Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apalachicola: Shorebirds

Last month we took advantage of the long Labor Day weekend and drove north to the Florida panhandle. The experience was fairly epic, as far as weekend trips go, and there's just too much to share in a single post. Rather than recount what happened, day by day, we decided that best way to highlight everything the area had to offer is dividing the posts up by topic - starting with shorebirds.

Forster's Tern scouting for fish

Our campsite was located looking over Saint Vincent Sound, just off the Gulf of Mexico. On our first morning we walked the short distance from our tent to the water and found a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing its rump up and down the shore. There were also Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls perched on the boat dock, as an Osprey fished and a Bald Eagle flew overhead.

Black Skimmer skimming

Our plan for the day was to head up Cape San Blas to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, but since this was our first time in the area, we were also open to do a little exploring. Driving up Cape San Blas, we found a public park on the beach and decided to check it out. Being early in the morning, the beach was mostly absent of bathers, and there was only there was only the occasional jogger to disturb the shorebirds. Right away we saw Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, and Sanderlings, in additional to flying Black Skimmers, Brown Pelicans, and Forster's Terns. 

Flock of Black Skimmers

The main attraction for us, though, was the variety of plovers, since our life lists were missing many of these. Most numerous were the Semipalmated plovers, but we also found several Piping Plovers, a single Snowy Plover, and a couple of Black-bellied Plovers towering over them all.

Semipalmated Plover

To our amusement, one tough little Sanderling had apparently claimed that particular stretch of beach for himself, and vigorously defended it by charging at all trespassing Sanderlings with head lowered until they flew off. It seemed that they kept returning, though, and he was forced to fend off the same few offenders repeatedly. 

Snowy Plover in flight

Snowy Plover coming right for us!

But one of our big goals of the trip was to find American Oystercatchers. We heard them calling early on the first morning from our campsite, but they were located in an oyster bed well beyond a reedy area blocking our view. But we eventually did find some on several occasions later on. Driving down S.R. 30, we pulled over and investigated a man-made jetty that looked promising, and did manage to see our first Oystercatcher. Unfortunately, it was much too far away for good pictures, and we were never able to see them much closer when we passed by this area on the following days.

Our best look at an American Oystercatcher

On the drive back home we kept our eyes on the shore as best we could, looking for shorebirds, and hoping get a better look at some Oystercatchers than we'd been able to manage. We spotted a pair just off the road within the first hour, but there was nowhere to safely pull off. I kept driving for another few hundred feet past them before there a suitable place to park, which turned out to be the lot for a public beach. We got our gear and ran out as quickly as we could, but what we found was a disaster unfolding in slow motion. An older couple was taking a stroll along the water, completely oblivious to all of the birds they disturbed on the way. 

If we ran and tried to divert them, we would have risked flushing the entire group of shorebirds. If we did nothing, there was a slight chance that the people would either turn back on their own or that the Oystercatchers simply avoid them and stay nearby. After what seemed like an eternity, the couple finally reached them and scared them off entirely. Nevertheless, we couldn't be too disappointed because the Oystercatchers did lead us to our first ever Marbled Godwits. 

Marbled Godwit getting a running start

Marbled Godwit about to take off


  1. Hi Nick and Maureen! Love all the great pictures and the tales too. Keep up the great bird spotting. I can't wait to see what's next!!