Friday, March 7, 2008

Florida in February, Part I: Plovers galore

Last month had a chance to escape the Michigan winter and fly down to the NE corner of Florida near Jacksonville for a conference. I arrived mid-morning (and rapidly shed about 3 layers of clothes) and headed for the coast. I tried a number of locations, and after realizing that the big white with black-wingtipped birds flying off the coast were not white pelicans but actually lifer gannets, I spent a fair amount of time at Little Talbot Island State Park. There wasn't that much in the way of shorebirds (or skimmers) however, and I kept moving, eventually ending at Hugeonot State Park.
Here, in the evening light at low tide I quickly came upon a flock of skimmers at water's edge, a species I'd never photographed, and not seen since a childhood trip to Florida. They were exciting birds, no doubt, black, white and red all over, but what really surprised me was how narrow the bills were, practically knife-like when viewed on end (which I suppose would make sense).

I soon realized that the around the edge of the cove was teeming with shorebirds, and while there were a few dunlin and peeps at the water's edge, most of the mudflat was covered with plovers. The bulk of the birds were semi-palmated with an occasional black-bellied, but a piping quickly popped out, a much heavier and paler bird. I soon worked my way around and saw several. One even sported green and orange bands indicating a bird banded in Michigan (piping plover is one of a handful of regularly occurring birds in Michigan I'm still missing). I started working my way around them to get better light behind me and suddenly noticed that the birds I'd been passing were Wilson's plover, my second lifer of the day. All of the birds tended to hunker down in tire tracks or depressions in the sand when the telescope fell upon them. I spent awhile with them on the way back tallied a white-phase reddish egret which was also cooperative for some pics.

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