Friday, November 21, 2014

Raptors at Port St. Joe

Today we started out early and drove around the coast to Port St. Joe, where there is a big state park on a peninsula between the Gulf and St. Joseph Bay. We hoped to see lots of shore birds given all that habitat, but it ended up being a big raptor day instead. We were greeted by one Bald Eagle in a tree, and later her mate came to join her. We even got to walk around in short sleeves with no jackets for the first time this week!
The park boasts a wilderness protection area, where cars and campers are not allowed. We walked through some of the biggest dunes I've ever seen on the way to the beach, but only a small handful of people were there. It felt like having a private beach. I've dumped the sand out of my shoes three times, and still feel like I'll be cleaning sand from between my toes for the next two weeks! The word "sandwich" takes on new meaning with a picnic on the beach.
The beach had lots of shells in good condition, since no one walks over them. There were very few shore birds, and a small flock of Buffleheads off shore. We kept hoping to see some Stilts or Oyster Catchers, but no luck.
We found some mystery birds, standing belly deep in the water. I thought they might be Godwits or some other sandpiper, but now I think they were Willets, even though I've never seen a Willet standing so deep in the water.
The Egrets are everywhere, feeding in the shallow water, or flying up to perch in a tree.
Along the Bay we found a large blob of sticks in a pine tree - the nest of the Eagle couple we'd seen earlier.
Later, along a nearby marsh, we saw a juvenile Bald Eagle flew overhead, landing in a dead tree top. Oh, yes, this is a terrific place for eagles!
First a Red-tailed Hawk landed in a tree (no picture) then a female Northern Harrier cruised the marshes looking for dinner. We saw her several times before I could track her for a photo.
 You could easily get lost in the maze of the marshes along the shore.
As the sun started sinking, a young American Kestrel raced in from the marshes to land in a nearby pine tree.
Each day we watched the beautiful sunsets, without any words to describe them. Sometimes, the sun went down between clouds, sometimes directly into the ocean. Every time we vacation at the beach, I expect to see the water sizzling as the sun drops into it, but no luck yet! A group of people turned quickly into a municipal park as the sun dropped today. Somehow, the gulls never care about the pinks and reds in the sunset, but I enjoy them every night. You can actually watch the sun move down to the horizon!

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