November 20th I found myself in Clearwater, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Cross any bridge over the bay around Tampa and you'll see Osprey and Cormorants on light posts and shorebirds perched on concrete breaker walls and any open shoreline. Brown Pelicans float effortlessly by your car windows and Terns pierce the water. You may see a Magnificent Frigatebird if you're lucky. Any pond on the land may be occupied by any number of Herons, Egrets, or Ibis but the Anhingas, with their wings spread, own the ponds. A Palm Warbler was in a bush outside a Panera when I stopped for lunch. The sky was blue and the weather was in the low 80's. I loved it all and I'm sure I missed plenty, but I didn't care. A co-worker wanted to see dolphins and I wanted to see birds and anything and everything else, so we picked Fort De Soto Park
. This area is particularly noteworthy for birding during migration because of its location on the Gulf of Mexico and how weather patterns can effect bird movements. See map below. View Larger Map
If you really want to be tempted to visit here, check out this link to their Bird Checklist
Ruddy Turnstones were everywhere! I was shocked by how tame they were, just hanging out on the piers.
I was in an absolute shorebird frenzy, wishing I had both brought my field guide with me and studied what I should be seeing prior to the visit. I felt good about most ID's I made: Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Red Knots, Sanderlings, Dowitchers...I thought I saw a couple of Stilt Sandpipers in the mix, but ebird flagged it and the local ebird rep commented that it was "unusual" - a reminder to me the importance of knowing what you should expect to see prior to a visit so if something out of the ordinary does show up you can document it more carefully. Birding is of course an enjoyable hobby and that's why we do it, but ebird is an invaluable citizen science project and it deserves to have the best and most accurate data possible. I wasn't confident enough so I amended my list and learned the lesson to do a little more advance research next time. Ebird has all the tools to do so and it is fun to know what to look for.
On a sad note, the area is lined with fishing piers and of course an abundance of fishermen - who I don't begrudge for catching some dinner. However, fishing hook injuries to birds were on full display - especially to the Brown Pelicans. I saw many with hooks dangling out of bills and off of tails and wings. It is difficult not to notice when your eyes are open to such things.
As we drove back towards the hotel and were leaving Fort De Soto in the early evening, I scared my coworker a bit as I suddenly slammed on the brakes and did a u-turn with the car and said, "I think there's a Wood Stork on the other side of the road with a Great Blue Heron." That didn't really mean anything to her, but once I showed her, I think she got why I had to stop.
Labels: commentary, Travel