Yesterday morning I went out on my weekly non-breeding bird survey, accompanied by Education Intern Brooke, and volunteer Larry. While on these surveys I try to get accurate counts of all the different shorebird species using the beaches in the reserve while noting other factors like behavior and disturbance.
Last Thursday I was lucky enough to accompany one of our visiting investigators, Martha Zapata from Ohio State University, into the field to assist with her masters thesis research. Martha is studying the complexity of food webs in the East River, a tributary to Fakahatchee Bay.
The day started great - we met at the Environmental Learning Center and headed out to our Goodland field station with all our gear, food, water and coffee. It was a beautiful south Florida day, sunny and in the low 70s. The journey began with a 45-minute boat ride out to Martha’s lower study sites in the East River. Martha also has sites upriver that are only accessible by kayak from US 41.
The 17th annual Ten Thousand Islands Christmas Bird Count (FLTT CBC) was held on Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Fifteen teams and a total of 52 people participated in the count using a variety of transportation including: 1 airboat, 4 outboard motor boats, 1 canoe, 1 kayak, 1 swamp buggy, autos, and of course on foot.
A total of 136 species and 17,681 birds were tallied within the entire FLTT count circle, much of which falls within Rookery Bay Research Reserve's managed area.
Earlier this week, I went out with Beverly and Allie in our research department to check the ABC Islands Critical Wildlife Area for nesting birds. These islands are posted and protected by a 300-foot buffer area, and our staff has a special permit issued by FWC to enter this area. Using binoculars, we saw great blue herons, pelicans, anhingas and more! While boating around the outside of the islands we saw evidence of cormorants nesting and also saw several blue heron nests. On one of the islands we could also see that there was fishing line caught in the tree canopy so we carefully removed the line. Fishing line is a threat to birds because they can become entangled and die.
Snail Trail has recently been reopened, so Misa, Renee, and I decided to take an hour of our morning to go check it out. The trail itself is normally a bit longer but since we couldn't stay away from work too long, we decided to take the short route - and so can you if you decide to go!
With Renee as our guide, Misa and I got to learn a lot about the native plants and exotic species in the area. Renee’s extensive knowledge of botany added a touch of science to our encounter with the nature in the reserve.
One of my personal favorites was the Golden Polypody Fern, especially because they are almost all reproductively active. This means a lot of golden polka dots under their many tiny leaves.
Another important part of our trail was learning about the invasive Air Potatoes. These are not actually a species of potatoes, but a seed that resembles a small potato. At Rookery Bay we actually have a beetle that eats their leaves in order to contain their spreading.
Along with all these, Snail Trail also has an observation bridge, which was a much welcomed resting point after a few several minutes of walking. Although we didn’t use our GPS’, you can always bring yours and find some geocaches too!
Overall we had a great hour smelling the leaves and feeling the wind as Winter approaches. There’s no better time to experience Rookery Bay’s trails than on this beautiful Fall weather.
You can find much more information about the Snail Trail and its observation bridge here!
Click on an image below to expand and see entire gallery.
Snail Trail Gallery
These little bulbs are often found at our trails. They are an invasive species that quickly spreads out, so we made sure to dispose this bulb where it wouldn't sprout. Learn more here: https://rookerybay.org/learn/wildlife-in-the-reserve/plants/exotic-plants-guide/1180-air-potato.html
Downy Rose Myrtle
This invasive species was brought here because of its beautiful flowers. Today we struggle to keep them at low numbers since they out-compete our native plants. Learn more here: https://rookerybay.org/learn/wildlife-in-the-reserve/plants/exotic-plants-guide/1183-downy-rose-myrtle.html
Golden Polypody Fern
These beautiful ferns are very common and right now they are even more beautiful since it's reproduction time!
Mangrove Rubber Vine
Found along one of our boardwalk ramps
Slash Pine Trees
One of the most frequent sighs on Snail Trail. Don't forget to look up!
View from platform
Snail Trail also has a platform view of Henderson Creek
Leaves of three, let them be!
Another beautiful fern on Snail Trail!
We had a wonderful evening in Rookery Bay Reserve and the glorious Ten Thousand Islands last week with fisheries biologist Pat O’Donnell. The evening began with a large mullet jumping into the boat onto the bow. Its bad fortune was our good luck: more shark bait, and, more sharks than we ever expected.
Misa and I, Rookery Bay Reserve's communication interns for Fall semester, joined a research trawling trip with Pat O'Donnell. Pat is the fisheries biologist and has been working at Rookery Bay for 18 years. It's safe to say he knows his fisheries pretty well! Neither of us had done anything like that before and we had no idea what to expect of it.
Rookery Bay Reserve’s water quality monitoring program manages seven sample sites across the Ten Thousand Islands. When we pull up our data logging equipment, called datasondes, we usually find small critters like porcelain crabs and grass shrimp using the equipment and tubes as their homes. But Nick and I never expected something as big and cool as what we saw in the tube at our Fakahatchee Bay site last week.
Goliath groupers, which can grow to be the size of a small car, and stone crabs, an extremely valuable commercial species, use estuaries in the reserve as nurseries and apparently appreciated this tube as a micro-habitat. Not sure how the grouper got in that small tube, but we were glad to get it out!
Julie Drevenkar, Water Quality Program Coordinator