Team OCEAN volunteers Don Drake, Sandy Carinci, and Deborah Woods spent the morning collecting trash from mangroves around Rookery Bay and Hall Bay. They also had the opportunity to briefly explain to fishermen in the area, both on boats and kayaks, what the team was doing. After learning how dangerous fishing line can be to wildlife, they seemed enthusiastic about doing their part to help preserve our priceless environment.
It was a brisk Monday morning at the Shell Island Road field station where Rookery Bay Reserve's education team met 20 students with Mr. Humphrey's science class from Barron Collier High School. The kids were barely awake, some dressed in shorts and t-shirts (didn't they know it was only 55 degrees?) but all were full of enthusiasm for learning about the amazing processes that take place within the National Estuarine Research Reserve's coastal lands and waters.
Humphrey's marine science students, enrolled in Barron Collier's AICE program (the Cambridge – Advanced International Certificate of Education), were split into four teams each tasked with researching a different aspect of barrier island ecology. Their assignment was to compare findings on both sides of Hurricane Pass near the south tip of Keewaydin Island.
Upon landing on the west bank of Sea Oat Island, a property not managed by the Reserve, the "seine" group reluctantly entered the chilly waters, pulled their 20 foot net and documented their catch, which included a baby bighead sea robin, a baby southern puffer, which puffed up to about the size of a pea when threatened, and a mojarra (a common baitfish.)
Meanwhile, the "vegetation" group was onshore with their tape measure, ½ square meter PVC quadrats, and data sheets, under the canopy created by the highly invasive Australian pines. Five random distances along a 30 meter transect were selected. They placed their quadrats at the determined locations and investigated these areas. They counted a total of one palm sprout, two unidentified plants (one grass and one vine), one mangrove, and a non-native inkberry (Scaevola) pushing up through roughly eight inches of "pine needles" (not a true pine and not actual needles despite their common name).
The "water quality" group took readings of water chemistry including salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen. They also measured the speed of the current and turbidity (a measurement to evaluate how clear or cloudy the water is).
The "fauna" group scoured the shoreline for evidence of animal life (living, dead, or excreted), but were far busier attempting to track the abundant action overhead. Crisp blue skies were filled with circling bald eagles, turkey and black vultures, northern harriers or marsh hawks, and many other species, all soaring like kites on the winds that likely brought them south for winter.
Once the data were collected they repeated the steps on the Keewaydin side of the waterway. The water quality readings were almost identical in both locations. The seine net collected more fish than could be quickly and safely counted representing four species. But the most obvious difference was the diversity of plant life on the Keewaydin side, where Australian pines had been removed 15 years prior. The quadrats encompassed more than 20 plants representing nine different native species and one non-native.
Following a morning practicing and conducting research techniques, the students reported out on their findings to the rest of the group, ate a picnic lunch, and enjoyed a short beach walk before returning to the field station. By then the wind had tapered off and the dropping tide rewarded the group with a great view of American oystercatchers on the oyster bar near the mouth of Henderson Creek.
Black Witch Moths on the ELC?! Maybe we should call this place "Spookery" Bay!
"Bat"fish aren't the only Halloween-themed critters that can be found within the 110,000 acre Reserve. While we catch batfish in nearly every educational trawl we pull, black witch moths are only occasionally encountered at the Environmental Learning Center. One was discovered the other day resting on a wall, but a handful of them have been spotted here over the past few years.
These moths can have a wingspan of 7 inches which makes them the moth with the widest wingspan in North America. The cecropia moth is larger overall, but black witches can be wider-winged.
Last week, several members of the Rookery Bay Reserve education team and I took a trip to Keewaydin Island to collect specimens for the Environmental Learning Center aquaria. Our focus this trip was to catch a specific kind of fish called a lookdown. The team took turns with the seine net, rounding up fish, and not finding lookdowns, but did come up with 6 different species of young fish. One fish that was particularly interesting was a young spadefish, camouflaged to look like floating debris. When spadefish are adults, they look completely different; they are silver with vertical black bars. Also found in the seine net, a juvenile pompano, which I thought was an exciting find.
Click here to see what an adult spadefish looks like...
Dita O'Boyle, Education Specialist
The poos continue, and so do the bone-studded fur wads. Not long ago our perpetrator was even kind enough to leave another kind of clue beneath its new favorite haunt: this feather. The mystery has been solved! Sort of... it is a bird, but what bird is it? A bird that hunts at night?
We had a few ideas, however, we now know for sure thanks to a website called The Feather Atlas. See if you can sleuth it out.
If all goes as planned, for our fourth and final issue of this mystery, we hope to share a photo of our mystery pooper, in the flesh (or feathers). Stay tuned!
I had the recent opportunity to explore Cape Romano with our Sea Turtle Monitoring Program and was happy to report a successful venture. This was my first time witnessing the physical differences between emerged nests, inundated nests, and those with eggs still yet to hatch. What an amazing sensory adventure!
I had a great trip to Cape Romano recently to help check sea turtle nests for hatching activity. After a delayed start waiting for storms to pass it was a beautiful day. I think I appreciated the beauty of being on the water even more after a recent trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There’s just no comparison to our beaches and mangrove coast! We found 2 nests that had hatched out, so we dug them up to confirm the results. We found one loggerhead hatchling still inside. Sometimes, for whatever reason, not all the hatchlings make it out of the nest so that’s when we get to help nature along! I’ve been involved with sea turtle monitoring and research efforts for the past 17 years and seeing a hatchling is always an exciting and rewarding experience!
Walking along the pathway from the parking lot to or from the Environmental Learning Center is usually not a very exciting experience. But one day, not very long ago, an interesting discovery was made. Right next to the bricks was an oval-shaped ball of gray fur. There was no hint of blood or flesh, but bones and a jaw seemed woven into the fur. It sure looked like it had been a squirrel at one point, but a squirrel it was no longer. Someone, or something, had taken the liberty of rearranging the small mammal so that some of its bones were on the outside of its fur.
Intriguing as it was, that discovery was dismissed, until a similar furry wad was discovered about a week later in the same location near the path. The very next day, yet another fur ball, larger and darker in color, was discovered just outside the entrance to the ELC, right near the spot where the mysterious white poo-splats had been appearing.
A few days later, it was clear that the fur wads were as regular and prevalent as the poo splats themselves. OK, something is up. These clues did not seem to be related, until…
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the mystery pooper investigation, or, "Whose Poos are These?"