Great Blue Heron takes catch of the day

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Henry waited all day for the fisherman behind him to catch a fish so that he could steal it.

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He whiled away the hours looking into the sea and contemplating life.

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He watched tourists visit the nearby restaurant and gorge themselves on fish tacos.

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He pretended that he was the only Great Blue Heron waiting for the fisherman to catch a fish.

Meanwhile, down the pavement a few steps from Henry, another Great Blue Heron lurked. Gerald. He was much closer to the fisherman.

With one final cast by the fisherman's sore, sunburned arm, a fish leapt from the water and took the hook. Henry's eyes widened, his breath quickened.

He started toward the fisherman with the haste of a glacier, not ever putting urgency before grace.

Gerald's stoic countenance emerged from the shadows. He was three feet away from the fisherman.

The fisherman examined the fish in his hand, decided it wasn't worth his trouble and looked over his shoulder at Gerald.

Henry continued toward the man, knowing his time was running short. He moved with intensity. He moved with the fervor of a snail.

The fisherman tossed the fish in the air and who was there to catch it?

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It was Gerald. The victor.

Henry continued to move toward Gerald making very poor time. Perhaps one footstep every 30 seconds as is customary for herons.

Gerald flourished in his triumph, holding the fish in his bill this way and that. He pretended not to see Henry.

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Henry literally never even sped up enough to challenge Gerald for the fish. It was actually kind of frustrating to watch.

Let's be honest though, Gerald's markings in the above photo are beautiful. It's no wonder the handsome young gent made off with the fish. Heh.

Early morning Sanderlings

20160430-img_0180 If you want to see birds, you have to wake with the birds. Especially if you're on a very popular beach like the one in St. Pete Beach, FL. You're bound to see shorebirds anyway, but if you want VIP access, hit the beach before all the children and sun-bathers for a nice walk (with your binoculars and camera that you carry everywhere because you MUST bird every location).

Sanderlings are some of the most beautiful migratory shorebirds you'll have the pleasure of watching. From a distance, they might look a bit drab skittering across the surf in search of insects and mollusks but they're actually quite colorful when you zoom in. Have a look.

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Sanderlings are extreme migrators! They breed on land in the northernmost locations that exist on our planet (including the tip-top of Russia, Greenland, Canada and Alaska). During the winter they surround the coasts of just about every continent. You'd be hard pressed to travel somewhere with a beach that didn't play host to Sanderlings.

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Come back Wednesday for more Florida wildlife. Reptiles this time!

Tips for Bird ID: 4 Birds in St. Pete Beach

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  • Northern Mockingbird. If you've never seen one before you might be surprised at how drab they are. They are among the most romanticized birds (thanks, in part, to Harper Lee and that "Hush Little Baby" song). Tips for identifying: remember that when birding, always go for shape and size first, not colors. The long tail and skinny bill are best for spotting this bird. Personally, I'd rather ID this one from song. Many birds mimic other birds (and frogs, in this case) but the Northern Mockingbird always repeats a phrase 2 - 6 times. If you can only hear the bird and cannot see it, make sure to listen for a couple of minutes. Brown Thrashers repeat phrases 2 times as do Grey Catbirds, who sound nasally and garbled.
  • Mourning Dove. Another bird that is much easier to identify from its vocalizations. Sometimes, beginner birders hear doves and mistake them for owls because doves say "who, who, who" much more clearly than most owls. Mourning Doves call in intervals of who's at a particularly low-frequency. Once you know the shape of a dove or pigeon, it is easy to identify them, even by silhouette. My advice for this easy-to-recognize bird is to pay attention to where you are casting your gaze. Good places to look for Mourning Doves: power lines, fences, and other man-made structures.

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  • Red-bellied Woodpecker. Though the name includes a color, it is still important to first identify the bird as a woodpecker by shape and behavior, THEN you can proceed to figure out which species you're dealing with. Let me show you why. Here is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker that I spotted outside of my accommodations in St. Pete Beach.

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If we just ID from the name, we expect a very Woody The Woodpecker-esque bird with a bright red belly, do we not? And then if we examine the above photo, we are inclined to re-name the bird to something including a red head. But that's already another species of woodpecker. With a complex family like the woodpeckers, look for dead giveaways like that forked tail and sturdy long bill. But more importantly, have a look at what the bird is doing. Is it darting around the trunk of a tree or utility pole quickly examining the surface with its bill? Probably a woodpecker. If you're lucky, like me (it's actually a mixture of luck and patience) you'll get to glimpse the red belly of this species.

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Not much red to speak of. The dappled black and white back and the red on the head are good indicators, but not great. So how do you win with this woodpecker? You learn by looking at your field guide. And also by making yourself aware of birds' ranges. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is found year-round in all parts of Florida so I can immediately cross off other woodpeckers that might look similar but belong to other parts of the world.

  • Bird #4 is a trick question.

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Ruddy Turnstone in the sand

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Spotted in the morning just above the high tide line before all the beach-goers set up camp. There are up to an estimated 100,000 Ruddy Turnstones in America alone. This shorebird is found in 6/7 continents and will migrate great distances between continents to breed and winter.