Who is Nesting on Snake Key this Season?
The mixed species wading bird rookery at Snake Key is thriving this year. The numbers of birds are beginning to approximate the "glory days" of nesting at the recently abandoned Seahorse Key colony. Refuge staff and volunteers completed the annual wading bird flight line surveys for the Snake Key rookery in May. White Ibis have returned to nest in the area in huge numbers, with an estimated 2,500 - 3,000 nesting pairs. Also nesting in large numbers are Tri-colored Herons (est. 500 nests), Snowy Egrets (est. 400 nests), Great Egrets (est. 120 nests), Brown Pelicans (est. 100 nests), and Double Crested Cormorants (est. 200 nests). Other notables include an estimated 60 Roseate Spoonbill nests and 3-4 Reddish Egret nesting pairs. We also recently completed drone flights over the colony in an effort to count and validate nesting data, but have not yet completed digital post-processing to begin analyzing that information.
Speaking of Babies – An Aside
Project Engineer Josh Havird - formerly of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, now posted at St Mark's NWR is a brand new proud papa of a baby girl. Mom and little Emily are both doing great. Josh is taking some family leave to be with them.
Closure Limits Nesting Disturbances at Snake Key
Largest Wading Bird Rookery
Do Different Bird Colonies have Unique Sounds?
What Happened to the Seahorse Key Rookery?
Most folks will recall that the large Seahorse Key rookery was suddenly abandoned during the nesting season back in April of 2015. Popular interest was so high that the national media covered "Our Bird Mystery" extensively. We still cannot definitively say why all the birds left their nests during that event, although disturbance was likely a factor.
Photo from Solstices Feasts and Other Gatherings, 2019 Adventures in Florida Archaeology. Topographic map shows the locality of Shell Mound with 3-D inset (lower right) of the C-shaped ridge and open plaza. Image by the author and Terry Barbour from both open-access LiDAR data and higher-resolution LiDAR data provided by GatorEye
Members of the Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs share an interest in nature and especially our birds with members of the Cedar Keys Audubon Society. If you are available during the summer months to help with the Audubon bird rescue program, your help would be greatly appreciated.
Cedar Keys Audubon's Capt Doug Maple needs folks to answer their new bird rescue line and use the phone tree to notify volunteers. This is a great way to help our nesting and roosting birds. You don't have to be a rescuer or even leave your air conditioned house. You just have to be able send text and voice messages. If you can help please call Doug at 352 949 1995.
With support from the Florida Division of Historical Resources, the Cedar Key Light Station on Seahorse Key has a new replica lens. On Friday, July 5, from 7 to 9:30 pm, all are invited to Cedar Key for the official lens-lighting celebration. The lighting ceremony itself will be at 9:00. Details are in the Nature Coast Biological Station May newsletter and soon on the NCBS website.
The following day, Saturday, July 6 from 9 am to 3 pm, there will be an Open House on Seahorse Key. Come out, enjoy time on the island which is part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. Visit the marine lab and the Light Station which are managed on the island by the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station. This will be one of only about four Seahorse Key Open Houses during the year.
Earlier in May, Dr. Ken Meyer, executive director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) in Gainesville FL, visited the Lower Suwannee Refuge with several research associates to consult with Refuge staff members Larry Woodward and Daniel Barrand about Swallow-tailed Kite habitat and conservation efforts.
According to the ARCI website, the Swallow-tailed Kite's range, which once went along the Mississippi River as far north as Minnesota, is now just a third its historic size. ARCI works to develop management techniques for these at-risk birds. Since 1996, they have used satellite telemetry to study the ecology of Swallow-tailed Kites, including the 10,000 mile migration they make each year to the humid plains of Brazil and back to the lowlands of the southeast U.S.
At the May meeting of the Friends Board, discussion about Swallow-tailed Kite research on the Refuge led to an interest in Friends possibly supporting the cost for ARCI to tag a "Refuge" bird and follow its migration.
Almost all of us have seen these iconic birds at the Refuge and awaited their annual return in Spring. Perhaps some of us would want to participate in the research about them and their relationship to our Refuge and the habitat it preserves for them.