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waterquality1-sAugust 20, 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!

Learn more about the Water Quality Monitoring research program at Rookery Bay Reserve.


mistysnyder-100Misty Snyder, Coastal Training Specialist

August 12, 2013

Pipevine swallowtail laying eggsThe "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.

View a beautiful slideshow of images by Dave Graff of this amazing phemonon.


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.

Piping ploverThere were three plovers in total and when I located them in my spotting scope, I saw one wearing a metal band and a combination of orange and yellow plastic bands on its legs.

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.

Orange bands typically indicate that a piping plover is from the Great Lakes area, so I contacted This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., who works with both the National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes and the University of Minnesota research team that runs the plover banding program. She wrote back to let me know that the banded piping plover I saw on Keewaydin Island was a chick that hatched over the summer at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan. It was one of three that hatched from the same nest and was last seen there in mid-July. She said its parents have been nesting together in the same spot for three summers and have been quite successful.  Piping plover map

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

air-potato-rookery-sAugust 7, 2013

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.

Read more about the project here.

Photos by Dave Graff

loggerheadhatchlingJuly 25, 2013

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!

loggerheadhatchling2The 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!

Learn more about the Reserve's sea turtle monitoring and research

Nabors-Amber-100-cropAmber Nabors, Communications Specialist

centurylinkservice-250July 22, 2013

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!

skimmer-chick-bright-250Beach-nesting Bird Update from 7/22/2013:

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.

Cape Romano:
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.


IMG 0069-edit-250July 9, 2013

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 IMG 0103-250to 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!

More info about guided kayak tours

Nabors-Amber-100-cropAmber Nabors, Communications Specialist

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