A mix of adult and juvenile spoonbills in flight at Snake Bight
Starting in November, I accepted a small promotion within Audubon's Tavernier Science Center office as head of spoonbill research. For the last two years I have been working with prey-base fish monitoring, so this will be a much welcomed change. The spoonbill position requires that I go into the field every week to collect data on spoonbill populations and their nesting success for the entire Florida Bay. Doing so means that I must visit nearly every island in search of spoonbills and report back to state director of research, Jerry Lorenz. So far it's been slow as water levels are still fairly high, but we're not quite sure what to expect this year. Already we're seeing some shifts in their range, but only recently did I find my first nest.
The first spoonbill eggs found on an island in the central part of Florida Bay
Trends have shown an overall decline in spoonbill nesting success in Florida Bay. In the northeast Bay, colonies once hosted up to 600 nesting pairs, now we're struggling to find a handful. These declines started right after the construction of the C-111 canal that drained much of the Taylor Slough watershed out to the Atlantic. Our research is helping to provide water management authorities with the empirical data they require to shape policies and change the flow of water. It is our belief that bringing more freshwater back into the system will provide more productive foraging grounds for spoonbills and other wading birds.
Only time will tell us if we're on the right track as Everglades restoration plans are underway. In the mean time, I'll enjoy trudging through mangrove islands and boating across the Bay in search of these pink beauties.