The variety and beauty of the birds found on Gasparilla island-area beaches are always amazing.
A recent morning was no exception. On a two-hour walk along the northern 1.5 miles of Palm, aka Knight, Island up to Stump Pass and around the area termed The Spit, I found 32 species of birds.
These birds live in an area of rare beauty and serenity, especially just after dawn. This may explain why so few people focus attention on the birds instead of the surroundings.
Rare reddish egret fishes The Spit lagoon near Stump Pass.
Wilson's plover were breeding in April in sandy areas with just a bit of vegetation. They are the "Jimmy Durante" of birds due to their huge bill, the better for catching and crushing small crabs. These areas on the Spit are roped off to provide protection against disturbance of the plover's simple nests placed on the sand.
The tiny but vocal least terns were present in considerable numbers at the same time, and carrying fish, a sign of courtship. They need a protected spot to breed amid raucous calls of kee-kee-dee.
The short-billed dowitcher, rarely seen on the beach, leaves in spring for breeding grounds in northern Canada. It is sometimes called the "sewing machine" bird since it feeds by thrusting its bill deep into the sand or mud.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, splits time between Southwest Florida and his farm in Galax, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The prize sighting was seeing a wonderful and rare tropical reddish egret feeding along with a companion, a red-breasted merganser. The reddish egret is famous for its flamboyant behavior when feeding; it rushes around and opens and closes its wings. Feeding in mixed species groups (a tricolored heron was also participating) seems to improve the chances of any one individual in catching prey, since the fishing techniques are different but complementary.
When at to the beach, try to learn about some of these amazing birds and observe their behavior. It will greatly enrich your experience and you will begin to develop a greater appreciation for how many unusual and remarkable animals live at the beach and t need our protection.