The timing couldn’t have been better. With the late afternoon sun shining brightly, this shrimping trawler headed for port to unload the day’s fresh catches. Clearly, the boat and its crew weren’t alone.
An assortment of gull species, Northern Gannets, and other sea birds followed along, hoping for an easy meal as the crew pitched unwanted catches overboard. It was unusual for the trawler to be close enough to shore to zoom in for a decent shot.
A Bonaparte’s Gull landed in the salty water near where the grandfatherly gentleman stood focused on his seashell mission. The man didn’t notice the majestic bird still in its winter plumage. Instead, he gazed downward as the nearly calm ocean lapped at the shore.
Like so many other beachgoers, this human being searched for treasure. He pursued colorful shells, starfish, and shark’s teeth uncovered from their sandy hiding spots by the steadily moving waters.
The ocean glistened in the late morning sun, still not strong enough to fend off the cold north wind. That didn’t deter the gem hunters.
The joggers or walkers, often with a dog or two attached to leashes, also plied the sandy shoreline. The canines either forged ahead or got pulled along.
At sunrise, the Black Skimmers fed in their fashion, beaks skimming the water’s surface for seafood fare. Later they huddled on the warming sand, preening, resting, readying for their next expedition.
The magnificent Northern Gannets displayed a different approach. They flapped their long narrow wings, black tips contrasting sharply with the rest of their ivory feathers. The gannets sailed and circled. Once spotting their targets, they dived kamikaze-style into the ocean where they sat and swallowed their catch.
The Brown Pelicans mimicked the gannets in style but lacked the grace. The bulky birds sailed on the breeze until they spied their meal, then hurled themselves head first into the water. Their steam shovel-like bill had scooped in their prey before the birds righted themselves and downed the fish.
Trawlers trailed giant nets up and down the waters offshore snaring shrimp and fish. Scores of gulls, terns and gannets swirled madly behind the boat, hoping to catch any escaping seafood.
The ocean itself had split personalities. Sometimes tranquil, sometimes angry, the waters either licked or pounded at the shoreline depending on the ocean’s mood. If gale force winds accompanied high tide overnight, the gritty beach yielded.
What once was a gentle slope to the sea had had a makeover in the new moon darkness. The sunrise beachcombers had one, two or even three terraces to step down to the shore for their strolls.
Helicopters shuttled to and fro from a nearby Naval base just the way a pair of Ospreys zipped and hovered above the beach. The main difference was the birds weren’t practicing. For the Ospreys, a successful hunt meant survival.
Tiny Sanderlings scampered along the shore, too. Probing for nutrition, they zigzagged along the foamy sea edge as it ebbed and flowed.
Youngsters tossed a few gulls bits of bread. It didn’t take long for the boys to wish they hadn’t.
Shore fishermen cast their lines far out into the water, letting their live bait attract the fish they sought to reel in. Until then, they stuck the handle of the rod into a sturdy holder secured in the sand and took a seat.
Others only wanted to warm themselves in February’s sun, using the backs of their beach chairs for windbreaks. They read or were content just to be.
When the waves occasionally called their names, locals dressed in wet suits carried surfboards, waded into the water, and paddled out for the perfect wave. When they got a good one, they rode it until the curl collapsed.
In dawn’s golden light, pods of dolphins coursed the waters for their breakfasts. Their bobbing dorsal fins foretold their way. They were mesmerizing to watch, a model of all activity along a winter’s beach.
As my wife and I walked the beach at Little Talbot Island State Park in Florida, plenty of action played out all around us. Waves crashed against the sandy eastern shore as the strong westerly wind blew wisps from the tops of the waves’ curls. Surfers took advantage of the favorable conditions. Ospreys sailed high overhead, searching the shallows of the surf for lunch. Forster’s Terns and Northern Gannets dove into the ocean in their never-ending quest for survival.
Humans walked the beach, heads down scanning for sharks teeth and pretty shells. Mothers watched their children dabble in the cold Atlantic, which kept them from venturing in too far.
For me, though, the most exciting find was at the end of the large limb of driftwood where seawater still lingered from the morning’s high tide. The salt water brought out the true color of the wood while the sun and salty air bleached the branch’s exposed, dry parts. The result is my Photo of the Week, “Driftwood.”