Thursday, October 28, 2021

Out With The Old, In With The New… In Nature

Stepping Stones

Photos by Bob McConville | Calusa and Paleo.

Join Bob on Tuesday, January 28th at the Rose Auditorium, Marco Island Historical Museum, as he presents a look back at what happened in nature last year as well as a look forward to what to expect in 2020. This entertaining and enlightening presentation begins at 7 PM and is free to MIHS members… only $10 to all others. Learn about dolphins, turtles, eagles and many other “things” that will capture your attention. Get there early for a good seat!

To put it mildly, 2019 was a very, very interesting year! How sad it was to hear about the devastating wildfires in Australia, volcanic eruptions around the globe, hurricanes in the Atlantic and earthquakes in areas already trying to recover from past events. Concentrating closer to home, though, south Florida faired quite well.

Hurricanes in the Marco Island area were virtually nonexistent which bode well for much of our wildlife. Many of our coastal animals are affected more by storm surge rather than strong winds. Take, for example, sea turtles. The females come onshore to lay their eggs in late Spring and early Summer. These eggs, about 100 per nest, will incubate in the sun for nearly two months before hatching. However, storm surge, a rapid rise in water along the coast, can cover the nest and lower the temperature of the sand to interrupt the incubation and eliminate the possibility of the eggs hatching. In 2019, there were nearly 1,700 nests protected, resulting in nearly 40,000 hatchlings emerged. These are great numbers compared to years when tropical storms and hurricanes covered nesting areas with water.

This calm Spring and Summer also resulted in more successful bird nests along the shore. It was exciting to watch the Black Skimmers grow from hatchlings to taking their first flight to fishing on their own. Although the population was not as large as past years the Least Terns that fly all the way here from Venezuela also had a good growth year!

A Least Tern, about 10 days old, surveys its surroundings on Tigertail beach last Summer. Its parents flew all the way here from Venezuela for the nesting season!

In the Winter of 2019, some of our most popular migrating birds were abundant from Tigertail Lagoon down into the Everglades. White Pelicans were seen on a regular basis, and plenty of them! They have the second-largest wingspan of any North American bird, second only to the California Condor, and they are here again… right now! They will be here until March so watch the sky and the shallow water areas to see them feeding.

The rookery known as the ABC Islands, just east of the Jolley Bridge, was thick with nesting brown pelicans, great egrets, snowy egrets and more! Hopefully, 2020 will be just as productive, if not more so. Time will tell.

Everyone participating in an event this year will need 2020 vision. The Python Bowl is in full swing as we speak, and specially trained amateurs are out there beating the bush trying to do their part in decreasing the Burmese Python population in South Florida. Best wishes for a successful hunt. Running from January 10th through January 19th, it will be interesting to see how many of these invasive predators will be caught. As I was writing this article, it popped up on the news that one was caught at Steven’s Landing. Yikes! That’s here on Marco Island!

Very locally, a Bald Eagle’s nest has been active as far back as the 1980s. Celebrity eagle pair Paleo and Calusa drew national attention on this 11-acre sanctuary. Since the male lost its life a few years ago, things have changed drastically. A promising pair brought some hope that, once again, there would be some eaglets to continue the attraction of the preserve area. At the end of 2019, a Great Horned Owl secured control of the nest and the female owl now appears to be sitting on eggs. It will be interesting to see what happens there in 2020.

This column could continue for days with all of the happenings in 2019 and projections and predictions for 2020. I’ll end now, but I invite you to join me on January 28th, 7 PM, at the Rose Auditorium on the Marco Island Historical Society’s campus, when we spend at least an hour talking about the above stories and much, much more!

So, 2019 was a pretty good year for nature in our area, overall. Some setbacks with the Red Tide algae took the bloom off the Rose but it was still a good year. I’m sure you all share my anxiety to see what 2020 will bring… stay tuned!

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is also the author of 2 books “Beyond The Mangrove Trees” and “Beneath The Emerald Waves” and is an award-winning columnist for this newspaper. Bob loves his wife very much!

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