Monday, February 24, 2014

Martin at the Wildflower Bird "Condo"

Wildflower "condo" with male purple martin 02.20.14
I noticed a single male purple martin "scout" at the Wildflower Preserve condo nest site Feb. 20 and have attached photos FYI. Watch for further activity. 

This the first martin of the year at least for Wildflower and the immediate area, although they have been sighted elsewhere in the state.


Male purple martin "scout" 02.20.14

Sunday, February 23, 2014

One last fish!

Snowy Egret in surf
This snowy egret was rushing around in the surf at Knight Island trying to catch a bedtime snack just before sunset.  They can use a variety of fishing techniques including shuffling of the "golden slippers," their famous yellow feet.  But this time the egret was just trying to chase the fish down.


The Miraculous Lives of Red Knots 18E and EA3‏

Red Knot EA3 on Knight Island 2.20.14
One of the most rewarding activities that a naturalist can enjoy along the local FL gulf beaches is to observe birds. The avian life is diverse and many species have become familiar with non-threatening human activities and can be observed at close range. In addition to simply enjoying such beautiful birds and their fascinating behavior, there is the additional thrill of finding "bling" or bands on certain individuals. The red knot is a particularly interesting species since they are in danger due to declining food and habitat quality and some have been banded. This makes the hunt for bands more rewarding since there is a reasonable chance of finding some banded birds among the local flocks. For example among about 90 red knots on the beach at Knight Island recently I found six banded birds and photographed the bands to allow for identification of individuals. The numbers on the leg bands can be entered into a database ( ) to find the history of individuals. 

Red Knot 18E on Palm Island 2.15.14
Two of the more interesting cases were band numbers 18E and EA3. These represent birds banded in Florida and Delaware Bay/NJ respectively. This can be determined by the fact that red knots banded in FL have green flags with codes on the upper right leg and a blue band on the upper left. Birds banded in Delaware Bay have the green flag on the upper left leg. All birds also have a metal band on the lower right leg with identifying codes if the bird is found dead. Both of these birds are 7-8 years old, impressive ages for such tiny animals (about 10 inches long and weighing about 5 oz). They breed in the far northern Arctic tundra along the ocean and migrate in winter either to Florida or to southern S. America. Thus they have made approximately 8 round trips or even more since we do not know their true ages. Considering the many dangers inherent to such long-distance migration this represents a remarkable feat. It also indicates how such amazing movements can be a viable strategy for reproduction compared to just remaining in one location. It is also remarkable that these two birds were re-sighted 31 and 42 times in NJ, DE, SC, GA and FL; this vindicates the effort spent in banding the birds. 

So the next time you are at the beach, look closely at the legs of the birds and see if you can hit the jackpot and find a banded bird. It is not only fun but provides invaluable data for those studying the migration of birds. 

Bill Dunson 

Friday, February 21, 2014


White-winged scoter in Lemon Bay 02.20.2014
White-winged scoter in Lemon Bay 02.20.2014
I observed what appears to be a first spring female white winged scoter on the eastern side of Don Pedro Island in Lemon Bay, Charlotte County, SW FL Gulf coast. The two lateral views of the bird are shown in the accompanying photos attached. It was occasionally diving in shallow water and allowed an approach to within 50 feet by a drifting boat with the motor off. 

This is a rare northern seabird to be seen along the Florida gulf coast. Is it an example of southern movement because of poor conditions in the more typical northern marine habitats? Remember that last winter we had quite a few razorbills that came south. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Return of the Red Knots

Red Knot "UN4", Knight Island, 2.9.2014
Occasionally I am fortunate enough to find marked shorebirds on the beach and get photographs good enough to identify them.  Today was one such lucky day when I spent several hours hiking the beach at the northern end of Knight/Palm Island.  Bird flocks move around a lot based on disturbance by humans and animals, the stage of the tide, weather, etc.  So when I get the opportunity I use my binoculars to scan the legs of the birds looking for bands.  The red knot is especially likely to be banded since they are being studied due to a population decline associated with  habitat changes and a decrease in their favorite food (horseshoe crab eggs) that allows them to re-fuel during migration to the Arctic in Delaware Bay.  
Red Knot "UN4", Knight Island 2.9.2014

In a single flock of about 40 red knots I spotted two birds marked with light green flags on their legs containing a specific individual code.  I enter this information on a website to determine the history of each bird:

Red knot UN4 was an especially interesting case since it was banded Jan. 1, 2007 on Sanibel Island, FL.  It has subsequently been re-sighted a total of 8 times on Sanibel, Palm Island, in the FL panhandle, and north of Jacksonville, FL.  It appears this may be a knot that winters in FL and migrates to the Arctic to breed.  Others fly all the way to southern South America.  It is remarkable that this red knot is thus proven to be atleast seven years old since it was banded.

Red Knot "5A0", Knight Island 2.9.2014
Red knot 5A0 was banded Oct. 18, 2011, on the coast of South Carolina.  It has been re-sighted five times in SC, Sanibel Island and on Palm Island.  It is at least two years old.

I am always dumbfounded by data of this type.  It is incredible that we can make such observations on birds, and even more amazing that these shorebirds can survive for so long making such remarkable migrations. Red knots face many hazards in the natural and human-dominated world.  Let us resolve to do what we can to make their struggles easier.

Bill Dunson