Siesta Key, just off Florida’s west coast, is a barrier island protecting mainland Sarasota. These naturally formed islands protect the mainland from disasters like the onslaught we’ve very recently just seen. While the Key is home to a constant influx of tourists and well-off snowbirds whose large houses line the gulf, this is a place that is still wild in a few ways if you look beyond the sea of oiled up beach goers. Beyond a field of beach umbrellas in every shade of the rainbow, the sands of Siesta Key are is also home to a variety of nesting seabirds and shorebirds. And there is quite an array species of birds that we share this ecosystem with, as you can see in this bird-and-sunset-centric video I just whipped up or on my Warm Winter Sands blog post from last year. These hardy, feathered creatures occupy parts of nearby keys , those that stay local during the summer breeding season to have their young (some of which I have visited, see Skimmers) and even more seabirds will gather each fall on the wide, white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico along with their newly produced generation of young. Here, they’ll spend the long winter months feeding from the warm waters and people watching.
Terns and sandpipers that return in the fall to the beach have finished their nesting in the upper temperate zones, from Maine up into the Arctic where a brief summer bids a rich harvest of insects, juvenile “feeder” fish, aquatic invertebrates and other seabird and shorebird prey. As winter approaches, I’ve watched the stark black heads and bodies of the various seabirds decline like a receding hairline or fade to a fuzzy gray..although skimmers don’t tend to follow suit, remaining crisp and handsome black throughout the entire non-breeding season.
Anyways, as I think about wintering birds, see them here at the end of a busy season of egg laying, feeding hungry chicks and watching them take their first flight now resting on my own local beach, I feel grateful that, between the umbrellas, there’s still something wild. Just think, some of these birds have flown hundreds of miles to get here. Now, they’re just trying to do their own version of hibernating. Except they don’t need to do it underground. Instead, they get to soak up the rays and enjoy the warm gulf breeze..