Recent rains and high tides did some damage to sea turtle nests in the Rookery Bay Reserve.
There were 38 nests washed away and of the nests that are left on the beach, 26 were inundated. There were about 4 nests that hatched, but had really terrible success. In two of these, no hatchlings made it out and were drowned by rain/high tide. The other two had some that made it out, but still had a lot of dead babies inside.
Florida’s white sand beaches are a playground for millions of residents and visitors each year. Beaches also serve as important habitat for shorebirds, with many species laying their eggs and raising their young right on the sand. Beaches in and around Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve historically have hosted some of the largest beach-nesting seabird colonies in the state.
Audubon Florida and Audubon of the Western Everglades recently partnered with Rookery Bay Reserve to hire Adam DiNuovo in a new position as Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Project Manager.
DiNuovo is working with research and stewardship staff at the reserve to monitor seasonal beach-nesting bird colonies, over-wintering shorebird population trends, spring/fall migratory periods and habitat on mainland beaches as well as on remote, offshore islands. He is also recruiting and training bird stewards as part of a wider education and outreach initiative within Collier and Lee counties.
A native of Palmer, Massachusetts, DiNuovo received his bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology from Franklin Pierce University. Before taking this position in April, he was Research Coordinator at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research managing field crews studying the California Least Tern and Western Snowy Plover at Camp Pendleton. He was previously part of the Audubon family, having worked for three years as Assistant Sanctuary Manager at the seven seabird islands that form Audubon’s Project Puffin focal islands in the Gulf of Maine. Before Project Puffin, DiNuovo worked with American oystercatchers in South Carolina, Delaware and Virginia; piping plovers in Mississippi and Massachusetts; and common and roseate tern colonies in Massachusetts.
Exciting news!! During their monthly shorebird survey, Audubon program coordinator Adam DiNuovo, research assistant Beverly Anderson, and bird steward volunteer Deborah Woods spotted and photographed this snowy plover with chick near the north end of Keewaydin Island. Snowy plovers , which are a threatened species, live in Florida year-round and nest from March through September.
Snowy plovers have not been recorded on any of our surveys over the past 10 years. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife, this is the first nest in Collier County since 2005.
As I was walking south on Marco Island today after surveying the birds, I noticed 4 crows 40 yards behind me acting suspicious. Crows always look like they are up to something, but these crows certainly had bad intentions. I looked through my scope to see what they were up to and I noticed a tiny Wilson's Plover chick struggling with this leg stuck in vegetation. I instantly took off running (looking like a crazy person I am sure). I have never covered 40 yards faster in my life. I reached the plover chick just before the crows had a chance to grab it. After untangling it and snapping a quick photo, I released it and it returned to its parents and siblings.
Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Project Manager
Earlier this week reserve staff became aware that a dog was found on Kice Island by staff of an eco-tour boat, the Calusa Spirit. She was visibly shaken and dehydrated. The captain and crew asked all boaters and visitors on the island if they knew who owned her, but no one did.
After returning with the dog to the mainland, tour staff contacted Team OCEAN's Mike Wetherbee at Marco Beach, who later learned that Dolly's owners had allowed her to roam on the island loose and she wandered off. Dolly's owners needed to get back to shore, but planned to return to Kice to resume their search. Before departing the ramp for the second time that day, the owners learned that the Calusa Spirit crew had rescued Dolly. They contacted the Calusa Spirit's parent company, Marco Ski and Waterports at the Hilton, and the reunion took place shortly afterwards when a Marco Ski employee drove Dolly to the boat ramp.
Apparently Dolly's owners were unaware that unleashed pets are prohibited on all beaches in Collier County, including barrier islands in the reserve like Kice and Keewaydin Island. It is dangerous for nesting birds, other wildlife, other visitors. It is also dangerous for the pet. Wandering off leash, especially in summer, presents a number of threats to pets' safety.
The only off-leash dog beach in the region is the Lee County Dog Beach.
Why do we all want to be part of Team OCEAN? Is it because we feel the urge to be environmentally conscious and pick up beach trash? Maybe it calms us to know that teaching people to keep their dogs on a leash is helpful for everyone's health in public spaces. Possibly we yearn to talk to children out of chasing shore birds or tormenting them with bags of potato chips. Whatever your reason, Team OCEAN is unanimously voted the best gig at Rookery Bay Reserve.
Getting on a Team OCEAN crew is a coveted position. There is the cool hat and t-shirt, a proud uniform even if it is a rather sickly shade of pale yellow. No matter, our beach tan more than makes up for the pallor of palette in the attire. We wait by our computers and tablets each week to receive our notice of dock time with joy and anticipation. Will I be able to reply quickly enough to get a seat on the boat this week? Does the captain like my anchor toss enough to ask me back? We know there are dozens waiting to take our place should we mess up. Our only hope is to tote that bale and scrub the poop better than that other guy so we are irreplaceable. Showing up with fresh baked muffins helps too.
It would be nice if there were more boats, creating more spots for more volunteers but then the exclusivity might be watered down. If everyone can afford the Ferrari does it lose its mystique? Then again, if we made the beaches too clean and completely run out of people to talk to about good stewardship in the reserve, would we put ourselves out of a job? That may be the goal, but it is comforting to know that human nature, and our slovenly behavior on this planet, are probably not going to change in the near future. Not to mention that there are new visitors on our waters, most from far away, every time we go. I think it is safe to say the Team OCEAN gig will be a prime volunteer spot for a long while to come.
It was a beautiful January afternoon as I happily headed down to the Port of the Islands marina where I would witness and photograph the release of two manatees by the FWC's Fish & Wildlife Research Institute in Rookery Bay Reserve. I was extremely excited to say the least, as I never dreamed I would be this up close and personal to my beloved manatee.
The small caravan, two box trucks and a Lowry Park Zoo van, arrived as scheduled. The box trucks simultaneously backed down the boat ramp as the professionals began the seemingly well-rehearsed release process. The first manatee to be released was an adult, pregnant female, who was rescued from Charlotte County and rehabilitated at Lowry Park Zoo following a watercraft-related injury. She was an amazing sight, weighing in at 1,600 pounds. It took sixteen people to slowly and carefully hoist her off the truck and then into the water. From the lift platform, she was placed on a padded mat. Before the final stretch down to the water, she was allowed to rest as water was poured on her back. This is when a few of us were allowed to take some photographs. I was pleasantly surprised to see how calm she remained during the entire process. After a few minutes of rest, the group gently lifted her and walked her down the boat ramp and into the water. The small crowd that had gathered to watch the release, clapped and cheered as she finally swam off and away from the boat ramp.
This past Tuesday Dave, Jeannine and I went out trawling to try and find some new critters for the fish tanks. Our mission was to find a mantis shrimp, an elongated crustacean named for its praying mantis-like striking claws.
We conducted two three-minute trawls and while we found no mantis shrimp, we did get some other very interesting critters! The first is a tongue fish, which is a flatfish like the flounder, but in a different family. While it was a first for me, we saw a few of them in each trawl. We also had two types of flounder, the oscellated and small fringed flounder.
We also found a male lined sea horse with eggs! We were very careful with him as we did not want him to release his young too soon. As with most seahorses, the female transfers her eggs into the male's brood match shortly after fertilization, where the eggs hatch and develop before being released.
Another animal we got was a sea star. It was a lined sea star, which I have never seen before, and I have to say I learned that the spines on its arms are sharp!
While we saw many interesting critters, all were returned to the estuary.
Dita O'Boyle, Education Specialist