Saturday, November 27, 2021

Tropical Storm Cristobal “Almost” Wipes Out Nesting Colony

Photos by Britanny Piersma | Tropical Storm Cristobal created washed-out conditions for the nesting colony at Sand Dollar Island. If there are newly hatched chicks—they most likely would not have survived.

Photos by Britanny Piersma | Least Terns with chicks.

Just the previous week, the nesting colony of 600+ black skimmers was at the peak of their mating rituals. It looked like another promising season, but then Tropical Storm Cristobal put a damper on the beach plans for both people and beachnesting birdsdelivering a round of heavy rainshigh wind, high tide and flood watches to Marco Island. 

Brittany Piersma of FWC, a biologist and shorebird steward, surveyed the colony on Saturday and what was left of the black skimmer eggs and Least Tern Colony. The relentless rain overwashed” the eggs and nesting areas. Piersma found black skimmer eggs scattered all over the beach. If there were newly hatched chicksthey most likely would not have survived.  

There is hope, however, theres still the remainder of the nesting season, and we can all help ensure it’s a successful season. In 2016, when Tropical Storm Colin washed away most of the black skimmer nesting colony, the birds did what they always didthey adapted. After the storm, the surviving black skimmers returned to the colony site and re-nested. A couple of weeks later, new nests appeared, then eggs and chicks followed. 

Piersma is optimistic, as she sighted adult black skimmers sticking around their nesting site regardless of the flooded site. Piersma reported that they had close to 200 black skimmer nests. “We could lose 100%, but they will have to re-nest and hope for a break in tropical storms. They’ve had enough of natural causes affecting their survival that is why it is very important for the weeks ahead to lessen human disturbanceit is a matter of their survival.” 

The same goes for the 12 Least Tern nests as Piersma did not spot one nest after the overwash. She is hoping they will attempt to re-nest one more time.

Photos by Britanny Piersma

Let’s all pitch in to ensure the remainder of the nesting season is a success: 

  • Do not bring your dogs to the nesting colony 
  • Keep your distance from nesting birds 
  • Stay outside of posted areas 
  • Do not leave your trash behindthey attract predators 
  • Walk around large gatherings of nesting birdsavoid flushing them 
  • Do not fly kites or drones over nesting colony 

While Tropical Cristobal delivered a disheartening earlyseason blow to the nesting black skimmer colony at Sand Dollar Island, Brittany Piersma of FWC remains hopeful for the remainder the nesting season. Though often quiet, the black skimmers could be heard with their loud nasal barking calls as they circle their washed-out nesting site. They will not give up!

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