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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Marco Island and Tigertail Beach by Gary Becker

Susan with Royal Terns, Black Skimmers and Willet
        It’s hard to believe that until the 1960’s Marco Island was almost totally uninhabited except for mosquitoes.  In fact during Hurricane Donna in 1960 the island was submerged under 12 feet of water.  Now most of the island is covered with 1960ish tract homes giving it a retro feel. Crescent Beach occupies most of the island’s west coast.  Its northern most part is called Tigertail Beach and is one of the most important sites in south western Florida for wintering shorebirds. 
Tigertail Beach with its Shorebirds
         The beach and lagoon are constantly changing in response to the currents but at low tide the mudflats are revealed and can be easily explored. When we first arrived early morning January 25 there were no visitors present and the tide was out. To my surprise I immediately spotted a number of  Wilson’s Plovers(a lifer for me). 
Wilson's Plover showing off its hunker of a bill

         In addition to the Wilson’s there were Snowy(another recent lifer), Piping, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, Western and Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs and a Reddish Egret. 
Snowy Plover with black eye spot

Piping Plover - compare bill shape to Snowy above

Reddish Egret

         There were a few Red Knots one of which had a band on each leg. 

Winter plumaged Red Knots

Red Knot with flags on legs
          While photographing and enjoying some great looks at the 2 new life birds we were suddenly interrupted by groups of kite-surfers noisily trudging across the mudflats and then the dunes to reach the ocean. The birds quickly flew away so I was lucky to get in my half hour of birding before the crowds arrived.   In contrast to the less developed Tigertail Beach, the southern part of Crescent Beach is definitely a bathing beach. It’s surrounded by hotels and condos but there is municipal parking for folks just visiting. We spent part of the day on this beach with some friends who took advantage of the great shelling there and I believe it to be as good as can be found on Sanibel Island.  Royal Terns and Black Skimmers were numerous along with several  Magnificent  Frigatebirds and a Peregrine Falcon.  
Magnificent Frigatebird
           A week later Susan and I returned to search out the Burrowing Owls that nest on the island and are plentiful in spite of the rampant development.  When we arrived on the island we were side tracked by an open air market a few blocks off the main street. As it turned out this was a fortuitous event since we really had no idea where to go to locate these owls. There were lots of different vendors selling anything from T-shirts to Tacos but one exhibitor was displaying his wildlife photos including several of our target bird: the Burrowing Owl.  On inquiring he told me he shot the pictures only a few miles away.  He directed me to the Mackle Library and suggested I check out the surrounding streets and watch for roped off  areas on vacant lots.  Sure enough many of the undeveloped residential lots within blocks of the library had small roped off areas and several Burrowing Owls standing next to their burrows. 
Burrowing Owls


“Sibley” says they are nocturnal hunters but they will perch outside their homes in the daylight.  Really a most interesting bird and another lifer for me.  Marco Island is only 30 minutes south of Naples and is on my must see places for birding, shelling and hanging out on a beautiful beach.

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper



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