What is that shrill noise coming from the tops of my oak trees? It sounds like a bunch of dog whistles up there.
If it is February in Naples and you are hearing a lot of really high pitched squeaks from the tops of your trees then you might just be getting a visit from one of my favorite birds, the cedar waxwing. Cedar waxwings are relative late-comers for "snowbirds." They typically arrive several months later than our wandering warblers and buntings, but they stick around for a while even after most of our smaller migrants have gone back north.
Cedar waxwings are extremely gregarious birds. I don't recall ever seeing a solitary one. They feed, roost, and fly in groups – all the while making those distinct high-pitch calls. It was the sound of the birds that alerted me to their presence while arriving at work the other day. But hearing them and finding them can be entirely different things. My head is often craned skyward this time of year trying to locate exactly where they are calling from. When perched in pine trees, these crested, fawn-colored birds are nearly invisible, especially if they are sitting near pine cones.
Click on an image below to expand and see entire gallery.
Waxwing in a Cedar Tree
Group of Hungry Waxwings!
Waxwing in an Oak Tree
Waxwing in Flight
When I was growing up in Ohio, after a cold snowy winter, robins were my first sign of spring. But since moving to sunny southwest Florida, childhood robins have been replaced by purple martins. Like robins, purple martins migrate south in the winter months, leaving the ice and snow behind. They travel even farther south than robins to spend their winter in South America. Purple martins return to North America in the "spring" to breed and raise their young, usually in specially designed large birdhouse apartments that people erect for them in their backyards. So each year in late January, I begin scanning the birdhouses in Goodland along the Big Marco River searching for the first returning purple martins of the "spring". This year I was rewarded on February 10th.
• At 8", the purple martin (Progne subis) is North America's largest swallow.
• It's a strong, graceful flier with a forked tail.
• Males are a glossy dark purple and females are lighter with grey under parts.
• Purple Martins perform aerial acrobatics to snap up flying insects caught on the wing.
• Putting up a Purple Martin house is like installing a miniature neighborhood in your backyard.
Beverly Anderson, Research Specialist
While family and friends were up north with their feet in the snow, (see the icy water in the photo on left) my feet were in the sand mapping the Keewaydin Island shoreline. Every year we collect GPS points along the vegetation line on Keewaydin Island to help us understand coastal dynamics. The project began in 1998 and the changes we've documented are phenomenal. The south tip of the island has grown 0.35 miles since 1998 while other areas of the island have eroded up to 130 feet! The data we collect helps us plan for bird nesting season, public access locations and educating the public on natural coastal processes.
The image above was taken by Heather Stoffel who was formerly on staff here at Rookery Bay Reserve and is currently conducting water quality research for the University of Rhode Island. One of her water quality sites is located in the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is great to see that after all these years and across all these miles, friends from other NERRs are still hard at work to protect our resources!
Jill Schmid, GIS Specialist
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.