Spring Migration III: The Red Knots vs. The Horseshoe Crabs

Red Knot; photo courtesy of Hans Hillewaert

Red Knot; photo courtesy of Hans Hillewaert

Horseshoe Crab; female with male in tow

Horseshoe Crab; female with male in tow

The contestants could not be more different; the venue is the shoreline of Delaware Bay each May and early June; the prize is the ultimate–survival as an individual and as a species.  For those of us who live around the bay, this annual saga is well known, but for those who don’t, its a story worth hearing.

The Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) gets no respect.  It is an unattractive, prehistoric, lumbering bottom dweller of the estuaries, more closely related to spiders than crabs.  It dates back 450+ million years, several hundred million years before dinosaurs, and therefore before birds and the Red Knots.  The fact that it hasn’t changed much over that span speaks volumes to its design however unbecoming.  The domed hinged carapace protects a creature that moves with 5 paired extremities and drags a threatening appearing tail. The tail is only used to flip it back over if the surf upsets it.  Its genus name “Limulus” means askew and “polyphemus” refers to the giant cyclops from Homer’s Oydyssey.  There are two small median eyes, hence the “cyclops” designation, but surprisingly there are two other paired eyes on the lateral carapace and multiple additional eyes on the sides and ventral surface near the mouth to track you coming and going and assist with feeding .

Even the Robins get involved

Even the Robins get involved

Each spring something stirs in the loins of the male crabs and at high tide, around the time of a full or new moon, they start patrolling the shoreline, parallel to the beach, looking for the gravid, larger female coming ashore.  If he’s lucky he finds one and attaches himself to her back for the ride with the tide up the beach.  After she digs the sand nest and lays 60 to 120 THOUSAND eggs he contributes his part of the genome.  The unlucky males are called satellites and relieve their tension by finding any unoccupied nest and doing their part.

The venue, Delaware Bay, is much younger than the contestants. We tend to think of our earth as static and go to great lengths to try to preserve it just as it is, but things constantly change. 15,000 years ago there was no Delaware Bay, but just a long Delaware River Canyon extending out to the sea at the continental shelf. As the Ice Age passed and earth warmed, the water level gradually rose over 100 feet, slowly drowning the river valley and widening the tidal estuary to its current dimensions.

View from Dupont Nature Center deck

View from Dupont Nature Center deck

The Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is the beautiful cinnamon colored world traveler, spending our winter on the windswept tidal flats of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia and migrating 9300 miles northward, usually with just two stops. This is one of the longest migratory bird routes.  The first stop is the Brazilian coast at Lagoa do Peixe, feeding on clams and snails and doubling their weight before the strenuous, 5-8 day, non-stop, 7000 mile trip to Delaware Bay.  Somehow rufa knows that the time to arrive in Delaware is when the army of horseshoe crabs are pulling themselves ashore and depositing their myriad eggs.  Wasted and starving, the birds arrive to feast on the eggs and replenish body fat for several weeks before the final 2400 mile leg to the Arctic breeding ground.

Shorebird Frenzy;  The Red Knots are grouped near the waterline

Shorebird Frenzy; The Red Knots are grouped near the waterline

The best place to witness this on the west side of Delaware Bay is at the DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor Reserve and nearby Slaughter Beach.  The center is a small observation house, education center, and deck on stilts giving you spotting scope views of the surrounding tidal flats and marsh.  Lighthouse Road leading to the center takes you along a huge grass wetland, home for abundant Seaside Sparrows and Clapper Rails. Slaughter Beach, about a mile to the south, gives you a chance for close-up views of all the action.

DuPont Nature Center

DuPont Nature Center

Seaside Sparrow

Seaside Sparrow

Willet

Willet

Timing is everything for this event; for the birds, horseshoe crabs, and for the birder.  I finally had a free day in late May and made the trek across the Delmarva Peninsula and was lucky enough to see this saga, almost.  The birds and crabs were there, but it was low tide on Slaughter Beach and the water line and birds were across a wide mudflat and only visible with scope and telephoto lens. What I didn’t anticipate was the teeming frenzy of many kinds of shorebirds and gulls; this feast is not just for the Red Knots.  Forget about counting birds, there are just too many.

Red Knots and friends at breakwater, Mispillion Harbor

Red Knots and friends at breakwater, Mispillion Harbor

Unfortunately both the Horseshoe Crabs and Red Knot populations are under stress.  The crabs have been over-harvested for eel bait, and their blue blood is drawn and used for a medical test for bacterial endotoxins.  They are returned to the bay after blood drawing, but the mortality rate may be as high as 30%.  Their population has declined 90% in the last 15 years.  The birds are stressed by the fewer crab eggs as well as the loss of habitat at both ends of their route and stopover points.  Their numbers in South America are down 50% since the mid 1980’s. There are currently some measures enacted to address all this, but only time will tell.

This saga of Delaware Bay is not really a one-on-one competition as the title of this post suggests, but rather a win-win or at least a draw. The Red Knots successfully regain their weight and strength feasting on the eggs and set out again on the final leg of their long migration to their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra.  But what does the Horseshoe Crab get out of all of this?  For the crab, survival is a numbers game.  Its strategy is to overwhelm the sandy beaches with trillions of fertilized eggs, so even the ravished shorebirds can’t find them all before the next high tide washes the eggs to sea.  This has worked for hundreds of millions of years.

Birding Paraphernalia; the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Too Much Stuff

Too Much Stuff

A few years ago there was a popular song by Delbert McClinton called Too Much Stuff, which describes the trap most of us fall into as we go through life.  Birders are no different as we accumulate various birding gadgets, aids, clothes, etc. over the years.  I thought it may be helpful to the rising birder to describe what has worked and what has not worked for me.  I perfectly understand that one man’s albatross, (no offense to albatrosses), may be another’s favorite tool, so take these ideas as personal opinion only.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The Good

1) After years of toting around my favorite, well-worn, and dog-earred bird guide, it barely fitting in my pocket and weighing down my trousers on one side, I finally listened to a friend and went digital.  It was a good move.  I now have two bird guide apps on my smart phone, iBird PRO, and Sibley Birds, which have all the same info as the book, and more.  The bird calls are now available and I frequently play them in the field to refresh my memory and use this valuable ID tool.  The phone is also a safety link to civilization when I bird alone, and has a GPS if I get hopelessly lost.  It has a decent camera to take those vista shots that my birding lens can’t get.  Also my trousers no longer droop on the right.

2) Cornell’s program eBird (www.ebird.org) has been one of the greatest breakthroughs in birding.  Its not just the tracking of your lists, but the access it gives you to others’ observations.  Now when I travel to a new birding destination I go to eBird first and see exactly what people are seeing at that spot, at that time of year. If its a new bird for me I can review what to look and listen for before heading out.

3) Traipsing around for hours with things hanging around your neck gets old and leads to headaches.  Get a “figure 8” shoulder strap for your binoculars to take the weight off.  Speaking of straps, try a UPstrap (www.upstrap-pro.com) for your camera.  I find that the manufacturer’s shoulder straps tend to slip off, but the UPstrap is wider and has a rubber/friction surface that makes it much more secure and comfortable.

4) Invest in an extra camera battery. You know why.

5) Last, but most important is the glass.  I’ve gone through a slew of binoculars; big and small, cheap and expensive.  For a while I thought small and light was good, but they just don’t have the light-gathering capability and field-of-view you need for birding. Then I went large to 10X, 50mm, and even tried the impressive image-stabilized binoculars. They’re just too heavy for the field. For me the sweet spot is 7-8X and about 40mm.  And I’ve tried cheap (less than $100), medium $100-$1000, and expensive >$2000 glass. One of my greatest eureka moments in birding was when one of the birding pros at Cape May took pity on me and my cheap, small binoculars and let me borrow his extra high-end Zeiss glass for the day.  What a difference!  The field-of-view even seemed brighter than real life and birding was easier and much more fun.  The lesson is to spring for the best glass you can afford.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

The Bad  

1) There are some situations when you need a good scope and stable tripod, but not many.  I have one ready in the car as I drive along the dikes at Blackwater Refuge in Maryland, or Bombay Hook in Delaware, or occasionally when on a bluff or wide beach, but for general birding they’re just “too much stuff”.

2) I feel sorry for the birders pushing the carts filled with the huge telephoto lenses, multiple cameras, etc.  It reminds me of the young parents in airports with car seats, strollers, diapers, etc. trying to board a plane.  For me those days are over.  Only take what you can easily carry.  For me that is binoculars and camera with a small telephoto lens.  I’ve gradually gone from 200mm to 300mm, and now to Canon’s 400mm F5.6L.  That’s turned out to be a great portable birding lens, used by many for years, and for me the largest lens one can comfortably carry.

3)RAW vs. JPEG photos.  This is where I’ll get some push back.  Keeping with my philosophy of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) I have returned to JPEG.  RAW is great and necessary if you plan to sell or publish your pictures, but for me the data storage requirements and post-processing time were more than I bargained for.  For now, at least I’m a JPEG man.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

The Ugly

“Ugly” may be a little strong, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that birders are not slaves to fashion.  We are practical folks who wear what works.  Just look around on your next group birding trip.

1) I’ve learned the hard way that sun protection is key, both with material defense and chemical warfare.  Long sleeve sun shirts and caps with earflaps are now standard garb for me–life is not a fashion show.

2) For a while I thought you could not have too many pockets.  The long baggy cargo shorts with large pockets (perfect for guide books), and fly fishermen vests with 17+ small pockets were standard.  Since I’ve gone to a smart phone and have lost too many things in all the pockets, I’ve scaled back. (K.I.S.S.)

3)  If you’ve ever had Chiggers you know why many birders wear long pants tucked into socks with bands around their pant legs, or wear tall boots, even in the hot weather.  I had 3 or 4 infestations and itchy, sleepless nights before I learned that they were the barely visible larval forms of a mite which lurk in the grasses waiting for unsuspecting birders to walk by.  They get inside your pant legs and borrow into the skin.  Luckily they are not a vector of disease like the deer tick, but just do their damage by causing local irritation, inflammation, and cellular chaos.  You’ll survive, but you’ll think twice about your next trip into the grasslands.

The Ugly

The Ugly?

So for what its worth, that’s one birder’s opinion of our paraphernalia.  Good luck and good birding.

Birding Mendocino, California

Mendocino Headlands

Mendocino Headlands

April 18, 1906 is a day that will live in infamy for San Francisco, but the massive slippage of the North American and Pacific plates along the San Andreas Fault (SAF) also had a dire impact on the small towns all along the fault.  Mendocino, a small coastal town along the rugged northern California coast, approximately 75 miles north of San Francisco, was one of these.  The SAF here is just a couple miles off shore, and many of the small wooden buildings were destroyed.  But Mendocino, being a lumber mill town quickly rebuilt and ironically, actually prospered by supplying much of the lumber used for the rebuilding of San Francisco.

Mendocino

Mendocino

Their only dilemma was getting the massive logs sawn to reasonable size, transporting them down the mountain slopes to the mill, and then getting the milled lumber to the waiting ship.  The towering bluffs and rocky shore created an additional engineering problem solved by the construction of long booms and trestles lifting the lumber to small barges which in turn ferried it to larger ships anchored offshore.  The old photos of this multi-step feat are a testament to remarkable perseverance.

IMG_0355

photo credit: Mendocino Historical Society

IMG_0352

photo credit: Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society

Over 100 years later the old mill and trestles are gone with just a few rotting posts still visible on the bluffs.  The town folk have wonderfully let nature reclaim the headlands and adjacent fields, with the old town exuding Victorian charm slightly inland.  This May, Mendocino was our favorite stop along the northern California coast.  It is no wonder that it was the setting for multiple films such as The Russians Are Coming, Summer of 42, and the television series Murder She Wrote.  There is drop-dead scenery, shops, galleries, dining, and countless photography opportunities–and don’t forget the birding.

At sunrise, first morning, I took my spotting scope and tripod to the headlands.  I usually don’t take this gear on vacation, (just too much stuff), but this time I squeezed it in the coast to coast flight knowing about these headlands and the off shore birds.  The morning light was perfect, slanted and at my back, but the cold wind whipping down from the north was almost unbearable, causing my eyes to water and buffeting the scope, making it almost useless.  As advertised the Common Murres colonized the large rocks just off shore by the hundreds or thousands, standing upright in peguin-like groups.  They were peppered with fewer cormorants, Double-crested, Brandt’s, and Pelagic, and salted lightly with Western Gulls.  The  Pelagic Cormorants with their red mouth parts obvious, primarily clung to precarious perches and nests on the cliff faces while the other cormorants perched upright on the flatter and safer surfaces on top the rock.

Common Murres & friends

Common Murres & friends

Pelagic Cormorants nesting and clinging to the cliff

Pelagic Cormorants nesting and clinging to the cliff

I finally had enough sense to get to the leeward side of the headlands and was rewarded by seeing two more target birds for the trip, the Pigeon Guillemot and Western Grebe.  Also present were countless White-crowned Sparrows, loud Black Oystercatchers, ubiquitous Ravens, and a solitary Pacific Loon.

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

The Loon coming up from a successful dive

The Loon coming up from a successful dive

The coastal birding along the headlands is exilhilirating and fun but yields only those hardy birds accustomed to the ocean spray and wind and adapted to feeding on marine-life.  To see additional birds you need to go inland to the more sheltered forests and gardens.  My choice was the Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens, www.gardenbythesea.org, a few miles north of town on Route 1.

Mendocino Coastal Botanical Garden

Mendocino Coastal Botanical Garden

This is a wonderful 47 acre site that makes use of the gentle Mediterranean climate and acidic soils to display a myriad of native and non-native plants including heaths and heathers, roses, rhododendrons, camellias, succulents, etc.  Close to the entrance one sees the more manicured lawn and gardens.  Following the numerous paths westward one finds progressively less formal plantings and “rooms”, and eventually a canyon and undeveloped flora leading to a seaside meadow and an amazing coastal vista.  The birds and birders love these various habitats; the local Audubon club claiming 180+ species seen at the site.

A planned two hour walk through the garden evolved into an almost full day visit, making use of their convenient gift/book/garden store and cafe.  As you enter each outdoor natural “room” a few quiet moments rewards you with the room’s birds coming to life.  Remember, I’m an easterner with only a few prior trips to California, and as a newcomer to these parts, even the common birds elicit “oos and ahs”.  Like that gorgeous Violet-green Swallow and the clown-faced Acorn Woodpecker, or the loud Steller’s Jay or Western Bluebird.  Anna’s Hummingbird was flitting everywhere, just daring me to try to get a picture.  The Wilson’s Warbler caught feeding down in the canyon was a special treat.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Steller's Jay

Steller’s Jay

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Remembering April 18,1906, Californians and birders must have very different definitions of “The Big Day”.  For some of us its a great day spent tracking and photographing our avian fauna, but for others its a reminder of what was, and what is surely coming again.

Spring Migration II, Magee Marsh, Ohio

Magee Marsh

Magee Marsh

Spring migration reminds me of a passage near the beginning of Melville’s Moby Dick when Ishmael senses the periodic urge to go to sea.  He knows it’s time when he finds himself “involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet”… and requiring “a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.”  Migrating birds and birders feel a similar deep-seated urge each spring, one, to leave the wintering home and migrate to fertile breeding grounds, and the other, to leave the warm, comfortable fireside and head outside to observe the action and spring awakening.

Lake Erie shoreline at Magee Marsh

Lake Erie shoreline at Magee Marsh

Something came over me in my birding life about 10 years ago, not suddenly like a lightning strike or a eureka moment like the one that caused Archimedes to run naked from the bathtub into the street proclaiming his theory of buoyancy, but still quite rapid and profound.  In short order I went from a casual, non-possessed birder to one where I cannot drive and walk anywhere without looking up, checking the power lines, or listening for the next bird. I have a hard time not buying the latest bird book or subscribing to the newest bird magazine, not to mention acquiring more camera paraphernalia.  I’m not sure what caused this “affliction” and I understand from others that there is no cure.  One symptom is the urge to travel to birding hot-spots during spring migration, such as the Magee Marsh on the southern shore of Lake Eire.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Magee Marsh is a rural flatland part of Ohio about halfway between Toledo and Sandusky.  I hope the locals forgive me when I say there isn’t much going on there, but the migrating warblers and songbirds just love it.  Apparently these neotropical birds heading for the forests of southern Canada are about running on empty when they come to the massive waters of Lake Eire. Lucky for us many cry uncle and take a few days of R&R in the sheltered treelined shore and marsh before proceeding northward.  Others with more stamina push on over the lake and make it to Point Pelee on the Ontario shore, another birding hot-spot.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Bird migration is one of the wonders of the natural world, not well understood in ancient times.  Aristotle thought that the summertime redstart became the winter robin, and the warbler morphed to a black-cap.  Thanks to radar, GPS, banding, and tedious observation, the amazing scope and distances of migration have more recently come to light.  The wood warblers do much of their traveling at night.  This gives them cooler temperatures, more humidity to lessen dehydration, less wind, freedom from predator hawks, and the potential of celestial navigation.  Some hardcore birders spend the dark May nights, lying on their backs, listening to the waves of chirping songbirds streaming north, identifying the mingled songs of flight.  I’m not there yet.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

My first and only visit to Magee Marsh was several Mays ago, one week after the popular yearly birding festival, and therefore after the crowds had thinned somewhat.  Although you can bird in surrounding areas, the best location is clearly the less than one-mile-long boardwalk paralleling the shore through the wooded wetlands.  I don’t believe I’ve ever been at a site where the warblers were so abundant and close.  Leave your 500mm+ lenses and tripods home–you need the mobility of lighter gear to catch these elusive gems as they dive in and out of cover.  You soon learn that the warblers each have their own feeding pattern.  The Black-and-whites and Palms hug the trunks and large limbs, the Yellow-rumped and Chestnut-sided like the lower to mid-level branches, and the Cerulean and Cape May favor the canopy.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

I found the other birders along the boardwalk courteous and helpful, more than willing to help make a difficult ID.  If you look for flocks of birders bunching up on the trail you’ll usually be treated to a good bird.  Thats the way I saw the camouflaged American Woodcock on the ground and Common Nighthawk sleeping along a high branch.  It also led me to a Yellow Warbler on a nest.  She obviously had abandoned any thought of crossing the lake and had just set up housekeeping right there.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Warbler identification is one of the most difficult challenges for a rising birder.  There are 56 species found in the United States and Canada. The bright spring plumage helps somewhat but they vary per season, sex, and age.  Their songs are often beautiful but confusing, and they just plain don’t hold still long enough to let you carefully note their field marks and fire off a shot.  I’m frequently at a loss whether to reach for the camera or binoculars.  Alas, we now have the warbler magnum opus; The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, published in 2013.  This exhaustive guide to these birds amazes me every time I pick it up.  In addition to the standard field marks it has sections on contrast & color, shape-size-behavior (the gist of the bird), the face, the body, and the undertail.  Where else can you go to see 56 undertails or faces all lined up on one page.  This book is too heavy and large to carry in the field but works well as a home reference, especially on the winter nights when we long for next spring’s migration to begin.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

As excited as we are with the warblers arriving each May, all decked out in their finest attire, we know it will not last.  Come autumn they’ll depart with less fanfare, the hard work of reproduction done.  Even their drabber fall plumage will reflect our melancholic awareness of a season slipping by and the approach of another winter.  Magee Marsh gave me three delightful days of birding several years ago–one never forgets their first siting of the Blackburnian warbler in his breeding best.  I hope to go back soon.

Spring Migration Stopover, Dry Tortugas

Upland Sandpipers, James Audubon

Upland Sandpipers, John James Audubon

It is early March of 2010 and in the Pampas of Argentina, the land of the Gaucho, the days are growing shorter and the nights longer. The wheat crop has been harvested and the Upland Sandpiper has taken refuge in the remaining wheat stubble.  Life is changing for the sandpiper in ways she does not understand.  She’s putting on weight, she’s more irritable, and the cooler nights are no longer comfortable.  Suddenly, one evening, without any formal announcement the excited flock of sandpipers takes flight and heads north.  The long trip has begun.

The Upland Sandpiper is a long distance migrator, leaving the non-breeding grounds in Argentina’s grasslands in March and early April and flying northward over Central America and Mexico.  The usual path takes them overland, west of the Gulf of Mexico, to Texas and north to the preferred breeding grounds of the upper Great Plains and southern Canada.  Only a few will breed in the Mid-Atlantic states and eastern Canada.

Was it a sudden violent storm separating her from the flock, a memory of prior flight paths, a derangement of her internal compass, or just an urge to set out further to the east?  Whatever the cause the Upland Sandpiper found herself over the vast Gulf of Mexico, fighting a cross wind, with no land in sight, and all alone.  Thirty-six hours of this non-stop flight to the northeast took its toll.  Her weight was down and she was getting dehydrated and weaker, when seemingly out of nowhere she was joined by a mixed flock of wood warblers, all heading in her direction.  Being in a flock again was encouraging, but the best surprise was the small island they led her to, barely visible ahead on the pristine aqua water.  But this was no ordinary island.  It periphery was guarded by the brick walls of an old fort, and there was a tour boat at its dock, and people walking all around the central courtyard and snorkeling in the shallows.  No matter; for the sandpiper it was rest, food, water, and renewed life.

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Also in 2010 four of us decided to supplement a trip to the Florida Keys with a day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park, about 68 miles west of the Key West in the Gulf of Mexico.  This small archipelago of coral islands was discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513 and named for the abundant turtles (tortugas).  The “dry” modifier was added later to warn mariners that the island contained no fresh water source.  The site has much to offer today.  For my history-minded non-birder friends the large Fort Jefferson was constructed from brick in 1847 to guard our southern coast, but never completely finished.  A tour through its chambers and grounds was rewarding.  John James Audubon visited the island for several days in 1832 and painted several birds on site.  Its most famous resident was Doctor Samuel Mudd who was held captive in the prison as a coconspirator for the killing of Abraham Lincoln.  His heroic action nursed the fort’s inhabitants through a yellow fever epidemic and he was later pardoned by Andrew Johnson in 1869.

Brown Pelican,  J. J. Audubon

Brown Pelican, J. J. Audubon

For me though, it was all about the birds.  Our crossing was a little rough and several of us were a tad green, but the great thing about seasickness is it is cured quickly on terra firma.  As we were leaving the boat and recovering one of the rangers called out, “Upland Sandpiper spotted in the fort!” I joined a small stampede of birders and was rewarded.  There she was, with that characteristic upright pose, resting on the green parade ground. We gave her some deserved space, realizing this bird must have made an amazing journey to end up here, on Dry Tortugas, still only halfway to her final destination.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Only eight birds commonly nest in the National Park, but 299 species have been recorded there, using the islands as a migratory rest stop, peaking in April each year.  The eight nesting birds are Brown Pelican, Roseate Tern, Bridled Tern, Mourning Dove, and the only nesting colonies in the United States for Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Magnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby.  Birding on the island is conveniently compact.  There was a small stone fountain centrally placed on the parade ground between seaside mahoe and buttonwood trees, supplying the needed freshwater for the birds.  I saw several warblers at the fountain.  The fort’s ramparts were a good spot to see and photograph the soaring Magnificent Frigatebirds, pelicans and terns.  The approach to the dock is the best chance of seeing the nesting Sooty Terns and other birds on the adjacent Bush Key.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

The trip was memorable for several reasons.  First, I saw 10 life birds including my Upland Sandpiper.  Secondly, I learned I needed a new camera.  My birding and photography friend had been pressing me to ditch the point-and-shot and go DSLR.  His pictures from the Dry Tortugas were much better than mine, as you can probably see in this post.  That day was the last hurrah for the old camera and a new world of photography opened up.  Lastly I learned a lesson from that sandpiper.  Sometimes if you take the road less travelled and buffet the wind and stormy seas, you may end up at a beautiful island in the sun.