Spring Migration at Fort DeSoto

A group of us made the drive from Orlando to Fort DeSoto yesterday to take advantage of the migratory birds that were being seen there. Fort DeSoto is on the Gulf of Mexico at the southern tip of St. Petersburg. It is a large county park with lots of natural landscapes. It’s placement at the mouth of Tampa Bay make it one of the first land masses migratory birds from Central America and Mexico come to as they fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico on their way to their spring and summer breeding grounds. When the weather is just right, the birds are forced down to the ground during migration where they spend a few days resting and refueling before they continue their journeys to Canada and the Arctic.

Our day started on the North Beach where we were somewhat surprised to find a Roseate Spoonbill that had roosted overnight on the beach. I’ve had lots of opportunities for shooting “spoonies” this year, but the early morning light and the clean surroundings made this an unexpected treat. Click an image to view large on black.

Roseate Spoonbill

No trip to Fort DeSoto would be complete without seeing “Big Red”. There are several Reddish Egrets that call the park home, and watching them go about their “dance” as they search for a meal is always a treat.

Big Red

The Black-bellied Plovers are quickly getting their spring colors on. In the winter when we see them most often, they lack the black belly which gives them their name. Soon their plumage transition will be complete and they’ll head up to the Arctic to breed on the tundra.

Black-bellied Plover

We came across a couple of American Oystercatchers who were surprisingly cooperative. Usually you have to stay a considerable distance from them, but this guy sauntered right up to us and let us shoot all we wanted for quite a while.

American Oystercatcher

While we were working with that oystercatcher, we noticed his mate sitting on a nest not too far away. She was also very cooperative while we watched her. She did get up a few times, but we didn’t see any chicks moving around. We were too far away to see if there were any eggs yet.

American Oystercatcher on the Nest

We probably spent too much time focusing on the shorebirds as they weren’t out in great numbers. I was really excited to see the migrant songbirds that had been arriving all week, so we headed over to the East Beach picnic grounds to try out luck. Within just a couple of minutes we spotted a Rose-breasted Grosbeak who eluded our cameras by staying behind the fronds of the palm trees. But Raees quickly found an Ovenbird that allowed a few snaps. Ovenbirds stay on the ground and this guy proved to be particularly difficult to allow a good shot. This is no Nat Geo image, but I was happy to get a quick glimpse.


Next I spotted a female Summer Tanager and the 6 of us just started shooting away. She was on a lovely perch with some nice creamy background and was quite cooperative.

Female Summer Tanager

We were running out of time, so with only about an hour left, we decided to head over to the ranger’s house and try our luck in the mulberry trees. No sooner had we got out of the car and setup our gear than Raees spotted a Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

But the real catch of the day was my first-ever male Scarlet Tanager. Perhaps one of the most striking birds in North America, I was beyond thrilled when we spotted this beauty. I actually had the perfect angle, lighting and perch for a great capture, but he landed at the one spot that just ruined the entire image. When I got the images back to view them, there was a stick bisecting his eye. But I still was able to do a half-decent job of capturing his beauty.

Scarlet Tanager

I also got a quick glimpse at my first Tennessee Warbler. Warblers are very small birds, and at the distance I was from him, I had to really crop the image in order to see him. Ideally, you need an 800mm lens and a 1.4 teleconverter when working small birds like this. You can’t get close, so to get good quality images, you either have to have big glass or be extremely lucky.

Tennessee Warbler

Fort DeSoto rarely disappoints and this trip was no exception. I had hoped to see Royal Terns doing their mating rituals, and I had hoped for more shorebirds in breeding plumage, but overall it was a good day of photography and a great day to be outdoors with wonderful friends. I can’t wait for my next trip over there.


  • Donna Faylo

    April 29, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Great blog — A beautiful day with wonderful friends and colorful birds.

  • Jess Yarnell

    April 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Looks like you guys had a great day. Let me know when you go back for the oystercatcher babies 🙂