Saturday, March 9, 2013

Take Me to the Beach...

After 8 or 9 days of beautiful spring-like weather, along with lots of birds starting to make their appearance (it's still early, so not a lot of diversity yet), I was really thinking hard about warm weather and birds. That all came crashing down yesterday with 7 inches of heavy snow and more in the forecast today. And that got me thinking about warm weather, beaches, and, the main reason I even like to go to beaches anymore, birds of the shore. So while it's gloomy and snowing outside here in southern Utah, join me for a trip to the beach . . . 
Purple Sandpipers breed in arctic tundra and have the northernmost winter range of all sandpipers. Every year, even though most of the population winters farther up the Atlantic coast, a few always make their way to Florida for the winter. This one was photographed on the south jetty at Ponce de Leon Inlet, New Smyrna Beach.
Smyrna Dunes Park is also on the south side of the inlet and is a great place to look for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds in winter. I once took a photo of a banded Piping Plover there and was actually able to read the number off of its band. After a few emails to different organizations - turned out the band wasn't from the U.S. - I finally was able to track down that the bird had been banded on an island in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.
On the north side of the inlet there are still more great shorebirds, like this Marbled Godwit, to be found. An inland breeder on the northern Great Plains, these large members of the sandpiper family can be found on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts as well as south into Mexico in winter.
One of my favorite times to head to the beach was in March and April when the gulls were in the highest state of their breeding plumage - black caps with deep red bills and legs. Not sure what this Laughing Gull was saying, but he was trying really hard to woo her in Daytona Beach.
Over on the other coast of Florida, near St. Petersburg, is Fort DeSoto Park; the local tern plumages also peak in March and April for great photo ops. It's also a great time to look for migrant warblers as well as other passserines ("perching birds") in the wooded areas of the park as they work their way north. Looking rather regal, this Royal Tern was looking for a mate out on the beach.
Least Terns are also present at DeSoto and in late April and May the males come courting with tiny fish that they present to their prospective mate. The whole routine is kind of fun to watch, though I'm not sure how to describe it in just a few words . . . 
Like the Least Tern, Wilson's Plovers breed in Florida and are seen in the spring after they've returned from their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America. 
Dunlin are another northern breeder that make their way to both coasts and the gulf in winter. Tidal mudflats have been the best places to find them for - this one at Fort DeSoto.
Greater Yellowlegs at sunrise at Florida's Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. In winter look for them in coastal regions of North America (though some migrate deep into South America). Most of the population breeds near freshwater ponds in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.
Considering the weather here, we'll wrap things up this month on the Texas Gulf Coast with, appropriately, a Snowy Plover . . . I'm not sure if this bird was laying low because of me or if it was the Peregrine Falcon that was patrolling the beach. Maybe both.


  1. love the photos. Great variety of shore birds.

  2. Wow! Great photos as usual, Kevin. Makes me long for the beaches and birds of Florida. . .

  3. Ah, nothing like a day at the beach. Thanks for taking us there Kevin, with your marvelous photos.

  4. simply beautifully captured shots...lovely!

  5. Beautiful variety of shore birds featured in this wonderful post! Oh, how I long for a peaceful walk on the beach after scrolling through these exquisite photographs.