Celebrating A Birthday

My birthday came around last month as it does every April. This year it fell on a Saturday, so a trip to Fort De Soto was in order to celebrate. April is a great month for visiting the park as the wading birds and shorebirds are in their breeding plumage and the migratory song birds are stopping over on their way up north. The park is on the southern tip of Pinellas county, near St. Petersburg, and is one of the first patches of dry land migratory birds will come to after flying across the Gulf of Mexico. On this particular day there were just a few migrant song birds as it was early in the migration cycle, but there was plenty of other action to focus the camera on.

I went over with Donna and met up with Jess, Daniel and Susan while I was over there. While I enjoy those opportunities when I can focus on my photography alone, I always enjoy getting together with friends, especially on my birthday. What better way to celebrate? It was also nice to see Jim over there and to finally meet Judy. The nice thing about this park is that it is so large that you can start off with one or two friends, then the group grows to several, then dwindles down to just a couple again as you move around looking for things that interest you.

When I picked up Donna, I hadn’t planned on shooting the sunrise. But as luck would have it, I misjudged the amount of time it would take to get over there and we arrived a few minutes before sunrise. Early April is at the tail end of the time-frame that you can photograph the rising sun with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the composition. Well, I guess you can photograph the sunrise with the bridge anytime of the year, but early April is the end of the season you can do that from dry land. It will be six months before the sun and bridge line up again for some interesting compositions. I normally shoot the sunrise with a wide-angle landscape lens. This time I decided to shoot the sunrise with my 500mm lens. Needless to say, the bridge is far more prominent than in my previous attempts. Click the images to view larger.

Sunrise and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Sunrise and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Although the clouds weren’t what I had hoped for, I wasn’t all that disappointed. After all, I hadn’t even planned to get there early enough to take this shot.

As we walked back to the car, we came across a strange bird swimming in the Gulf near the Gulf pier. A check of my Sibley’s indicated that this was a female Black Scoter. A scoter is a sea duck and we only see sea ducks in Florida in the winter. Usually they are farther up the Atlantic coast and also on the Pacific coast. They are uncommon in the Gulf of Mexico, so I was happy to be able to photograph one. She wouldn’t come all that close to us, preferring instead to keep a respectable distance out in the Gulf.

Female Black Scoter
Female Black Scoter

We headed up to North Beach where we continued to search for interesting subjects. I came upon a female Red Merganser that had just completed a dive and had come up with a sand flea for breakfast.

Female Red Merganser
Female Red Merganser

Female Red Mergansers are quite common in the winter at Fort De Soto, but male Red Mergansers are quite rare. In fact, prior to that day, I had never seen one. What a nice birthday present when someone shouted out that they see a male swimming in the lagoon. I waded out in to the lagoon and setup my tripod hoping he would come closer for a portrait shot. Unfortunately there were other photographers around who were not interested in the mergansers, and sadly, were not interested in being respectful of the subjects other photographers were shooting. Still, I got a long distance shot that made it to the blog.

Male Red Merganser
Male Red Merganser

Although the male merganser was uncooperative, a bevy of his favorite females swam within 10 feet of where I was standing in the lagoon. Some of them were so close that I couldn’t focus the camera on them. This image of a female was taken with my 500mm lens and was not cropped. Fortunately I was using my full-frame camera or I surely would have clipped her tail, wings and beak.

Female Red Merganser
Female Red Merganser

I did get a grab shot of Jess as she was stalking Big Red, the resident Reddish Egret, and likely the most photographed bird in Florida. You can tell Jess is a professional by the mud on her knees and that her photo vest is wet. I’m not sure what to say about the fact that her quarry is standing directly behind her. Hmmm…

Hi Jess!  I'll likely pay for posting this.
Hi Jess! I’ll likely pay for posting this.

The fact is, Jess had already spent some time photographing Big Red which is why her knees are muddy and her vest is wet. Big Red is certainly the star of the show at Fort De Soto. When he is stalking his prey of small minnows and fish in the water, he prances about and extends his wings to improve his ability to see his prey in the water. These antics are quite entertaining and photographers love to come across Big Red when he’s fishing. Big Red didn’t perform while I was at the lagoon, but he is still quite colorful this time of year and a joy to photograph.

Big Red
Big Red

I think images like this when his feathers are all ruffled are quite unique as well.

Big Red
Big Red

With his hormones raging for the breeding season, he is quite the colorful bird this time of year.

Big Red Portrait
Big Red Portrait

Although I didn’t get to see but a couple of migratory song birds, I really enjoyed my birthday visit to Fort De Soto. And I am very happy that my friends were able to spend the day with me. We had a great time there as we always do.

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