A storm feeds the River of Grass with freshwater in the vast Water Conservation Area of the Central Everglades
While my work generally has me boating and paddling around Florida Bay and the Southern Everglades, the Tavernier Science Center also works closely with the district throughout South Florida. This relationship ensures that we have a comprehensive data set for roseate spoonbills and other wading birds nesting all along the River of Grass watershed. Since nesting starts later the farther North you go, I was invited with coworker Adam Chasey in early March to accompany Robin Bennet and Mark Cook on an aerial survey of bird colonies in the water conservation areas.
"Waterfront properties" in West Palm.
We left out of West Palm Beach and flew over the sprawling city. It looked so alien on the fringe of such a subtle environment.
Morning showers created a rainbow arching over Alley North colony
You all know by now how I am on small airplanes so I was relieved to learn we'd be flying in style; a 407 helicopter, which is one of the smoothest rides out there. A few weeks prior I tried to access these colonies by airboat with University of Florida biologists, but failed miserably when our vessel got stuck in the dense sawgrass and cattails. That's another story though.
Thousands of white ibis nest on a tree island in Water Conservation Area 3
Our main goal was to get spoonbill counts and see if we could spot bands which would tell us if our birds from the Bay were moving north to find other suitable nesting grounds. This turned out to be a tall order, however, as we learned the hard way. I thought that with a helicopter we'd be able to set down and explore the colonies on foot to find nests and adults within a photographable distance. What we learned after walking 30 feet into the waist-deep mire revealed that these tree islands are far different from the mangrove islands on the Bay. Too easily turned around and unable to see above the sawgrass which lacerated our arms and legs, Adam and I returned to the helicopter and attempted to photograph spoonbills from the air.
A flock of spoonbills takes flight over the Everglades. If you look closely, the second from the left bottom has a band on
its right leg, hinting that our Florida Bay birds may be more mobile than we originally thought.
Thanks to our phenomenal pilot, Jake Wells, we were able to fly wing to wing with a small group and in no time, spotted our first band! For someone who spends most of his days looking up at spoonbills soaring across a blue sky, my heart melted as I flew side by side with these pink beauties. What an experience and better yet, what great data!