Conditions were perfect for catching sharks on the evening of April 16th, 2013 when Rookery Bay researcher, Pat O'Donnell, and his team of volunteers took the boat out to Faka-Union Bay in hopes to catch and tag more sharks for his ongoing research study. The night was balmy with an intermittent breeze and after baiting and setting up the nets, they waited for four hours watching the lines for the tell-tale signs of a catch—the drop and wiggle of the buoys. Nothing came. Only the slight dip of a single buoy, which signaled that a catfish was caught in the net, and the buzz of hungry mosquitoes echoed off the still night water. This doesn't happen often for the research
team, but participants in the study are always made aware that when animals are involved in the project, the outcome is unpredictable.
Mission San Juan Capistrano may have its swallows, but Rookery Bay Reserve has its least terns! Least terns are small (nine inches long with a wing span of 20 inches) and have been called "sea swallows" for their rapid, darting flight. Each year in early April, like clockwork, migratory least terns return to Florida and Rookery Bay beaches to lay their eggs and raise their chicks.
This year, least terns were first seen on Rookery Bay Reserve grounds on April 3, at Second Chance sandbar near Cape Romano by Reserve staff and volunteer bird monitors. On April 9, over 30 least terns were recorded resting along the southern tip of Keewaydin Island during the Reserve's weekly beach-nesting bird survey.
Three nights a month research staff and citizen scientists keep tabs on shark movements in the Reserve, and last week's excursion could not have been better. In addition to enjoying a balmy March evening with a marvelous sunset, the crew captured three bonnethead sharks, one lemon shark, and a cow-nosed ray, and NO MOSQUITOES! Learn about shark monitoring and how the data is used here.
Reserve staff and Team OCEAN volunteers posted a small portion of beach on the south tip of Keewaydin Island and in early April will post part of an emergent sandbar at Cape Romano Shoals. These areas have been posted annually from early April until late August to protect nesting habitat for least terns, black skimmers and Wilson's plover since 2001. They installed informational signs connected by string and flagging to clearly mark closed areas. Two marked crossover trails on the south tip of Keewaydin Island lead beachgoers across the island to access the Gulf-side beach.
Greg Curry, Rookery Bay Reserve's Resource Management Specialist, returns to document the re-growth progress following the final prescribed burn of the season, two weeks ago. Already, there are signs of new plants sprouting, old plants re-sprouting, and visible wildlife activity in the area.
Visit Rookery Bay Reserve's Prescribed Fire Program webpage to learn more.
Jill and Beverly on the research staff braved red tide and being chased by a big dog to map the shoreline along the south end of Keewaydin Island. Jill will be going back out to finish mapping the north end to complete the entire shoreline. In addition, Bev also mapped several areas at the south tip to guide the bird posting this spring. The southern tip has accreted ¼ mile since the project started in 1998! The island is eroding in other areas.
Rookery Bay staff and volunteers spotted two razorbills along the shore of Keewaydin Island while conducting the bi-weekly bird census. Razorbills are a North Atlantic species related to puffins and, more distantly, penguins. There have been only 14 previous records in Florida but since early December researchers estimate more than 1,000 of these birds have been seen statewide. Razorbills have also been seen locally at the Naples Pier and along Marco Island. Reserve staff also encountered a razorbill carcass that had washed ashore and provided it to researchers for further study.
Scientists and birders have offered many theories as to why razorbills are showing up here at all, let alone in such large numbers, however it will take time for all factors to be considered before any sound explanation can be reached.