Friday, February 15, 2008

By the Sea, By the Sea

How relaxing the beach can be. If you are a birder, though, you still take binoculars and camera when sunbathing. You never know when a wonderful photo op will present itself!
The beach for our condo in Pompano Beach hosted a steady population of Black Skimmers, Sanderlings, Willet, Ring Billed and Herring Gulls, some Ruddy Turnstones and Black Bellied Plovers. I thought the birds were vacationing at their timeshare too, since they congregated at the same spot on the beach every day, along with the two legged winter visitors. If a strolling tourist came too close in their walk along the beach, the birds might walk a little faster themselves, or take wing for a quick flight to circle around the intruder. Once the person was gone, they quickly reclaimed their original spot. I don't think they used much sunblock though!
At first glance, the Sanderlings and the Black Bellied Plover resembled each other. The Sanderlings spend all day running back and forth before the waves, probing into the wet sand. Those short legs can really move! The Black Bellied Plover looks nothing like the field guide picture since it is in winter plumage - a challenge for winter birding trips. The black belly is gone, but when they take flight, you do see the distinct black spot under their wings, validating a tentative identification. Also, a real size difference is apparent when they are closer together. The Ruddy Turnstones were unafraid of people along the beach. Their darker brown coloring blended in so well with the brown of our beach. Also, they foraged along the kelp and other debris washed up with the high tide, blending in even more. In fact, as I reviewed the photos, it was hard to find one without a bit of manmade trash in it. The taller Willet is a solitary visitor, rather than a sociable bird, and hides a striking black and white pattern under its wings, until it takes to the air. The Black Skimmers preferred standing around, soaking up the sun and gossiping with each other. When someone chased them away, they settled back down again quickly. While in flight, their large bills pointed down, as if too heavy to hold up. I asked the beach concession person, who spends every day on the beach, what time he saw the skimmers feeding, sinceI wanted to get some photos of their unusual fishing method. He laughed and said he never really saw them feeding on this beach at all. They must go somewhere else for their fishing!
Gulls are sometimes difficult to distinguish since immature gulls have different colors than the adults. Gulls and Terns may also display different plummage in the winter. Herring Gulls are the largest, no matter what color, and they can be aggressive with the others. The Laughing Gull loses his black head as do the Royal Terns, who just look bald! If I go back in the Summer, I'll have to learn a whole new image for them.

1 comment:

The Writers Blog said...

Wow, amazing pictures and the commentary too! The names of the birds are lyrical, like a poem unto themselves. I'm going to add your blog to my favorites ... my grandkids are going to love these!