Yesterday Greg Curry, resource management specialist at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Melissa Smith and Ellen Lake, scientists with the USDA's Invasive Plant Research Laboratory, went into the reserve to examine feeding damage caused by beetles on invasive air potato vine. The USDA is working with the Reserve and several other state and municipal land managers to combat the spread of air potato vine with a beneficial insect called the air potato leaf beetle (Lilioceris cheni). They didn't find any mature beetles on this outing, but did find beetle larvae and eggs, as well as plenty of evidence that the beetles are doing their job.
Photos by Dave Graff
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to snag a volunteer spot with the sea turtle interns as they headed out to monitor the sea turtle nests on beaches within the Reserve! We left the dock at 7:30 a.m. and headed to Cape Romano, where many nests have been located and caged to protect the eggs from predators, like raccoons. On the boat ride over, we spotted several dolphins swimming together, including a baby dolphin! What a great reminder that a diverse array of marine life uses the estuary as a nursery!
After we arrived at the beach, we promptly went to check on a sea turtle nest that was of special concern. This particular nest had been moved by the Rookery Bay Reserve research team and interns because of its precarious location right at the edge of the waterline. When water floods the nest, the eggs can't develop and won't hatch. So, the research team and interns moved the nest back on a more stable and less trafficked area of the beach to give it a chance at hatching. Moving a sea turtle nest is very difficult and if not done properly, the eggs won't develop or hatch, either. So, the sight of this nest having hatched out caused a joyous celebration!
The team then began slowly and carefully digging down into the hatched nest to count the shells and make sure there were no hatchlings left behind. There were a total of 93 eggshells and only 4 eggs that didn't develop. This was evidence that our research team and interns did a wonderful job of re-locating the nest! One remaining hatchling was also found while sifting through the sand. While we don't like to find stragglers left alone in the nest, seeing such a tiny sea turtle was amazing! The hatchling was very energetic and immediately after being pulled from the sand, it started flapping its flippers in an effort to crawl down the beach and get in the water! After finishing the check of the nest and ensuring that there were no other hatchlings left behind, we sent the loggerhead sea turtle hatchling on its way toward the water! It was a great day out in the field with the sea turtle interns and I cannot wait for my next adventure within the Reserve!
Amber Nabors, Communications Specialist
Last week Rookery Bay staff received a visit from a Centurylink technician working on telephone wires near the Environmental Learning Center. He said that while he was performing maintenance on the telephone wire housing, a flying squirrel jumped out of it and glided into a nearby tree. Inside the wire housing were den materials made up of cabbage palm fibers, and an awful stink!
According to The Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan, flying squirrels are found in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, and south as far as Mexico and Honduras. Southern flying squirrels are known to be cavity nesters, so perhaps this individual was getting creative by making its home in this man-made cavity. Mike relocated the old housing to the wire above so that its occupant can continue to live there instead of trying to move into the new housing. (Cowan 1936, Weigl 1974).
This may be the first instance of a flying squirrel ever being documented on Reserve lands! Because flying squirrels are generally nocturnal and are not frequently seen in their natural habitat, many people don't know about them unless one has taken up residence in or around their home. You can help these animals by keeping your cat indoors and being careful about using traps and poison baits. While these efforts may deter some rodents they are equally deadly to other animals including squirrels.
*Special thanks to Mike Lee from Centurylink for being so environmentally conscientious and informing us about the flying squirrel!
Least tern and black skimmer nesting season is winding down.
Least terns: after a high nest count of 406 on 5/20/13 and a high flight-capable chick count of 100 on 6/25/13, most least tern chicks are no longer hanging around the colony.
Black skimmers: nests are beginning to hatch and today there were 11 nests and 10 downy chicks counted.
*As seen in the photo above, beach-nesting birds and their chicks are very well-camouflaged and can be difficult to see. Please be conscious of where you walk and keep a distance from places where nesting areas are marked off by signs and string.
Beach-nesting Bird Update from 6/26/2013:
Coon Key – 28 Least Terns (staging seabird young). These could be from Second Chance.
Second Chance main colony:
Least Terns - 300 adults; 23 nests; 0 downy; 1 feathered; 100 flight-capable
Black Skimmer – 85 adults; 30 nests; 0 chicks
Wilson's PLover – 2 with 1 flight-capable chick and 2 with 1 downy chick (that far nest on the west end)
Second Chance SE colony:
Least Terns – 100 adults; 62 nests (all/most of these are re-nesters); 2 downy; 3 feathered; 2 flight-capable
Wilson's Plover – Had a pair acting like they had a nest here, but our team could not spot it.
Both re-nesting Wilson's Plover were still incubating and there was no sightings of other Wilson's Plover or chicks, but lots of people were present.
The balmy, intermittent flow of a breeze across the flat waters of Henderson Creek made for a lovely day to kayak! I sprayed on both insect repellant and sunscreen and brought along a waterproof camera, as did many other kayakers so that we could capture the moment! After selecting a bright red kayak and adjusting my lifejacket, I listened to our itinerary and the basic instructions for paddling provided by Dave Graff, the Reserve's kayak tour leader that day. He gave us very thorough paddling instructions, showing us each skill and encouraging us to practice each one for a few minutes. Then, we were off! "It is not a race," Dave reminded us, "We can paddle as slow as we want and still get to our destination on time. There is no rush today." This was a nice reminder to slow down and take in the magnificent scenery, especially while going through the mangrove tunnels! The kayaking group included 10 people and as we paddled along, Dave pointed out different birds and told us interesting information about our surroundings. We took a few breaks from paddling along the way, gathering together to hear Dave give us a short education about the land and waters we were experiencing or to pass around a bucket with some marine life (like plankton or comb jellies) that Dave had scooped up for us to see! But, the big surprise on the trip was a dolphin sighting! About 3/4 of the way into our trip, we heard a loud noise and looked to our left. It was a dolphin coming up to the top of the water to breathe! Dave reminded everyone that it is against the law to pursue any marine mammal and that we should sit still in our kayaks and watch the dolphin from where we were. We watched as the dolphin made its way along the outskirts of our kayak group, swimming directly under my kayak and causing quite a wave! What a treat for my first time kayaking! The trip was great! I learned so much and my arms were only minimally sore the next day. I will definitely go again and encourage you to join in on the fun! It's definitely worth your time!
Amber Nabors, Communications Specialist
Staff with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve provided some hands-on assistance to the FWC's Fish & Wildlife Research Institute in the rescue of an adult female manatee near Caxambas Pass on July 3. The manatee is believed to have been hit by a boat and suffering from a life-threatening condition called "pneumothorax," which occurs when a rib broken during vessel impact punctures the lung resulting in air leaking into the body cavity, which then prevents the animal from submerging to feed or rest. She was taken to Lowry Park Zoo for rehabilitation and is said to be in stable condition. Boaters or waterfront residents who see a manatee in distress are encouraged to call the FWC hotline: 888-404-FWCC.
Learn about how Rookery Bay Reserve is a part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network
Rookery Bay staff and interns assisted FWC in a manatee rescue attempt yesterday in the Marco Island canals near Caxambas Pass. The manatee was suffering from a punctured lung which resulted in air inside its body cavity (called "pneumothorax") but was in good enough health to elude the rescuers' net several times. The rescue had to be called off due to lightning associated with the incoming afternoon storm. While it is possible for the animal to recover on its own, the team is ready in case it is spotted again. Marine mammals and sea turtles in distress should be reported to FWC at 888-404-FWCC.
Last week staff joined visiting investigator Paul Andreadis (Denison University) on an outing to track invasive Burmese pythons in the Reserve. Five pythons caught earlier this year were implanted with radio transmitters and then released at their capture site; an area of the Reserve with very limited access.
Walking along the grassy berm where the snakes are known to congregate in the winter, Andreadis raised his hand-held antenna overhead and dialed in the frequency of an adult female python on a portable radio receiver. He was able to find her signal, and the quiet beeping sound grew louder as he got closer to his target. Entering the snake's proximity, some back-and-forth wandering was needed to fine-tune the exact location. Then he set the device down on the ground near the entrance to an abandoned armadillo burrow. "She's here!" he announced, and jotted down the GPS coordinates. He went on to explain that the isolated location, with high ground and pre-existing burrows surrounded by brackish waters, seems to be the perfect combination for this species.