Austin and his Mom have been up in Alaska since Thursday, and the old house
has been a bit quiet, so I decided to make a late evening run up to Fort D,
to see what I could see. I worked today so I didn't leave the house until
nearly 5:30 PM. Normally, I wouldn't even had bothered, but ever since I
got my new camera I look at things differently. "Hmmm.. sun's shining,
evening light, north beach... I'm there!" So I drove 3 hours for an hour
and a half of birding/photography I was well rewarded.

After obligatory stops at the Celery Fields (where I took more pictures of
the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and saw more Barn Swallows), and the
Skyway Bridge pull offs, I finally pulled into the park near 7:15 PM. My
first stop was at East Beach where hundreds of teens were attending some
revival. I moved to the beach and there amidst the dozen Laughing Gulls was
"Herman". He started walking right to me when he saw me. He undoubtedly saw
the binoculars and was thinking, "Yummy Popcorn!!.... " Sadly I left him
disappointed and took only pictures. I say "him" because unlike Jill, I
believe Herman is a boy. I offer the following points as my proof: A)
Herman is clearly a gluttonous beast who is very much into food. (To the
point that he would continue to stay and return to the same small portion
of beach year after year simply because he gets popcorn... clearly a male
attribute! ;) and B) "Well, Hello!?!.... his name is Herman!!!" If that
doesn't settle it I don't know what does..... ;) I began my regular routine
working down toward East Beach turnaround, but realizing it was now past
7:30 PM I forced myself to not get out and get wrapped up in scanning as I
really wanted to shoot some pics at North Beach (in retrospect I'm sorry I
didn't check out the grassy area a little better). Oh well c'est la vie! No
one ever said it was going to be easy to be an ace birder and crack
photographer at the same time.

At North Beach is where the surprises began. From the mere one Least and
one Western Sandpiper I'd seen exactly one week ago, there were now near 60
Westerns and ~20 Leasts. The big surprise was that it appeared that two of
the Leasts were in fresh juvenal plumage with really pronounced clean
feather edges!!! This seems a might early, particularly when you consider
adults usually push through first, but I never got my better view. As I was
moving closer, I was sidetracked by two dolphins right in the tiny lagoon
here. Camera one birder zero. As I took a few shots the whole flock got up
split and scattered. I never saw the two bright Leasts again. There was
also a bright Western that stood out that was either a fairly unworn,
fresher breeding plumage or again a juv. I'd suspect the former as it seems
real early, but would like to look at these birds again. I plan to go up
earlier on Wednesday after completing my shorebird survey. Surprise two
came as Camera and I were stalking a flock of 30 Spoonbills (glowing
brilliantly in the late evening light!) and a madly dancing Reddish Egret.
A familiar plaintive "Poowhee!" (rising toward the end) fell on my ear, and
I looked up at a point blank gray underwing lining on a large plover....
American Golden!! I hadn't intended on hearing that until I hit the south
Cushman flats in Fairbanks, AK this Friday morning!

At any rate, the bird flew over calling coming from points south and
swooped up and over the mangrove line at the north end of North Beach. I
believe the bird was going to land again from the way it appeared to glide
down on the other side of the tree line possible going to Shell Key, but I
was going to finish with my (now close) Spoonbill spectacular. Camera 2,
birder ...... well I can't really consider this a loss... I've gone some
years not seeing one on the gulf so.... I have to say birder 1at least.

Well experts.... Ron, Lyn, Scissortail... let's have it juvenal plumaged
Leasts seem a bit early at the cusp of 1st and 2nd week July, and an
American Golden Plover seems odd as well. It showed no signs of alternate,
and I suspect it was a non breeding adult but, hopefully, someone who
doesn't have to work (evil 4 letter word) will be able to relocate this
bird tomorrow out there. Perhaps in the grass I didn't scan well at the
turnaround or in the upland fields that were formerly the dog walks.

To steal the line of a famous birder I know, "Life is good!"

Jeff Bouton
Port Charlotte, FL
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