Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. He subsequently received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University, thanks to a career spent teaching and researching the physiological ecology and ecotoxicology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. Join him as he observes our better nature on the Island, his newest home.
Friday, January 2, 2015
An Arctic Snowbird Visits SW Florida
Sunset on Palm Island 12-24-2014
The variety of birds at the beach can be challenging but it is very rewarding not only to identify them but to learn about their habits. The variation in migration patterns is quite astounding. Some birds breed in SW FL but many migrate to distant regions. I was recently at Palm/Knight Island at dusk to observe a large aggregation of birds. There were the usual gulls and terns, many dunlins and skimmers, but of most interest was a large group of about 150 red knots.
Red knot on the Spit
Our winter resident knots are dull gray in color, quite unlike their reddish plumage during the breeding season. They are medium sized shorebirds, about 5 oz in weight, with an intermediate sized bill that they use to probe in sand for food. They breed in the high Arctic in tundra habitats near the ocean. It appears that they fly to and from the Arctic via Delaware Bay, where they gain weight for their flights eating the eggs of horseshoe crabs. Then they work their way down the east coast, eventually reaching their wintering grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. We know this itinerary in some detail due to the efforts of scientists who have marked the knots with leg tags. One of the more exciting activities I have on the beach is to search for marked red knots. I found one in the group on Palm Island which had a light green flag on its upper left leg marked 6C9; there was a silver metal band on the right leg. I checked on the website www.bandedbirds.org and found that this individual red knot was banded on Oct. 18, 2011, three years and two months ago in SC and subsequently re-sighted ten times in SC, GA and FL. This small bird has thus made at least four flights to and from the Arctic Ocean, a very impressive feat. Let's do what we can to protect these marvelous birds while they visit us.