Oct. 3, 2018
It’s fall in Florida and so incredibly different than the fall I knew most of my life in the Garden State & NY! Today I had to pinch myself as I was able to get out on a boat in the Ten Thousand Islands, assisting our Avian Ecologist, Anne Mauro, with bird surveys. Beautiful, peaceful, clear sky, gentle breeze and not a soul around, except an occasional boat we came across. Reminders of Hurricane Irma, which was just over a year ago, were still present in in the mangroves as many still had “bald” spots. I looked at them with appreciation not only for their role in this amazing environment but also knowing they take on the brunt of the storms! Mangroves help protect us!
According to Anne, migration is underway, and now is the time to observe the shorebirds that use the Reserve as wintering grounds or stopover habitat. Today, we surveyed shorebirds at high tide to learn which habitats they are using. At first, we went from island to island not seeing many birds, if any. But then we stopped on one island and found a high number of 42 Wilson's plover, which is a focal species due to decreasing nesting habitat.
We also saw ruddy turnstones, semi-palmated plovers, piping plovers, Wilson’s plovers, pelicans, royal terns, a cormorant and my favorite, Halloween pennant dragonflies - lots of them! This island was so beautiful with plenty of sea oats and the most amazing display of railroad vine I’ve seen in a while. Such a variety of dune plants including nicker-bean, which may not be as pretty, but has seeds that look like stones. Another place nicker-bean is abundant is at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in North Naples. You can learn how to make a necklace out of these beans, if you attend their annual Nature Festival on October 27 from 10 to 3 in Area 3! I highly recommend it, and we will be there too!
As the visitor services and volunteer coordinator for the reserve, I not only enjoy getting out in the field with our research staff because it’s awesome and amazing to assist with research (and it’s a day away from the desk!), but also find it necessary so that I can better understand exactly what is expected of our volunteers who provide needed assistance. It gives me a chance to talk to staff, get feedback and make sure their expectations of volunteers are the same as the job descriptions.
Field work is by no means “a boating day.” Volunteers are expected to help with getting the boat ready, carry equipment on and off as well as cleaning and refueling afterwards. Once at a destination volunteers help anchor as well as assist with recording data or any other tasks. Some volunteers are certified to drive our vessels, which allows staff more flexibility to do their jobs while not having to also operate the boat. Research and resource management volunteers do many different tasks, including sea turtle nest monitoring, bird monitoring, fisheries research and water quality. There are even opportunities to assist in the lab or with paperwork.
Since last September, volunteers donated more than 9,000 hours to these departments. Volunteers are in integral part of the Rookery Bay Research Reserve team and thanks to their dedication, we are better able to protect our valuable coastal resources for future generations to enjoy.
I feel so fortunate and proud to work in such a beautiful place working with staff and volunteers who are so passionate about the reserve and what we do. This is truly a special place.
Donna Young, Visitor Services and Volunteer Coordinator