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A Warm Winter’s Day in Florida

Anne and I woke up on this January morning in Florida to temperatures in the low 70s. This is even unusually warm for a Florida winter. We decided to take advantage of the nice day by heading over to the Gulf coast to Fort Island Gulf Beach. Wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts, we grabbed light jackets in case there was a cool breeze blowing off the Gulf. It turned out we didn’t need the jackets. Even the gentle southwesterly breeze was mild and refreshing.

Boat-tailed grackles greeted us as we stepped out of our car. I guess they were hoping that we brought a picnic lunch and there would be leftovers because they followed us as we walked on the white sandy beach to the water. When it was apparent we had no goodies, they flew back to the parking area to harass the people who were just arriving. The salty water was calm and Anne stuck her toes in and declared it was not so bad.  Other visitors were relaxing on chairs and at picnic tables enjoying the fresh Gulf air and scenic watery landscape.

A group of semi-palmated plovers hung out on the rocks of one of the jetty that lined the edge of the beach. Cormorants rested on the buoys holding a rope that marked the farthest point one could venture into the water. Beyond that terns flew over the water, occasionally diving down to snatch fish from the water. A pelican appeared on the horizon and flew towards the beach, then continued into the nearby marshes. The tracks of raccoons led down to the marsh where there was an abundance of fiddler crabs. Heron tracks followed a similar route.

Along the edge of the water a group of terns and gulls relaxed on the sandy shore facing the beach. I’m sure these birds were not looking at the scenery, but watching for land predators. Immature and adult ring-billed gulls stood side by side with royal terns. Several sanderlings waded into the water to eat the small crustaceans and insects at the water’s edge. A fully fledged royal tern with fluffed feathers called to its mother insisting she bring it food. But mom was having no part of it and just ignored the youngster. The juvenile walked around mom “crying” for food as mom turned away and pruned her feathers.

Anne and I hung out for some time enjoying the natural world before heading home to our own habitat. The road back took us through large expanses of salt marshes dotted with pine and cedar hammocks. Osprey were patrolling these areas and egrets and herons were wading along the edges of the marshes. It was a great day for all of us!

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