It’s April and birds are heading north again through our area. Fort De Soto south of St. Petersburg, Florida is a “migrant trap” because they stop there on the way. If you’re a photographer or birder and you’d like to see many types of birds – now is the time to visit this wonderful place.
I went over last Saturday with Kevin M. and Lutfi E. There were a lot of other birders there as well as a few photographers. It was fun talking with the birders. They’re all helpful and I learned a lot from them. If you’re just starting out in birding, go with a knowledgeable friend (thanks, Kevin!), or check with your local Audubon group. They often organize field trips with an experienced leader. The Orange County Audubon Society has a trip planned for next weekend.
Migration at Fort De Soto – As a beginning birder, I was excited to photograph these 11 life birds on Saturday: Chimney Swift, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Merlin, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Orchard Oriole.
In addition to the 11 life birds I managed to photograph, we saw many others including: Worm Eating Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow Throated Vireo, Northern Parula, European Starling, Black and White Warbler, Common Ground Dove, American Crow, Magnificent Frigate bird, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern, Caspian Tern, Brown Pelicans, Eastern Kingbird, Ospreys, Cormorants, Anhingas, Vultures, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets.
If you go, plan to get there early and stay all day. Fort De Soto is a big place and we couldn’t get to all of it on Saturday, so I’m sure there were many other species we missed.
You must be patient and quick to photograph these smaller birds. They move fast and flit in and out of trees and bushes so catching them out in the open is tough. A long, fast lens helps too!
This is also a beautiful place for landscape photography because there are both sunrise and sunset views. Here’s a photo I made last year:
The end of the day at Fort De Soto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry to the Key is on the left.
Season’sGreetings! The holidays are here once again and many of you are traveling to visit family and friends. Please have a safe journey and enjoy the time with your loved ones.
Well, I think I now have another favorite photo-op! I’d heard many things about Fort De Soto and a couple of my friends had great experiences there, but it’s a ~2.5 hour drive from Winter Springs – so I’d never gone until last week.
Lynn, Mike, Sara, and Mary got me a wonderful birthday present this year – a 1 on 1 photo workshop with Jason Hahn of Outdoor Photo Workshops. I’d been waiting to use it until the weather cooled off a bit and I finally scheduled it for last week. Jason lives in the Tampa area and he’s an expert on Fort De Soto, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to visit with a local guide and learn more about the place.
Since we were meeting at 6:45am for sunrise, I went over the night before to make sure I knew the way and to try to get a sunset shot. Before I left, I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone to do a little virtual scouting and noticed that the setting sun would be in nearly perfect alignment with a section of beach near the Bay pier at De Soto. If you don’t have this app or another like it, get it. It’s extremely useful when planning photo-ops. This setting looked like it would be different from the sunrise and sunset geometry I usually get, so that’s where I ended up on Thursday evening. I was blessed with some very nice clouds and light, and the geometry led to this composition. What do you think?
The end of the day at Fort Desoto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry that travels back and forth to the Key is on the left.
Fort De Soto park is south of St. Petersburg, Florida and is run by Pinellas county. It’s made up of a number of islands (keys) and the location and geography make it very unique, especially from a birding perspective. It lies along the migration routes and is a landing-place for birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions are favorable, a knowledgable birder can see over a hundred different species here in a single spring-time day. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the birding lists and plan to go back next April.
It’s also quite diverse from a landscape photography perspective. The Sunshine Skyway bridge can add to a scene, and the tides cover and uncover shoreline features that can vary the foreground interest in your photos. Storms also come through occasionally and these can cut new channels or shift sand to change the layout of the smaller islands. So it’s possible to see changes on both a daily and seasonal basis. When I arrived there Friday morning, the light wasn’t good for a typical sunrise shot, but I set up anyway and made this photo. I think the reflections from the bridge on the low clouds and water add a lot to the image.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay Florida, before dawn. From the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto
Jason showed me around, and was quite knowledgable about the site, the wildlife, and how to photograph all of it. He was also patient and easily dealt with my many questions. It was interesting to hear him talk about the behavior of the animals and how they interact with the terrain and tides and then explain how to use the knowledge to make better photos. It was a greatly enhanced scouting expedition and I only hope I can remember half the things he told me!
The wind was blowing at 10 miles an hour or more, so many of the normal birds were hunkered down out of sight, but we did see Laughing, and Herring Gulls (including one with its breakfast), an American Oystercatcher, a family of Raccoons, Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Ospreys, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons and maybe a few other species.
American Oystercatcher – a very cooperative bird. He strolled right by us, leaving a wake.
There was a pretty interesting scenario with the Herring Gull below. They catch crabs and then fly them up to 40 or 50 feet above rocks or hard sand before they drop them to crack the shells open. This particular gull was going to crack his crab, but another gull came close, so it flew off somewhere else to dine in private.
Herring Gull flies off with crab
On this trip, I met a fellow photographer for the first time, scouted a new place (which definitely made the “must do” list), learned lot in the process, and had a great time. A pretty fine photo-op, in spite of the clouds and wind.
As usual, you can see larger versions of these images on Flickr by clicking on them. And I have a couple more photos from Fort De Soto in this set.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!