The late afternoon breeze slackened around 5 pm as the team of five volunteers and Reserve staff, led by fisheries biologist Pat O'Donnell, anchored the research vessels in Pumpkin Bay. After preparing the bait and setting the gillnets and long-lines, which require a special permit and are used for research purposes only, the team waited and watched carefully. Signs of a catch large enough to be a shark include sizable splashes and the swift disappearance of a buoy or marker for at least 3 seconds. About 30 minutes before sunset, the team went back out to re-bait the lines and discovered that a female blacktip shark, a "neonate" or newborn measuring only 18 inches, had latched onto one of the chunks of bait! After netting it and placing it into the baby pool onboard the boat where it swam freely, the team measured the shark, weighed it, tagged it, and took a tiny fin sample. Then, it was gently released back into the bay. Later in the evening, another juvenile black tip shark and a bonnethead shark around the same size were caught and released. Bonnetheads tend to be less hardy than other sharks, so a hose with water flowing from the bay was inserted into the shark's mouth to keep the water running over its gills and enabling easier breathing. O'Donnell has been conducting this research for 12 years.
June 10, 2013
In 2012, Tropical Storm Debby completely overwashed the entire area of Second Chance, taking the least tern nests with it. This year, Tropical Storm Andrea was much more gracious, with minimal overwashing taking place. 77 least tern chicks have been confirmed by Team OCEAN volunteers and staff to have survived the storm and continued growing at a normal rate. The chicks should be able to fly in the near future and thus, be able to escape any coming storms. Good news for these beach-nesters!
Next week marks the one-month anniversary of the hatching of the yellow-crowned night-heron chicks! The nesting period for this species is about 25 - 35 days. Over the next week or so, the chicks should begin to start strengthening their wings and exploring the branches adjacent to the nest. For now, they are not straying too far from their "parents'" watchful eyes. The adult night-heron parents are still very attentive and one was even seen using its wings like an umbrella to shield the chicks during yesterday's heavy rains! The chicks will also begin observing their parents as they hunt so that self-feeding can be learned and practiced over the next few weeks.
The dry season is fading into the distance as we are swiftly ushered into the wet season with our first tropical storm. This is the time of year when the salinity level in the creek near the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is at its highest because we have not had much rain in our watershed until now. The high salinity level invites more marine species upstream than usual. Bull sharks, moon jellies, and Atlantic needlefish were all spotted today from our observation bridge, which connects the Environmental Learning Center with nature trails.
There are two chicks visible in the nest. The chicks are about about half grown, and in about 2 more weeks should be ready to fledge (leave the nest). They are starting to lose their downy feathers and more of their juvenile feathers are emerging. Recently their parents have been leaving the chicks alone more often while they feed and collect increasing amounts of food for their hungry family. The yellow-crowned night-heron parents have been spotted scouring Reserve grounds for crabs. This species' diet consists mostly of crustaceans, such as: mud crabs, fiddler crabs, and mangrove tree crabs, which are all likely found near the nest and coastally throughout the Reserve.
Longtime avian ecologist Ted Below conducted his monthly coastal waterbird survey in Rookery Bay Reserve. He found that there are two pelican nests on the #1 island in Rookery Bay. This is the third time they have nested in the bay and they always nest on island #1.
May 24, 2013
While working with DBi Services to remove invasive exotic plants along Griffin Road near the northern boundary of the Reserve, resource management specialist Greg Curry noticed a Burmese python fleeing from the activity and quickly called for back-up. The 12-foot python was extremely active due to the warm summer temperatures and required extra manpower to subdue. The back-up team of Resource Management Coordinator Jeff Carter armed with snake hook, box and other tools and Team OCEAN coordinator Kyle Yurewich arrived to help Curry and DBI exotics technician Luis Granados safely remove the intruder in order to prevent further predation on local wildlife in that location. This unfriendly visitor is a reminder of how easily small mammals and coastal birds can disappear from our landscape without a trace...
The yellow-crowned night-heron eggs have finally hatched! About a month after first noticing the bright blue eggs in the nest, Reserve staff member, Dave Graff, saw a few extra heads popping up in the nest. There are two chicks confirmed to be in the nest and uncertainty about the third. It is difficult to see into the nest and staff members are very careful to not disturb it by getting too close. Updates will continue be provided as they become available!