh!


    • They are fascinating to watch in a large flock as they march across the shallow flats. Handsome birds.

      You’re on the list. At my current speed of creativity, don’t run to the mail box just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like those synchronised waders Wally. Nicely timed pictures. I felt rather sorry for the crabs losing many of their eggs and then remembered that they can afford to lose a few out of the hundreds? they deposit.

    I heard somewhere that there were floods in parts of Florida and as you have commented on my blog and made your own post, albeit about March, that you both safe, well, and dry? Let’s hope the rains washed Disney away and that Ron won’t be needed to complete the job.

    I was interested to hear of your way of separating the dowitchers by call. I learnt the call of Short billed in Long Point, a place where I saw and heard many Short billed but no Long billed to compare. The same year I came across a bird here in Lancashire, one I was convinced was a Short -billed because of the call I heard, almost identical to a Turnstone flight call. Other birders who saw the now settled bird but heard no calls were convinced they were looking at a Long-billed. Short-billed are mega rare on the west coast of the UK while Long-billed are just rare, a slight but perhaps important distinction. The issue remains unresolved in my mind but Long-billed was accepted as the record and my Short-billed discounted. Shucks!

    What’s this I hear about Old Joe running again? Is it April 1st again?

    Out today. Caught 3 birds. Things are looking up.


    • Now, if I can just get the waders to do their thing closer to the camera!

      It’s estimated a female Horseshoe Crab will lay clusters of up to 4,000 eggs at one time. And she may do that several times a night, depositing as many as 20,000 eggs in total. Pretty impressive.

      The recent Florida flooding was in the southernmost portion of the state and we barely had a damp day. It has been proven that mice are good swimmers – even the Mickey ones. Sigh.

      I find the Long-billed Dowitcher’s call to be higher in pitch than the Short-billed and usually more “frantic” sounding.

      Ahhh, yes, good Old Joe. I suspect his own party has other plans for installing the next puppet – errr, President, and it likely won’t be him. Hopefully, we can find a way to thwart them. Turns out, for some aging Presidents, every day is Fool’s day.

      Good on you for getting out and even better for adding jewelry to three grateful birds!


  7. What a totally blissful, beautiful day.
    Our pelicans don’t develop that horn. I wonder why not – and what evolutionary advantage having it (or not) gives.


    • It really was a special day, EC.

      Out of the world’s eight species of pelican, only the American White Pelican develops that “horn”, likely related to a sign of fertility. It drops off after breeding season.

      Hope your new week will be fantastic!


  8. Inquiring minds want to know: are there dowagers among the dowitchers?

    You’ve revealed a species you have in common with central Texas: Euphorbia cyathophora, fire-on-the-mountain. Here we also have snow-on-the-mountain and snow-on-the-prairie, all in the same genus.

    Many of us are less familiar with avocets than with avocados, which I suspect are tastier. And look at the etymology of avocet:


    • You have now compelled me to begin making notes for a short story for my grandchildren about the Dowager Dowitcher of Euphorbia Marsh. It may include an adventure with her companion, Doña Aguacate Avocet.

      Now see what you’ve done.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: