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Friday, August 31, 2012

A Late Summer Walk at Little Estero Lagoon

Little Estero Lagoon is an Important Bird Area (IBA) on the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida. Offering ideal coastal habitat with sandy beaches, brackish lagoons, and expansive mudflats. It is excellent for snowy plover, oystercatchers, herons, larids and shorebirds. While parts of it are a designated Critical Wildlife Area (CWA), it faces disturbance and threats from small mobs of beachgoers, pet owners, and recreational fishermen. This is especially true when snowy plover and least tern nest.

It is easily possible to spend 3 to 4 hours birding this area at any time of the year. Variety increases in migration, and I was hoping to find my target species for the day: Hudsonian Whimbrel and Red Knot and, fortunately, Little Estero did not disappoint.

Hiding amongst a dozen godwit [upper right] were 3 whimbrel [left]. The godwit will stay through winter but the whimbrel is strictly a passage migrant. Also seen were Short-billed Dowitcher [lower right] although not nearly in numbers that can be expected later in the season.

Little Estero is also a reliable place for American Oystercatcher [right] and they were found busy feeding on clams and conchs that the high tide washed ashore. The shorebirds [red knot; upper left and black-bellied plover lower right], unlike in Winter, still reflected shades of their alternate plumage.

Superbly camouflaged were snowy plovers [lower left] and basic plumaged red knot [upper right] while a tail-bobbing spotted sandpiper combed the inner lagoon for small grub. Nearby, a reddish egret [upper left] successfully danced for fish.

Other birds seen were the eccentric black skimmer [upper left], a ruddy turnstone [lower right; justifying its moniker] and a common tern [lower left].

Notably absent this early in the season were dunlin and least sandpiper; although small numbers of western sandpiper [upper right] were found. Little Estero never disappoints and should be on every birder's itinerary.

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