Ah, the joys and pains of the beach...
Perhaps for an Arizonan or desert dweller, it holds a special allure. We experience the heat and the sun, unrelenting and beating in their power, but do not enjoy the cool salty breezes or the undulating reprieve of the tides, nor for that matter do we get particularly good seafood. Despite the Florida beaches fulfilling everything one needs is a nice beach, except maybe for seclusion, I was horribly cut on the double-edged sword that is beaching and beach birding.
Despite the plethora of great birding that beaches provide, they also have an enervating effect. After a few hours of chasing peeps along the shoreline and making all manner of muscular poses, the soporific effect of sun and sea cannot be denied. But on the beach too much of this:
Leaves one with this (serious erythema solera):
Which prompts days of this:
Followed by a humiliating week of this: (his feathers are molting/peeling off)
Such was the case on the second day into our Florida trip, when I sustained massive sunburn of the torso from a combination of photographing Sanderlings, Gulls, and White Ibis, and then injudiciously mooching off a reclining beach chair form the nearby Ritz Carlton resort and falling asleep without any protection.
Oh, the crippling pain, and then oh, the crippling peeling. Everywhere I walked afterwards, my skin left behind a lovely trail of snowy dermis. Anyway, the sunburn faded, but the bird sightings and photos remain, so it was a long term victory.
Despite their very variable stages of molt, Sanderlings are one of the most recognizable and beloved sights of a proper beach, even by non-birders. Their anxious antics provide endless angst and amusement to passersby. While all of the other creatures come to the beach and indulge in the water, Sanderlings will never fully commit.
Surely, no bird feels as though it walks the narrow line between life and death as the Sanderling.
Though many of the Sanderlings had left for their high tundra breeding grounds, We still saw dozens at all of the different beaches we visited in early May. I suspect many of these birds won't even bother to make the trip this year. It's just...so much work, and after all you're supposed to go to Florida to retire.
What do you think? Does this look like a bird that's about to leave of a 6,000 mile migration? Nah, they'll just nap it out. Breeding can wait.
One of the top Florida Goal Birds was the White Ibis. It sounds like a superhero or something, and they are a pretty spectacular bird even without any super powers. A curious creature, it's a pretty big deal when they turn up outside of the Gulf coast/Florida area, but within that locale they turn up in parking lots, golf courses, backyard irrigation ditches, and any marshy areas in between. They really live up to the designation of 'locally' common.'
As such, they're not always in the most photogenic places, but they can be found on the beaches as well, inspiring the Sanderlings with their stalwart immersion in the ravenous tide.
Although I saw several dozen White Ibis around the Naples area, none were so accommodating as this bird. We spent significant time together, during which it foraged quite contentedly and I received a strong blasting of ultraviolet light. When we began the shoot, my complexion matched the White Ibis's alabaster body, but by the end I more closely matched to hue of its face and legs.
It was a very meticulous forager, wielding that large beak with great precision, even as waves broke all around it, showing the Sanderlings how it's done:
Salty spray, it's invigorating!
Did you know that White Ibises have a matching white eyelid? I did not.
To be fair, the White Ibis wasn't the only bird bravely foraging within the water's break line.
With the sand being so fine, the few Ruddy Turnstones had a hard time finding ruddy stones to turn, but they gulped down the many tiny bivalves that were exposed with every wave.
Before my wife and I headed out to the Pelican Beach area, I spent several hours at the famous Corkscrew Swamp observatory. Look forward to that post later this week.
Happy Memorial Weekend.