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
July 31, 2016
Second Chance and New Beach
Low Tide 5.50am
Partly cloudy, thunderstorm to west
Adam and I shot out to Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area and Cape Romano this morning for a quick survey (for him) and hopefully a few chick photos (for me).
This tiny, tiny emergent sandbar was completely washed over by Tropical Storm Colin on June 6. EVERY Least tern (LETE) and Wilson's plover (WIPL) nest was gone. There wasn't one egg on it when we checked after the storm. The sandbar elevation was lowered and it looked grim for any successful nests this year. We were hoping that there would be re-nesting, but realistic that it might be a long shot.
But look what's out there now!
Because of the designation by FWC as a Critical Wildlife Area last November, and the subsequent closing for nesting season as of March 1st, the birds were largely undisturbed on Second Chance during this delicate time. Rookery Bay's Team OCEAN volunteers and FWC Law Enforcement have been diligent in educating boaters and minimizing human disturbance at Second Chance and it's paying off.
Adam counted 61 LETE fledglings! Last year at this time, there was maybe one fledgling.
May 12, 2016
On Thursday, May 12, Team Ocean participated in the release of two gopher tortoises on Keewaydin Island. According to Joanna Fitzgerald, Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, one tortoise had been entangled in monofilament line. The constriction damage was extensive so the tortoise was there for almost two months. The second tortoise was the victim of a predator attack. Damage was severe and also required many weeks of treatment.
Once the tortoises were rehabilitated, the Conservancy was at a loss as to how to get them back to Keewaydin. As a volunteer at the Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy, I became aware of the need, and because I am also a volunteer with Rookery Bay Reserve's Team OCEAN program, I looked into partnering with Team Ocean on this mission. After getting approval from the Team OCEAN coordinator and Rookery Bay Reserve's Stewardship department (to identify the best release location) I sought out the help of two other Team OCEAN captains, Bob Jack and Don Drake, to help in this endeavor.
Joanna assigned Megan Hatten, Wildlife Hospital Conservation Associate, to transport the tortoises and accompany us to Keewaydin Island. The tortoises were to be released inland on the north side of Keewaydin but just south of the Donahue property. The four of us along with two gopher tortoises left the Shell Island Road field station at 7:30 am, so that we could get the tortoises on the island with enough time during the day so that they could find their burrows. We needed to beach on the gulf side so by going early we also avoided rough water. Additionally that afford us enough time to release the animals, and still get back to Shell Island to drop off Megan and then take the daily crew out to the south end of Keewaydin Island for our Thursday outreach to the boaters visiting there.
Having the expertise of three captains made the beaching and release smooth and successful. The Conservancy truly appreciated our efforts.
PHOTO CAPTION: Megan and Bob Jack holding the tortoises, L (female) and C (Male).
STORY BY: Bob Fink, Team OCEAN Volunteer
April 15, 2016
Yesterday I went searching for reddish egret nests at the ABC Islands Critical Wildlife Area, one of the most important bird rookeries in the region. I was joined by Gina Kent, a biologist with ARCI (Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville), Don Drake (Team Ocean) and Lewis Barrett (FGCU student/volunteer).
This is the second year of a two-year project ARCI is working on with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the breeding and foraging ecology, threats, and causes of decline of reddish egrets in Florida. Reddish egrets are the rarest wading birds in the US and the Florida population is estimated to be only 350-400 pairs. Last year, Gina and I spent two days nest searching from Rookery Bay to Chokoloskee Bay and only found nesting reddish egrets on the ABC's. This year we revisited the ABC's and the Caxambas Pass oyster bar mangroves. Check out the ARCI webpage for more project information here.
I hadn't been to the ABC's since last April and am pleased to report nesting is underway for brown pelican, double-crested cormorant, anhinga, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tricolored heron, reddish egret and black-browned night-heron. Magnificent frigate birds were resting on the islands and there were black vultures and several pairs of fish crows hanging around.
We found 14 reddish egret nests on the three mangrove islands. Gina was impressed as that's a high concentration of nests in a small area. Most pairs were nest building or incubating but several pairs had small to medium chicks that we could see with binoculars.
The bad news is the amount of fishing line we saw...especially on the more hidden back sides of the islands.
Sadly, we found a dead entangled brown pelican and a dead entangled reddish egret. The fishing line that entangled the reddish egret ran for 20 feet along the water's edge and then up into the mangroves to near two reddish egret nests. Gina and I determined it would be worth it get the line away from the nesting birds and that we could remove it quickly and quietly from the boat with minimal disturbance.
Rookery Bay research staff will go out to the CWA when the birds have completely finished nesting (Oct. or Nov.) and remove all fishing line from the islands. We appreciate everyone's help in keeping fishing line where it belongs.
April 16, 2016
I did a trail walk in the scrub with the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society this morning off Shell Island Road.
We found a few grass pink orchids in bloom and a few getting ready to bloom. They are genus Calopogon but species wasn't determined -even by plant guru Jim Burch - and he's the one who wrote the vascular plant guide to Rookery Bay.
The other thing that was really amazing to see out there today was nesting common nighthawks. We encountered a male early on the walk and it was doing its courtship display by diving and "booming" at the bottom of its dive.
We flushed another nighthawk later in the morning and further back in the scrub. At first we didn't recognize it because it was so big and a rusty brown color. It was flopping around and presenting the "broken wing" distracting behavior. We didn't approach it but kept walking. It flew off after a couple of displays. A member of the group found two eggs on the ground under a Chapman's oak after we accidentally came upon them. We didn't touch the eggs, but I put my hand in the photo for reference/size - took 2 photos and kept moving so she could come back to her nest. Unfortunately we had to walk right by her eggs again on the way out, but she had returned to protect them again. We gave the nest a wider berth on the way back to try to avoid scaring her away again. We were all amazed by the fact that nighthawks nest right on the ground and how fortunate we were to encounter a "nest." There wasn't a huge risk to the eggs after we initially scared her because they weren't out in full sun and she returned to the nest in just a few minutes after we walked past.
Learn more about the common nighthawk here.
April 11, 2016
We observed the Second Chance sand bar from a distance and did not observe any boats, so Don dropped me off on Cape Romano and I walked from the pylons of the old dock to the tip for trash retrieval. One abandoned campsite sported many cans and a broken glass bottle in the charred debris. Back on the boat, we met some inquisitive paddle boarders by the domes, offering an opportunity for on-the-sea outreach.
Headed to Morgan Beach where I jumped off again. Picked up a discarded tire, and met a few shellers as well. As we were leaving, the Calusa Spirit arrived with about 30 people who disembarked there.
At around noon, we headed to Second Chance and did find two people shelling. They saw the signs but misinterpreted them, and left immediately after being informed. A second vessel approached, read the signs, appeared to consider them, but remained on a course to land. Admittedly, I wanted to see what they intended, but they were headed toward a large flock of birds and so we intercepted. I estimated about 150-180 least terns on the sand bar, though it is very difficult to see them from the boat.
Team OCEAN Volunteer