When we come south, it's always in the winter, of course. Who wants the extra heat in summer? We love birding at the beach, but I always bemoan the fact that we only know these birds in their winter plumage.
The little Ruddy Turnstone is one of my favorites, since I always recognize its orange legs and can make a positive ID. However, the field guide says their "harlequin pattern in breeding plumage is distinctive." I actually read their full entry in the field guide today, and found that they breed in the Arctic and are circumpolar. I will never see them in breeding plumage, and not just because I don't come south in the summer!
Distinguishing Plovers and Sandpipers is always difficult for me too. I love the little Sanderlings who run back and forth in the shallow water. Today, I recognized the little round bird as a plover - a good first step.
But they moved away from the water, and just stood on the white sand higher up the beach, where they almost disappeared completely. Hooray! Snowy Plovers, ID confirmed by a local birder we met! Lifer!! The diminutive Snowy Plover is a year-round resident of undisturbed Gulf Coast beaches. This well-camouflaged species nests on large sandy beaches between April and July, laying three eggs (sometimes more) in a shallow scrape. They are easier to find in winter when they form small flocks and mingle with other shorebird species, particularly other plovers. Due to habitat loss and disturbance, the Snowy Plover is listed as a threatened species in Florida. As the incubating females and nests are difficult to detect, the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to trampling by pedestrians and vehicles on beaches. Looking at my photos, I noticed that each bird wears multiple leg bands.
Dunlins with the droopy bill are also circumpolar. Another bird we will never see in breeding plumage. At least, we think this is a Dunlin...
Most of the winter terns seem to have that white "bald" spot on their heads. Thanks to my new 60x zoom lens, I saw that these terns also have a yellow tip on their bills - Sandwich Terns, another Lifer for us! I can now remember this bird by thinking that it has a bit of mustard on its bill from eating the sandwich.
The Forster's Tern in another "baldy," but look for the black comma of feathers around the eye, and orange legs. Cornell's website says they have a forked tail, but honestly, I don't think I've ever seen one flying. They breed in the Midwest, but I only see them along the Gulf coast in winter.
Great Blue Herons are all over, and I've taken loads of photos of them over the years, but I usually focus on their heads and fringed breeding plumage, of course. Somehow today, I noticed brown legs and a white stripe down its throat that I'd not seen before. For a while, I thought we were seeing Tricolors, but Great Blues are about twice the size of a Tricolor. Several perched on light posts, waiting for an opportune moment at the fishing pier.
Ah, what can I say about sparrows! We saw a Seaside Sparrow listed as a resident here, and thought I had one in this photo. Closer examination, and sharp perusal of the field guide made me decide this was a Savannah Sparrow after all. But that's OK. This bird was in the grass quite a way off, so once again the zoom lens comes to the rescue.
As we walked around the jetty to the beach, we noticed brown, well, blobs, scattered along the sand. They are living creatures, or were living creatures, since many had dried up in the air and sunshine. This one was still in enough water to swim with its little "wings." I think they are a variety of sea slug called the sea hare. Most of the sea slugs you find online are brightly colored, while these were the color of mud. Can you believe it? There is a forum devoted to sea slugs at http://www.seaslugforum.net/. It was surprising that none of the nearby birds gobbled them down as they lay helpless on the sand.