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
April 5, 2016
When you are a Birder, any day can be a good one if you find a "good" bird. Today, I was walking across the courtyard to the ELC when I heard the "chip" call of a warbler. This quick chip was different enough that I automatically looked up in the oak tree by the entrance and thought I saw a very special bird. I saw a complete white throat and belly with a small band of black across the neck. Its back was deep blue and it had white wing patches. There is only one bird that I knew could have these marks!
One of the volunteers who knows I am an obsessive birder asked me what I was looking at and I said "I think that is a Cerulean Warbler!" A small crowd soon gathered and I asked if someone could get a camera or binoculars so I didn't lose the bird in the tree.
Education Specialist Dave Graff came quickly with his super zoom camera and I was able to look and confirm it was indeed a Cerulean Warbler. Dave got a few incredible pictures of the bird. The warbler put on quite a show and fed actively right over our heads. This was the first Cerulean Warbler I had ever seen which makes it a "Lifer" in Birder lingo and I did a little dance to celebrate.
Why the big deal, you ask?
Last week Adam reminded me that it was time to check on our night herons that nest in the creek over by the McCormick building. Renee and I walked over this morning and got to see the male fly in with a new stick for the nest. The female was repeatedly displaying to him. Her crest is lifted up too but she kept conveniently hiding it behind a mangrove leaf.
I'll keep an eye on these two and will check for other nests too. Last year there were 4-5 nests in the little creek (not Henderson) between HQ and the buildings next door. Nesting looks like it is just starting since a lot of my photos from past years start in the middle of April.
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.