Feathered 'Friends': Friends of Tigertail invites watchers to a morning with the birds

Barbara Sheerer, center, takes a first look at shorebirds abounding at Collier County’s Tigertail Beach lagoon on Marco Island. Sheerer participated in “Breakfast and Birds” Saturday sponsored by the Friends of Tigertail. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

Barbara Sheerer, center, takes a first look at shorebirds abounding at Collier County’s Tigertail Beach lagoon on Marco Island. Sheerer participated in “Breakfast and Birds” Saturday sponsored by the Friends of Tigertail. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

— Breakfast with birds at Collier County’s Tigertail Beach on Marco Island might conjure up a huddled group of diners deluged by hovering, cawing seagulls. On Saturday, nothing was further from the truth.

Those attending “Breakfast and Birds” munched muffins and doughnuts on wooden benches in the park’s rustic and sheltered pavilion. Organizers from the Friends of Tigertail urged participants to BYOB (bring your own breakfast). The meal was followed by an education session and a stroll along Tigertail’s lagoon.

As they walked, naturalists Fran Huxley and Susan Kubat narrated for bird watching attendees. Under foot, the sand was moist and hard packed for easy passage. The group observed from a safe distance so waterside subjects were not disturbed.

Along the walk, fiddler crab domiciles appeared as small holes in the ground surrounded by tiny balls of sand, laid out like welcome mats. The abundance of crabs make the area a feast for migrating birds, Kubat said.

A great white egret walked among the shore grasses.

“That’s a sight feeder,” said Huxley. “Watch how it scratches with its feet to get the fish to move around and show themselves.” As if on cue, the egret exhibited its legwork, tapping and scraping the grassy shallows.

Those watching cooed their approval.

A tri-colored heron stood at the far side of the lagoon. Birders peered through binoculars to observe its habits. Valerie Trombley from Michigan appeared especially keen.

“I’m not a member of the Friends of Tigertail,” she said, “but I joined in to learn more about birds.”

Huxley never failed to educate.

“Does anyone know why the birds all stand in one direction and into the wind?” she queried.

“To avoid getting their feathers ruffled?” someone answered.

The truth seemed counter intuitive.

“It’s the same reason airplanes take off into the wind,” Huxley replied.

The birds were prepared to flee on an updraft if predators approached, she explained.

It’s an example, flight manuals say, of Newton’s Third Law, explaining how every action generates an equal and opposite reaction. In case they need to take off quickly, the birds use the fast air passing over them to generate an upward force as they shape their wings. The maneuver allows them to gain altitude smoothly.

Veronica Catrombon, a private pilot and a new resident on Marco Island, nodded in agreement.

“I’m trying to take advantage of all the events here,” Catrombon said. “I chose this one to join.”

“Most of the birds here can be divided into two types: plovers and sandpipers,” Huxley said. “The plovers move more like robins, running and stopping, running and stopping.”

The group watched semipalmated plovers and killdeer do their dance. In the mixed flock, sandpipers such as dowitchers behaved differently, puncturing the sand again and again as they continued to feed.

A little blue heron skimmed close by along the water’s edge, raising questions in the group about juvenile morphs and field markings. As the group continued to follow the shoreline, word came that a roseate spoonbill had been observed at the end of the lagoon.

Without much prompting, the group scurried on to get a better view.

“Breakfast and Birds” was sponsored by the Friends of Tigertail. The next session will take place at 9 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 11. “Discover Tigertail,” an interactive educational experience for the whole family, will be held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, March 14.

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