During a recent field trip with our Florida Master Naturalist Class our trawl net brought up a critter that I don't think I've encountered before. It is called a warty dorid (a variety of nudibranch, or sea slug) and stretched out it measured about 3 inches in length. New critters = good times for Dave, especially when I get to photograph and do some research about things I haven't seen before.
During my research I learned this animal is a sponge-eating sea slug, thus we can't keep it in captivity because we can't keep sponges alive in our aquarium to feed to it. The nudibranch laid eggs overnight in the jar that it was in so I photographed some of them too. The convoluted egg ribbon was probably more than a foot long and this is just a one inch section of it. It looks like the eggs are clumped in groups of three. Amazing detail in nature!
After its photo session it was released by Moe and Greg on their way to Keewaydin Island.
I spent the afternoon of Sunday January 31st at the Second Chance CWA doing a bird survey with Rookery Bay/Audubon volunteers Jean Hall and SJ Kwiatkowska. It was a gorgeous day and we practically had the island all to ourselves. There were over 1,500 birds on the island with us, including 100+ threatened Red Knots and 15 Piping Plovers. 100+ American White Pelicans were also resting on the island. Not only is Second Chance a critical site for beach nesting birds, it is also extremely important for wintering/migrating shorebirds and seabirds. Remember to always walk around the large flocks of birds you see on the beach. Resting and foraging undisturbed is critical to their survival.
Audubon Shorebird Stewardship Coordinator
Last Saturday we spotted a healthy, five-foot long, eastern diamondback rattlesnake on the Snail Trail. In the morning about 20 visitors had a great look at it and took lots of pictures. Later that day while I was on the trail, a visitor approached to ask for some help because his wife was trapped on the boardwalk, by a rattlesnake!
It seems that they were coming back from the creekside viewing platform and as they approached the foot of the boardwalk when they spotted the snake sunning itself. The husband ran forward and his wife went back toward the creek, and the snake continued its course to lay directly across the path.
As December graduation nears at FGCU, I am finishing my service learning volunteer requirement at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Wednesday, Nov 18, I took part in a two-hour guided kayak tour. This experience was a terrific connection to the nature in my own backyard.
As a graduating senior, the pressure to succeed at work and internships is high. What better way to reduce stress than to try out something new and spend some time out on the water before finals. There was such a sense of peace and tranquility on this tour. As a first time kayaker, our guide Randy was excellent in giving general instructions on efficient kayaking. Throughout the tour, he was keeping all kayakers motivated and expressed everything to be expected while paddling – even when the wind picked up and a slight current began.
Of course, the first question most asked after recounting my experience was if I saw any marine life. While it is noted that it is less common to spot dolphins on this tour, our group witnessed two swimming along while we were all stationed by mangrove trees. I also had the opportunity to hold a periwinkle snail while learning the natural food chain that occurs in those particular areas of the water.
I will definitely recommend this tour for anyone interested in trying out something new. For a nominal fee of $59, you gain a lasting memory of Southwest Florida's coastal uplands and nature. The guides are friendly and the view is absolutely breathtaking.
FGCU December graduate: Communication, B.A
Mutants in the Reserve, really?
And I'm not writing about our staff.
These are real live mutants.
Not your mutants from outer space, mind you.
These mutants are animals native to our area.
These critters scored either extra high or extra low on their genetic diversity tests.
Twice in 2 weeks I had the opportunity to meet a couple of extra special nine-armed sea stars while leading trawling programs for high school or college marine science field trips. Trawling means pulling a net, behind a boat, along the estuary floor. We use trawling as a way to introduce students to the amazing variety of life that calls our Reserve home. Our fisheries biologist also uses trawling as a way to evaluate the health of estuarine food webs by studying the populations of baitfish, etc. Anyway, I digress.
It was a bright and clear day (as opposed to a dark and stormy night when one might expect to encounter mutants) two weeks ago when I encountered my first unusual nine-armed sea star.
As you might have guessed by now, nine-armed sea stars are supposed to have, well, nine arms. Go figure. All together in the net there were nearly a dozen nine-armed sea stars – and in that bunch there was one that stuck out from the crowd. It had ELEVEN arms! I was really excited to see such a cool animal.
On a recent non-breeding bird route survey that included areas in and around Cape Romano, we were very excited to observe a 30-inch smalltooth sawfish in Morgan Bay. At this size, this sawfish would be considered young-of-the-year, and was most certainly recently pupped in reserve waters. We were able to watch the sawfish from a distance of just a few feet as it casually swam in a small mudflat pool in just 4 inches of water, likely attracted by the large number of bait fish we also observed. This was a rare encounter, and a first observation of a smalltooth sawfish in its habitat for me.
Smalltooth sawfish, closely related to sharks and rays, historically inhabited coastal and estuarine waters from North Carolina to Texas, but as their numbers have been drastically reduced from habitat loss and from commercial fishing impacts (as by-catch from becoming entangled in fishing nets), Southwest Florida is their last stronghold. The smalltooth sawfish was classified as endangered in 2003 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is now fully protected. The ESA designates smalltooth sawfish Critical Habitat that includes the waters of Florida Bay, Rookery Bay NERR, and the Estero Bay/Caloosahatchee River/Charlotte Harbor complex. Research on these fish is in its infancy, and not a great deal is currently known about the habits and life history of this species.
Out re-sighting Red Knots on Marco Island city beach on Sunday. Strong winds and bouts of pouring rain made it difficult at times, but I was able to read several bands.
Light green flags 537, A03 and 6C9. 537 has a geo-locator over an orange band. 6C9 has been seen by Rookery Bay staff member and researcher Beverly Anderson in previous years. Also had green flag HKM, a bird first seen a month ago on Marco and Keewaydin.
Jean Hall was of course ready at a moment's notice with her camera and took these photos.
Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Project Manager
Rookery Bay Reserve is the nursery for numerous aquatic species. On Aug. 20, 2015, Xiomara, Dave, Jeannine, Keith, and I went trawling for fish and other sea critters that we could catch. Dave emphasized the importance of preserving Rookery Bay due to its fostering environment for many juvenile species, such as the lane snapper which sometimes seeks refuge among the mangroves’ prop roots or even under a mangrove seed or leaf. The importance of Rookery Bay is evident in the species that we caught when we trawled near Keewaydin Island- we caught two batfish, a flounder, a sea pork, some starfish, many comb jelly, and a handful of crabs. These are only a few of the many species that calls Rookery Bay its home, and due to this reason it is important to continue to keep it pristine.