Nature's beauty surrounds us. We drive by it every day. We always see flowers, birds and butterflies, yet the environment here offers us so much more. Under certain conditions, if we take the time to stop and absorb our surroundings, we can truly appreciate other subtleties that make this place so special.
While walking through the parking lot one foggy morning, this normally gnarled tree caught my eye. I couldn't resist the urge to appreciate its sparkle so I grabbed my camera.
Photography is a great tool to not only capture memories but also open doors to new knowledge. Do yourself a favor: next time your world is blanketed by fog, rather than trying to see through it, look closely at what is right in front of you.
A few tips from an expert can make a world of difference in the way you experience nature. Consider enrolling in the Nature Photography Workshop with Rookery Bay Reserve's own Dave Graff. You might be surprised by how much more you see through the lens of a camera. You might even capture some of the finest jewels nature has to offer.
Renee Wilson, Communications Coordinator
Every year between December 14th and January 5th, teams of dedicated volunteers and scientists spread out across more than 2,100 established Christmas Bird Count (CBC) circles to record every bird they see and hear within a 24-hour period. Each CBC circle is 15 miles in diameter and then divided into smaller, manageable count areas. The CBC program, established in 1899 by the National Audubon Society, has evolved into the longest running wildlife census in North America and the data collected is used to assess the health of bird populations and help guide conservation activities on both local and national scales.
The Ten Thousand Islands (TTI) CBC circle was added in 2000 and covers 700 square miles of diverse habitats, including portions of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. I've been doing the TTI CBC since it began and my area of the count circle includes part of the Fiddler's Creek community, the Marco Airport and the Isles of Capri Paddle Park.
This year's count took place on January 3, 2014 and I picked up my teammate, Rookery Bay Reserve volunteer Deborah Woods, at 6:30 a.m. We covered 28 miles by car and on foot and finished at 5 p.m. after a long but rewarding day. The day began chilly and windy and never warmed up. Small land birds stayed well-hidden in the weeds and low grass or took cover deep inside foliage to keep warm and avoid the wind, so we recorded fewer individual birds and a fewer number of bird species than on past year's counts.
Our count highlights included a Great Horned Owl on a nest, a Bald Eagle on a nest and three Gadwall (a species of duck). The Gadwall were the only ones recorded by any team in the TTI count circle this year. Who knows what will turn up next year?
Thanks to Deborah for her great photos and tireless enthusiasm and to her husband Bill for a hot cup of coffee at the end of the day.
Visit the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count website to learn more about the CBC program, find a 2014 CBC near you or search the historical CBC database for information about past Ten Thousand Island CBC's.
Beverly Anderson, Research Specialist
I am a new staff member at Rookery Bay Reserve, so after three full days of preparations and multiple checks of my "To Do" list, it was finally time to load up the boat with equipment and head out for my first day of nutrient water monitoring. The sky looked threatening and it was a little windy, but the sampling must go on.
Once at the first site, the mobile water sampling begins with a setup of bottles, filters and water pump. Then, simultaneously, the bottles are filled and the water is measured for physical parameters like temperature, pH, and salinity. This process occurs at five monitoring stations within the Rookery Bay Research Reserve's boundary. They are located in Henderson Creek, Blackwater River, Pumpkin Bay, Faka Union Bay, and Fakahatchee Bay. After returning to Rookery Bay Reserve, the samples are then packed in ice and shipped to the DEP Laboratory in Tallahassee where they are analyzed for 6 different nutrient substances and the plant pigment chlorophyll. The results are then sent to NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) Centralized Data Management Office each year.
On this day, despite the wind and overcast skies, my coworker Jill Schmid and I collected all 44 samples and were back to ship them out by late afternoon. It was my first day, and it was a great day.
Check out Rookery Bay Research Reserve's Real-Time monitoring data.
Julie Drevenkar, Water Quality Program Coordinator
Last week, while leading a mudflat exploration in Johnson Bay with students from Lely High School, I discovered a clump of very large Asian green mussels. This wasn't the first time that I'd encountered this non-native, invasive species in the Reserve, but I hadn't seen them in nearly a decade since they were first spotted growing on a culvert at the end of Shell Island Road. It was, however, the first time I've encountered them growing on a soft substrate rather than rocks, oysters or other hard surfaces. The following day, the science coach for Lely High School found another adult green mussel that was growing nearby. These shells stand out from oysters because of their size and color. The bright green lip of the shell is what gives the otherwise brown shell its common name and makes it relatively easy to spot in shallow waters.
Concern about these shells has to do with the fact that they can outcompete and potentially displace our native oysters, and even sea grasses. Further details about this aquatic invader can be found on the University of Florida IFAS Extension website.
Dave Graff, Education Specialist
It was a beautiful day at the beach along Kice Island, part of Rookery Bay Research Reserve, just south of Marco Island, Florida. A postcard blue sky, white sand, low tide and hundreds of shorebirds actively feeding and probing the exposed mud and sand for invertebrates, marine worms, small clams, snails and crustaceans.
After completing a shorebird survey, I set up my spotting scope and began searching shorebird leg after shorebird leg in the hope of finding the special prize of one wearing bands. Researchers spend many hours in the field capturing shorebirds and fitting them with colored plastic bands and flags to uniquely mark individuals on the slim chance that they will be seen again. Reporting a resighting is important because it helps scientists learn more about shorebird migration routes and patterns and locate important stopover and wintering sites.
While scanning the flock, I counted 41 red knots (Calidris canutus rufa) and as the birds rapidly moved and fed, I glimpsed one sporting an orange flag. After ten minutes of patient observation, following the bird as it wove in and out among the flock, I was finally able to read the alphanumeric character inscribed on its orange flag - "U7L". All except one of over 80 flagged red knots I've seen here over the years were wearing lime green flags that designated they were banded in the United States...so "U7L" immediately jumped out as someone very special.
An orange flag signifies a bird that was banded in Argentina and I later discovered "U7L" was banded in April 2012 at San Antonio Bay near San Antonio Oeste, Rio Negro, Argentina by Patricia González, head of the Argentina wetlands program Fundación Inalafquen and Allan J. Baker from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Canada. These scientists were assisted by a dedicated group of high school students from Eco Huellas who are working to support the environment by developing a campaign to aid red knot conservation in Argentina.
In December 2012, "U7L"returned to South America and was seen at Bahía Lomas in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. However, it had not been reported since then....until it stopped to feed along Kice Island Florida in August 2013.
Today, I went out with Christina Panko-Graff, the Reserve's Water Quality Program Manager, to collect and exchange the YSI brand water quality data sondes. Christina Panko-Graff began the process by calibrating the alternate data sondes in the lab to make sure that they were giving correct readings. Then we took them out to the different sites and swapped them with the ones that have been recording data. The data sondes measure different water quality parameters such as: salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity. We could only make it to three of the five sites today due to heavy storms. We changed the data sondes at the Pumpkin Bay, Fakahatchee, and Faka Union sites before we had to turn back because of an approaching storm. These sites were chosen because of their unique conditions. The natural flow of water has been altered by development so that one site receives too little fresh water, one site receives too much fresh water, and the last site is a non-altered natural system (used as the control group). I greatly enjoyed being on the water and assisting with the research that is conducted at the Reserve that I don't often get to see! I hope to assist with the water quality research again soon!
Misty Snyder, Coastal Training Specialist
August 12, 2013
The "pipevine" or "gold rim" swallowtail (Battus polydamas sp) surprisingly doesn't even have a swallowtail! The second common name, gold rim swallowtail, is likely derived from the yellow scales that form a line near the edge of the dorsal side of each black wing.
She was observed laying eggs for more than an hour and wasn't disturbed by the presence of the photographer. The young caterpillars began to emerge and consume their eggs on August 9th, one week after being laid. We will continue to try to monitor and photograph their development.
August 9, 2013
It was a very, VERY good day. While conducting a beach-nesting bird survey on the south end of Keewaydin Island with Team Ocean volunteers Pam and Pete Noreika, I saw my first returning piping plovers feeding in a tidal lagoon near the beach. It had been mid-April since I'd last seen them at Tigertail Beach and I was missing the little guys. Piping plovers leave our area in the spring for their northern breeding grounds and begin returning in late July to spend the winter on our beaches. They exhibit strong breeding and wintering ground site fidelity and return to the same locations year after year.
The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small, sand-colored shorebird with three small breeding populations. Due to habitat loss, human disturbance and predation, the Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations are listed as Threatened and the Great Lakes population is listed as Endangered. All three populations winter together along the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
It's always a special opportunity to see piping plovers... there are less than 5,000 individuals worldwide and only between 50 and 60 nesting pairs left in the Great Lakes area.
On the breeding grounds, birds are banded with unique color combinations that enable researchers to follow individuals from year to year, estimate their age, identify breeding partners, and measure their success as parents.
Reported resightings of banded birds provide researchers with important data on migration routes, and wintering sites. This data is crucial because piping plovers are losing significant portions of their historic wintering habitat (USFWS 2001), impacting their survival.
What can you do to help piping plovers?
· Enjoy the birds, but please keep your distance
· Never intentionally flush or force birds to fly
· Share the shore
· Avoid closed, posted areas and encourage others to do the same
· If birds appear agitated and take flight...they're trying to tell you you're too close for comfort.
For more information about the Great Lakes piping plovers and how to report a banded bird:
University of Minnesota Great Lakes Waterbird Research Program – Piping Plovers
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
USFWS – East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office: Piping Plover – Great Lakes Population
Florida Shorebird Alliance – Report Banded Birds
Beverly Anderson, Research Department