Least Terns and Life Birds at the Gulf Islands National Seashore

       For the next week or so, I will be in Perdido Key, Florida visiting family and enjoying the beach. However, as I always do during vacation, I will be doing a bit of birding, Luckily for me, the Perdido Key section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is just down the road from where I am staying; giving me an easy way to prevent the onset of birding withdrawal. 

       This morning, my dad and I headed down to the seashore to try to pick up a few well needed Florida Panhandle lifers. My three main targets at this portion of the seashore were least terns (this would be a life bird for me [don’t laugh, I’m always at the wrong place at the wrong time]), snowy plover (another lifer), and to try to get good looks at sandwich terns (I had seen them for the first time yesterday but it had only been distant flybys). 

       We pulled into the park, paid our entrance fee, and began to drive down the road. I hadn’t been able to find all that much information about birding this particular spot so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Because of this we decided to pull over and walk down the beach just to see what was around. 

       The first thing that I saw were large flocks of sandwich terns flying by, out over the ocean. For whatever reason, I really like sandwich terns. They’re not as unique as gull-billed terns and not as charismatic as least terns but I think they’re cool (I think it’s their bill color I like).

Anyway, besides the terns, a few ruddy turnstones were foraging along the shoreline. They were accompanied by the omnipresent company of the usual beach birds: the laughing gulls and the sanderlings.



Ruddy Turnstone



I decided to walk down the shore a bit to see what else I could find. My plan was to walk a while in one direction, turn around, and then walk awhile in the other direction. More of the usual was all I found during the first part of the walk. However, on the way back, a least tern flew by with a fish in it’s mouth! Despite the fact that I knew the terns were breeding at the seashore, it was cool to see direct evidence of it. 

Walking down the beach the other way produced one new bird for the day in the form of a willet. 

However despite the fact that I had seen a least tern, a single individual flying by is not a satisfying way to get a life bird, so I decided to walk down the side of the island which borders the sound that runs between the island and the mainland. This stretch is much closer to the breeding areas of both the least terns and snowy plover. It is also a quieter stretch of beach than the Gulf side. I was hoping that the combination of these factors would result in better birding. 

Arriving on the other side of the island, I was happy to see an osprey circling over the sound, hunting.Image


Continuing down the beach, another large flock of sandwich terns with a handful of royal terns mixed in flew past, going down the beach. As I started to walk along the beach, I started to see a few least terns flying by every couple of minutes, many carrying fish. A little farther along, I came across another willet walking along the shoreline. Then, a few minutes after that, I caught a glimpse of movement, out of the corner of my eye, in the dunes. Looking more closely, a saw that it was a snowy plover! Another life bird for the day! The plover moved farther back into the dunes, watching my every move closely. When I lowered my binoculars, I realized just how camouflaged against the sand these birds can be. It was very hard for me to refind the bird when I raised my binoculars again. 

Walking further along, I encountered a large number of sanderlings foraging along the shore, as well as a bunch more least terns. There was also a single least sandpiper mixed into one group of sanderlings. As this point though, it was getting really hot and humid so I decided to turn around and head back to the car. 

I was pleased with the day’s birding though and satisfied with the two lifers I had gotten.

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One Response to Least Terns and Life Birds at the Gulf Islands National Seashore

  1. Pingback: Yearly Roundup 2013 | PA Birding

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