Florida: Beach Birds
My family has timeshare at a condo at Madeira Beach and I returned this year to spend time with them and check out the birds. Two years ago I remembered a large flock of resting birds on the beach right in front of the condo that included Black Skimmers that totally blew my mind.
They were back!
I was so happy to revisit these charismatic birds.
Having two more years of birding under my belt, I felt I had a better grip on shorebirds, terns, and gulls. It felt really good to apply what I’ve learned as I scanned the flock, focused on field marks, and looked for the differences.
If your bill looks like it was dipped in mustard, you’re a Sandwich Tern.
If you’re balding except for those Bart Simpson spikes in the back, you’re a Royal Tern.
I haven’t thought of anything clever for the Forster’s Tern, so if you’re a small tern leftover with a dark comma by the eye and orange legs you’re a Forster’s Tern.
Ring-billed Gulls were there.
As were effervescent Laughing Gulls.
And the first day I saw a rather large gull that stood out in the flock.
That dark back, light eye, the stern look. It was almost like a Herring Gull but the back was too dark. Hopeful, I looked up black-backed gulls and this one fits perfectly with Lesser Black-backed Gull. Identify-new-gull achievement unlocked!
The Lesser Black-backed Gull had a bully persona to go along with that stern look.
The terns weren’t as thrilled as I was to have it around.
To me the Lesser Black-backed Gull looks like a gull that’s been up all night drinking. He’s tired, cranky and means business.
The beach rewarded me with something different each day. Last time I found one Red Knot, this time I found a whole lot of knots.
Late afternoon one day as I went for a swim with my mom and aunt in the gulf, almost as soon as I entered the water (and acclimated to the chilly water temp) I looked up high in the sky and thought I recognized the shape of a Magnificent Frigatebird. I’d hoped to see one on the trip, but this was terrible timing!
Not wanting to miss the photo opp I awkwardly splashed out of the water, ran all the way back up to the room grabbed my camera, and hurried back to the beach to snap a few pics. Then it was back to the room to drop off the camera, back to the beach and into the waters again to relax and swim. It was totally worth it.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed even more frigatebirds in the sky.
First there was one, then a few, and suddenly a dozen. Later, while my mom and I visited the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary down the street I looked up and counted 28! I managed to get 20 in one photo. Crazy. It was some kind of frigatebird meetup (my aunt called them “friggin birds” by then).
Back to the Seabird Sanctuary (an awesome place!), bonus points to anyone who can identify this handsome gull housed there.
Towards the end of the week, while scanning terns I noticed an imposter next to the Forster’s Tern. The Sandwich Tern noticed too.
That dark spot next to the eye is incomplete, then I noticed the leg color was different.
That’s a nice gull from home! A Bonaparte’s Gull. I found a handful more the next day.
On the last day at the condo, I walked out to check the birds for a final time, and as I scanned through, I noticed a gold eye in the mix.
Oh yes, American Oystercatcher! My prior sightings of this species have always been so far away so it was nice to finally appreciate a close-up view of this one. Hey, there.
And the last evening on the beach the final show was put on by Black Skimmers skimming.
I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the best of beach times.
Tweets and chirps,
I really enjoyed your story, photos, and ID thought process. What a great vacation! I’m a Floridian, but have never been to Madeira Beach and the Sanctuary. I’m adding them to my list of places to visit!
Thanks Vicki! The Sanctuary is definitely worth a visit! It’s right on the beach and has some great birds there, Sandhill Cranes, owls, a variety of pelicans and Black-crowned Night Herons perch in the trees above! Seems like a really caring facility.
I don’t know but maybe it’s a Franklin, the odd gull? FL is a birding Mecca! I really want to go back this yr..congrats on the LBBG and the MAFR both would be lifers for me!
It does have a hood like Franklin Gull, but that all gray body is throwing me off. I honestly don’t know what it is!
The frigatebirds were such a surprise! You never know when they’ll show up.
That headstand though.
Would you believe I didn’t notice that headstand until looking at my photos?! I was too focused on that sexy gull.