It was a bit puzzling to me to see all these young birds, when I had seen so many adults flying over Florida City (complete with black heads and reddish-orange bills). Fortunately the gulls weren’t shy, and allowed me to take several photos.
After studying the gulls we walked down to the water to look at the egrets. Both had the distinctive black legs and yellow feet of Snowy Egrets. It seemed a bit strange to see them walking amidst the incoming waves on such a crowded beach. The herons and egrets in Ottawa are usually found wading in ponds and quiet bays along the Ottawa River, so it was quite a treat to watch them hunting in the rushing waves of the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead of actively hunting for fish in the water, they seemed to be waiting for the incoming waves to bring small fish up to the beach. We saw them successfully catch several fish while we were there.
The Snowy Egrets were sporting the long, lacy plumes of their breeding finery. In the latter half of the 1800s, the demand for these feathers by the millinery (hat-making) industry nearly caused this and other heron species to be hunted to extinction. The price of these plumes in 1886 was valued at $32 per ounce, about double the price of gold at the time! More than five million birds a year were slaughtered for the sake of fashion, and it is believed that by the early 20th century, almost 95% of Florida’s wading birds had been killed by plume hunters. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that people began noticing the impact the plume trade was having on the birds of the Everglades, and early conservation efforts resulted in new laws being passed and refuges being established to protect Florida’s herons. This included the creation of Everglades National Park in 1934, which was the first park in U.S. history to be created solely for the preservation of wildlife, plants, and the environment on which they depend.
We left the two Snowy Egrets and walked down to the water’s edge. To the left we saw a large pier; to the right, a series of wooden posts on which a number of different bird species were roosting.
On the gulf itself we saw several Brown Pelicans splashing into the water to catch a meal of their own. Of course I had to take my shoes off and wade into the water; it was nice and warm, and I regretted not bringing my swimsuit!
We headed north along the beach toward the birds, and at first I counted four species – Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls – all roosting together. The Royal Terns were a lifer for me, and it was great to see the Brown Pelicans up close.
None of the terns were in breeding plumage; apparently they only sport a complete black cap briefly during the breeding season in April and May.
I was amazed when I realized I had caught a picture of one of the pelicans yawning:
Upon a closer review of the birds I realized that one tern in non-breeding plumage had a black bill instead of a yellowish-orange bill. My photos didn’t turn out that great, but the pale gray mantle and the small whitish tip of the bill identified it as a Sandwich Tern, my 19th and final lifer in Florida.
As there was nowhere else really to go on the beach, and as it was well past lunchtime and we were in need of a cool, air-conditioned restaurant, we left the Naples beach and went to grab some lunch. Of the six birds we saw there, it was neat to think that five of them were southern species you’d never see in Ottawa; only the Double-crested Cormorant was familiar from back home!