This blog is dedicated to the environmental well-being of our Florida coastal habitat.

This blog is
dedicated to the environmental well-being of coastal habitat.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hurricane info from LOU NEWMAN (

Tropical Storm Andrea is knocking the heck out of our nesting shorebirds.  As an example of the damage:  I went out to the beach to a colony of nesting shorebirds I have been watching and photographing for the last few weeks.  The high tide, large waves, surf, 45 mph winds and heavy rain had taken a heavy toll.  The Snowy Plover scrape (these birds scrape out a depression in the sand, call it a “nest” and lay their eggs in it) which was due to hatch any day, had been washed over and was gone. 

The Black Skimmers have been courting and “nesting” for a couple of weeks, so most of them had eggs in their scrapes, but would not have started hatching for another two weeks.  There were about 100 scrapes; today after high tide I could count only 30 skimmers that were high enough on the beach to still be on scrapes and there were eggs all over the place in the wrack line on the beach.  Those 30 skimmers were really hunkered down in their scrapes, but they looked pretty miserable.  Many of the rest of the birds were hunkered down up in the dunes away from the surf and somewhat protected from the wind, blowing sand and rain by the dunes and vegetation.

There were about 25 Least Terns on scrapes, several with chicks (varying in age from 1 day to 3 weeks).  Last count was 14 chicks.  Today there were no scrapes left and I could find only 8 chicks.  Six of the chicks were older chicks and seemed likely to make it; there was one mid-size chick and one very young/small chick that I watched make its way up from the wrack line to a waiting parent that tucked him under her wing.  They gradually made their way to the protection of the dunes and vegetation growing in/on the dunes.

Even though I had on boots and rain gear, I was soaked to the skin when I got home.  Needless to say, I did not attempt to take my camera onto the beach.  A significant portion of a second colony of Black Skimmers that numbered over 300 birds and had perhaps 80 to 100 birds on scrapes was washed over by tide and surf.  I counted about 40 skimmers that were high enough on the beach that they were still on scrapes.  It is going to be interesting to see if these colonies survive and note whether the birds that lost their scrapes/eggs will renest and lay more eggs (and whether we get any more tropical storms/hurricanes before they can fledge their chicks).  All of the scrapes and eggs in a second colony of Least Terns were completely wiped out by tide and surf; however, the roughly nine chicks in this colony had been predated earlier in the week so there were no chick casualties or survivors.  The likely culprits include house cats let loose at night, feral cats, raccoons, crows, gulls, yellow-crowned night herons and ghost crabs.  People and dogs that get too close cause the birds to fly which leaves the unprotected eggs and chicks vulnerable to these predators.