Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Not so Common

Most everyone knows that I have a passion for sea turtles, but the sea and shorebirds of the island fascinate me, too.  Unfortunately it is difficult for me to identify many of them due to changes in their plumage.  One of the biggest differences occurs in the breeding season.  I was shocked to learn the bird (breeding) above is the same brown and gray bird (non-breeding) I frequently see resting on the beach in times of rough surf.  Their wail is a hauntingly beautiful sound in pre-dawn hours.  I hope you click on the highlighted link to hear several of their calls, if you have never heard them.

I have received several calls through the years about seriously injured birds "flopping around" on the shore with what must be a "broken leg" and nearly every time it has been a Common Loon which is resting.  While loons are incredible swimmers and divers, they have a difficult time getting around on land because their legs are set so far back on their body.  In fact, I made a brief video of one returning to the water so you could see how awkward they are on the beach.  Remember, the photo above is of a Common Loon in May, during the beautiful plumage of breeding season, and the video below was taken in August when the loons were past breeding season:

I would call these special birds "common" at all.

Sunday Sunrise

Yesterday's sunrise at Ft. Pickens was beautiful, but it was even more dramatic this morning due the smoke in the air (from wildfires on the mainland).  The sky was scarlet and orange just before the sun peeped over the horizon and the higher clouds looked like they were boiling.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A mouthful!

There is a Texas proverb which says, "Don't worry about biting off more than you can chew.  Your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger'n you think."

I'm not sure that was the case for this Great Blue Heron.  I thought he was going to pass out for a while, but he finally choked down the giant fish he found washed up and swallowed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Black-bellied plover

It takes so little to get me excited!  Rebecca Carruth, a bio-tech with Gulf Islands National Seashore, was able to identify this bird as a Black-bellied plover. Yay!  I've seen them for the past few years near the start of our turtle patrol season, but I was never able to get my camera out in time for a good photo.  They are SO beautiful.  Rebecca says they are also referred to sometimes as the "tuxedo bird" and you can see why.

Birds are difficult for me to identify because they seem to be constantly changing plumage.  First there is the difference in males and females, then the juveniles and the adults, and finally a difference in plumage when birds are breeding and when they aren't!  Think of it as their dating season and they get all gussied up.  To give you a good example of how difficult identification can be for an amateur, take a look at this site Black-bellied Plover which shows what they look like in NON-breeding season.   

Thanks for helping me out on this, Rebecca!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Point

The high winds and currents created a new, sweeping tidal pools around the west tip of the island which we call "The Point", and it happened just since my patrol last Sunday!

I have seen several tidal pool of the Gulf side near the western end, but not right at the tip of the island.

I was surprised not to find a host of sea and shore birds in the area, because this is generally a favorite spot for them.  Guess they were a bit surprised by the change also!  This particular shot turned out to be a bit of a self-portrait when the shadow of me and my UTV were caught in the photo.  Oops!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Heron Alley

It was a beautiful morning at Ft. Pickens.  I call this area "Heron Alley" for obvious reasons.  There were two more Blue Herons in the group as I arrived, but unfortunately they were young and more skittish about being photographed. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fishing Friday

I've discovered a favorite spot for fishermen on Pensacola Beach!  They are VERY serious and aren't happy when they have to reposition for me to get through.  Luckily it's not a problem most of the time!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Colonial Birds

In case you haven't driven through Gulf Islands National Seashore lately, be aware that the speed limit has been lowered to 20 mph in some places.  Birds like Least Terns and Black Skimmers which nest in colonies have arrived, as have the endangered Snowy Plovers.  Most people enjoy  trying to catch a glimpse of tiny birds once they realize the reason they have to slow down.  Unfortunately Snowy Plover and Least Tern chicks appear little more than a cotton ball atop toothpick size legs when they first start darting around....and right into the roadway.  It's amazing how quick they can move - which is one of the reasons I rarely have photos of them. My "panning" skills with my camera are not very good. 

Hopefully I'll have a bit more luck this year.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Here, turtle, turtle!

So far the only sea turtle I've seen evidence of on my own patrol is this one which was grinning up at me at Santa Rosa GINS yesterday morning.   I really enjoy sand sculptures people create on the beach.  

I'm hoping a few more days of warm weather and I'll find my first nest of the season.  Rebecca Carruth, one of the Gulf Islands National Seashore bio-tech's found the first one in our area on Saturday morning (located on Pensacola Beach), and it has me itching to find my own! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunrise at Navarre Beach

I was treated to another beautiful sunrise during sea turtle patrol this morning.  I was patrolling the Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore and about the time I neared Navarre Beach the sun was peeping over the homes on the north side of the beach road.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pensacola Beach Patrol - Friday morning

Fishermen were lined up all along my patrol route this morning with their fishing poles securely fastened into PVC rod holders which they had planted in the sand.  The sky was turning crimson and the surf was ankle to knee high. What a beautiful way to start the day.

The sun is just about to peep over the horizon and thanks to a break in the clouds above me the beach begins to reflect the light.  If you look closely you can see there is an escarpment ahead of me with a two to three foot drop-off in places.  I stepped out of my UTV for this shot since we avoid getting our vehicles close to a 'scarp.  The weight of the vehicle could cause the sand to collapse into the surf.

Living on a barrier island, we frequently experience considerable beach erosion during the winter months.  Then, in spring, the natural process of accretion where the waves and currents redesign the shoreline, heal and widen it again.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Back in Gear!

A big thank you to all my blog readers who have been checking in on me.  I'm sorry for not responding.  It was a long fall, winter AND spring during which I needed to take a break from the blog.  I am back, though I'll be traveling to Tennessee next week, but after that you'll hopefully be able to keep up with everything going on here!

May 1 was the start of our 2013 Sea Turtle Season - the 22nd year of the sea turtle monitoring program.  I'm not sure how long it will be before we see a crawl since it has been abnormally cool in this area, but I am seeing a lot of sea and shorebird activity within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. 

If you have a Facebook account, you may find me there and submit a friend request since I was able to keep up with my Facebook account better than my blog in these last few months. 

Again, thank you so very much for your loyalty and caring notes.

So....let's kick back into gear!!!

These cool pelicans actually let take their photo during my patrol at Ft. Pickens on Monday!  Generally they are very skittish, unlike the ones you sometimes see hanging around a pier for a fish handout.