Yesterday morning I went out on my weekly non-breeding bird survey, accompanied by Education Intern Brooke, and volunteer Larry. While on these surveys I try to get accurate counts of all the different shorebird species using the beaches in the reserve while noting other factors like behavior and disturbance.
On this survey, the mudflats at Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area were exposed from the very low tide, which meant hungry shorebirds had a place to eat! I counted a few hundred shorebirds on the flats, including Dunlin, Western Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and most notably a group of 69 Red Knots. Red Knots are a federally threatened species. They have one of the most spectacular migrations of any bird, with most individuals travelling up to 9,300 miles from the arctic to Argentina every year. But, some Red Knots spend their winter in Florida instead. While observing the flock on Second Chance, I noticed a few knots had green flag bands on their legs. I was able to read two: 99C and 65T.
On the way to the next stop on the survey route, a Florida Pompano jumped out of the water and into our boat! It was neat to see such a beautiful fish up close, and we threw it back in after some quick pictures. A few staff at Rookery Bay mentioned it’s about the right time of year for pompano fishing, and that Cape Romano is a reliable place to find them.
At our last stop on the survey, a sandbar in Caxambas Pass, a few hundred Royal Terns and Black Skimmers were napping in the sun. With my scope, I counted and looked for bands, and found one green band on a Black Skimmer: A16. This was the same bird I had seen the day before all the way up in Clam Pass Park in Naples! Following the coast, that’s about 23 miles away.
Back in the office, I entered my Red Knot band sightings in the database on BandedBirds.org. Band sightings from both biologists and birdwatchers are compiled here, which helps scientists all over the world study the migration patterns of shorebirds. It also lets us see the history of the individual birds we found. The map shows all reported sightings of Red Knot 99C, pictured above. Following the sighting dates and locations, you can “connect the dots” to see the bird’s migration route and identify important sites along the way. 99C was banded in 2010 in New Jersey as an adult, making it at least seven years old!
Learn more about avian research and monitoring at Rookery Bay
Alli Smith, Avian Intern