Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Tagging Anniversary for Ding #2!

October 17th 2015, marked the one-year tagging anniversary of Ding #2, a Reddish Egret on the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. Ding #2, tracked with a satellite/GPS transmitter, has spent the entire year within 4 miles of his capture location, and over half of the time within 0.5 miles.

One year of movement data for Ding #2 showing high site fidelity.

He has been seen by various photographers and birders along Wildlife Drive and continues to take advantage of the abundant fish prey in the impoundments near the observation tower. Ding #2 energetically defends his foraging area by chasing off other Reddish Egrets that come too close.

Ding #2 forages in the tidal shallows of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Ding #2 can be identified by the white feathers in his tail and wings. He is banded on the right leg, whereas Ding #1 is banded on the left leg.  

The other Reddish Egret tagged on the Refuge, Ding #1, also is seen regularly feeding near Wildlife Drive, although not usually in the same place and at the same time as Ding #2. However, In March and April, it appeared that Ding #1 and Ding #2 were nesting as a pair on a small island in Tarpon Bay, 3.5 miles to the east. 

Although the transmitter on Ding #1 shows signs of salt encrustation, it continues to broadcast strongly.  

We are grateful to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Willdife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds (Region 4), the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, the International Osprey Foundation, and Tom and Laura Hansen for supporting this pilot study. 

An additional, substantial contribution from the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society has made it possible to expand this project with three additional satellite-tracked birds and a concurrent study of the egrets’ fish prey. To begin, we are scouting new tagging locations in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties in Florida. You can assist in this project by submitting Reddish Egret sightings from these three counties.  

Sightings report page: http://arcinst.org/report-sightings

Ding #2 (left) and Ding #1 (right) engaging in a courting or territorial display.

Keep an eye out for Reddish Egrets next time you are on Sanibel Island. The Refuge is a particularly easy and enjoyable place to watch these beautiful, entertaining wading birds.

A special thank you to Jim Bennight, volunteer at the Refuge, who has provided us with all of the photos for today's blog. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Happy Anniversary! The White-crowned Pigeon tracked the longest by satellite begins his third year.

At ARCI, we celebrate anniversaries, special anniversaries of the date when a bird was captured and fitted with a satellite transmitter. Today is one such momentous occasion for the White-crowned Pigeon that we have tracked the longest by satellite. If you haven’t already, meet West. He was captured on 4 September 2013 at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens in the Florida Keys. He was the third bird of his kind to be tracked by satellite, using the smallest satellite-tracking technology available. Of the three Pigeons tagged in the Florida Keys in 2013, West is the only one still alive and transmitting.

West, fitted with a 5-gram satellite transmitter at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, has been transmitting since 2013.

What do two years in the life of an adult White-crowned Pigeon look like? This bird wintered both years in Everglades National Park. Three weeks after being tagged in 2013, West left Stock Island, close to Key West, and headed east-northeast to the Content Keys, staying just two days before flying on to Coot Bay in the southern Everglades. He returned to Stock Island at the beginning of the next nesting season, arriving there on 5 May 2014. We suspect that he nested that summer on Stock Island. 

Two years in the life of West, the longest satellite-tracked White-crowned Pigeon.

Beginning on 1 September, West spent six days in Marathon, on Vaca Key, then made a longer stopover on Plantation Key. But by 24 September, he was back in familiar territory in Everglades National Park, where he over-wintered. With spring’s arrival, West flew south on 26 March to Little Pine Key and spent two days there before returning to Stock Island on 28 March, 39 days earlier than the previous year.

Today, West is still roaming Stock Island, probably taking advantage of the many fruiting trees in the hardwood hammock that thrives on the grounds of the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. 

During the nesting season, West's movements are centered around Stock Island, Florida.

We are very fortunate to have such enthusiastic and gracious partners at the Gardens, especially Misha McRae, Executive Director. The satellite transmitter on West and the others we deployed in 2013 were purchased with funding from the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This summer, we returned to the Florida Keys and the southern Everglades to deploy additional satellite transmitters on six adult White-crowned Pigeons, this time with financial support from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

In addition to the White-crowned Pigeons we are tracking in Florida, we are also tracking several birds from breeding populations in Jamaica, The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico as part of a coordinated, range-wide study of the conservation biology of this fascinating bird.

You can follow the movements of tracked White-crowned Pigeons here: White-crowned Pigeon Tracking Maps

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Florida? Participate in the 2015 Swallow-tailed Kite population surveys

The Avian Research and Conservation Institute invites you to participate in Florida’s Swallow-tailed Kite population monitoring surveys for 2015. At this time of year, Swallow-tailed Kites are gathering in foraging aggregations and communal night roosts, where they gain behavioral information from each other that helps them find swarms of insects and other prey to put on weight rapidly and prepare themselves for migration. These roosts are extremely sensitive places for Swallow-tailed Kites and some reach well over 1,000 birds during this brief but vitally important time of year. 

ARCI’s synchronized surveys, which began in their present form 26 years ago – in 1989 – have become a very important tool for monitoring trends in the U. S. population. We systematically photograph roosts on the same dates in late July, the period when numbers have consistently reached their peak. A recent three-year collaborative project with biologists in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas found that 90% of the kites simultaneously observed were in Florida roosts. This year, for the first time, we want to synchronize public sighting reports with Florida’s systematic photo-counts on the 3 most important days. Citizen Scientists can play a very important role in this statewide effort to track changes in our national Swallow-tailed Kite population in Florida.

Participation is easy. Just report the date, time, location and number of Swallow-tailed Kites and what they were doing when you saw them on these three days:

22 July
25 July
28 July

Enter your data on one of these online forms depending on your location. The forms are responsive to your smart device, so you can even report from the field! We recommend you bookmark these forms for easy access.

Go here for sightings in North Florida
Go here for sightings in Central Florida
Go here for sightings in South Florida

The most valuable Swallow-tailed Kite sightings will be those in the mornings from sunrise to 10:00 a.m. The birds you report may be perched or flying, but please specify. We encourage you to boat or kayak down a river, get out on your favorite lake or trail through a swamp forest (kites often roost near water), or just report kites as you see them anywhere, including from your own backyard. Above all, a bird's well-being comes first; if a bird appears agitated or takes flight, you are too close.

We look forward to hearing about your Swallow-tailed Kite sightings and including them in this Florida-wide synchronized population survey. All contributors will be acknowledged on ARCI’s website.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Roseate Terns being tracked with the smallest-ever satellite transmitter

The Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) is a medium-sized seabird with narrow breeding distributions along both the eastern and western coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean and throughout the greater Caribbean region. From 2007 to 2009, Mostello et al. (2014, Seabird) recovered six geo-locators from Roseate Terns tagged in Massachusetts breeding colonies that identified possible migration stop-over areas around Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Otherwise, very little is known about the species’ biology outside of the breeding season, when most mortality probably occurs (Nisbet, 2014, The Birds of North America Online). 
Adult Roseate Tern with 2.2 gram solar-powered satellite transmitter attached with a backpack harness.
 [photo credit: Julia Howey]
The western Atlantic breeding population is considered endangered and declining (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010, Caribbean and North Atlantic Roseate Tern, 5-year review). The causes of colony fragmentation, local fluctuations in numbers, and steady regional declines are unknown, and no solutions have been identified. The study of migration, stopover, and wintering behavior of Roseate Terns has been handicapped by the lack of sufficiently small devices that can provide tracking data without retrieval (e.g., satellite transmitters versus geo-locators or GPS loggers). Because Roseate Terns weigh only about 100-115 grams (Gochfeld et al., 1998, The Birds of North America Online), tracking units must weigh less than 3 grams to comply with the established limit of 3% of body weight.

On 24 June 2015, we deployed solar-powered satellite transmitters (PTTs) on two adult Roseate Terns captured in a nesting colony (~200 pairs) on East Seal Dog Island in the eastern British Virgin Islands (18.506N x -64.432W degrees). These transmitters, prototypes designed, built, and donated by Microwave Telemetry, Inc.(www.microwavetelemetry.com), weighed just 2.2 grams and were attached with a carefully-fitted backpack harness. The transmitters represent about 2% of the terns’ body weight, well below the 3% limit, less than the weight of a U.S. penny, and only 11% of the average weight of a Roseate Tern egg (Gochfeld et al. 1998). 

Photo credit: Juila Howey
In the first two weeks of tracking, the tagged terns covered an area of at least 180 square kilometers within the British Virgin Islands and the transmitters performed extremely well. We expect the tracking data to begin documenting dispersal within the next two to three months. Then, if all goes as hoped for, we will watch and share the news as the southbound migration of these Roseate Terns unfolds and lead us to their wintering destinations. 

It is a privilege to be part of this exciting, ground-breaking effort. ARCI is grateful to Microwave Telemetry, Inc., and particularly to Paul and Julia Howey, for producing such valuable tracking tools and for donating the transmitters, paying for data acquisition, and contributing to the fieldwork. We also thank our project collaborators, Susan Zaluski (Executive Director, Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society, susan@jvdps.org), and Louise Soanes (Research Fellow, University of Roehampton, Louise.Soanes@liverpool.ac.uk), for involving us in their ongoing research on Roseate Terns and other seabirds in the eastern Caribbean; and to Captain Luverne Peterkin for safely conveying us to and from the study site. This work was conducted as part of a larger project funded by the Darwin Initiative, entitled “BVI seabird recovery planning programme” (DPLUS0035).

Monday, July 6, 2015

A tracking first for Reddish Egrets

Ding #1 was fitted with a solar-powered, GPS-equipped satellite transmitter on 20 June 2014 at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.  For nearly a year, Ding #1's movements centered on the bird's foraging range on Sanibel Island, an area near the popular Wildlife Drive, with only occasional flights longer than five miles (See Ding #1's animated tracking map).

In early May of 2015, Ding #1 started to make day trips to Pine Island, and, within a week, moved into the shallows of Little Pine Island to the northeast. On 15 May 2015, Ding #1 started moving north, very far north. Ding #1's tracking data shows the bird stayed overnight on Anna Maria Island, then continued up the Gulf coast for two days, finally settling into the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area just north of Steinhatchee, Florida, a total move of approximately 250 miles. 
Movements of Ding #1 showing the first-ever long-distance move of a Reddish Egret documented by satellite telemetry.
For 25 days, Ding #1 foraged along the remote tidal flats of the Tide Swamp Unit of the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area and each night flew five miles to the south to roost on an offshore island. On 9 June 2015 Ding left his morning roost and started a southbound track back to familiar ground near Pine Island. Ding #1 spent a night on an offshore island west of Pine Island and made his way back to the Wildlife Loop Drive near the observation tower the next morning.
Ding #1 with backpack transmitter
[photo credit: Jim Bennight]

This is the first documented long-distance seasonal movement (over 30 miles) of any Reddish Egret tracked in Florida. We are are eager to continue watching Ding #1's data as this will help us continue to understand his month-long foray to Florida's Nature Coast. This is an excellent example of the power of satellite telemetry to reveal the unseen lives of birds.   

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rally for the Rocklands - Miami, Florida

Only 2% of pine rockland forest remains within the urbanized 
areas of Miami-Dade County and outside of the 
protective border of Everglades National Park.
Last Saturday, January 17th, ARCI attended the Rally for the Rocklands in Miami, Florida to show our opposition to turning the largest remaining tract of endangered pine rockland forest outside of the Everglades National Park into a Wal-Mart shopping center, apartments, a resort hotel and 930-million dollar amusement park.  This site, which surrounds Zoo Miami, represents “the last stand for the embattled forest, the biggest swath found outside the protected confines of Everglades National Park and a rare tract that has withstood the decades-long onslaught of development in South Florida” (Miami Herald, 12/27/14).  Pine rockland has exceptionally high plant and animal diversity, including species that occur nowhere else.
A large portion of this land, originally owned by the people of the United States, had been donated for educational purposes to the University of Miami, which then sold it to a company planning to build the Wal-Mart shopping center and 900-unit apartment complex. The adjoining parcel, still in public ownership, would be destroyed to create a large water park, “Miami Wild,” themed after wildlife of the region. This ironically-named tourist attraction and large hotel would be built jointly by Miami-Dade County and Twentieth Century Fox.  Despite widespread opposition from many fronts, the County Commission is pushing forward on all of this by officially designating these lands “slums” and “blighted”.
The irony of destroying Miami's wildlife to make a wildlife-themed amusement park named "Miami Wild."
In the 1990s, ARCI’s staff studied the distinctive bird community of pine rockland in Everglades National Park, where at least six species, including Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Southeastern American Kestrels, had disappeared due to the expansive development of most of this habitat (what is now Miami and the surrounding urban areas). The loss and fragmentation of this forest made it impossible for the remaining populations to persist or to be recolonized by immigrants from the nearest surviving populations, mainly in Big Cypress Swamp. This research led to reintroductions of two such species, the Eastern Bluebird and Brown-headed Nuthatch.
An estimated 750 people attended the Rally for the Rocklands and spread out along SW 152nd St. outside of the Zoo Miami entrance. 
The parcels targeted for development are part of the largest fragment of pine rockland outside of protected areas. The habitat is home to resident endangered species and also large enough to be of significant ecological importance for animals and birds that move between even smaller pockets of habitat that remain in neighborhood backyards. If there is any hope of sustaining the rockland plant and animal species, we must be sure to protect and manage all that we still have, both on public and private lands.

ARCI's Director of Communications and Outreach,
Marjesca Brown, and Executive Director, Ken Meyer.

What you can do:  
  1. Please follow this issue on the South FloridaWildlands Association Facebook page and consider their requests for letters, public activities, and other support.
  2. Watch ARCI's Facebook for comments to the County Commission and other policy makers. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Drive Like Reddish Egrets Live Here

Introducing, Ding 
ARCI introduces Ding, a Reddish Egret fitted with a solar-powered, GPS-equipped satellite transmitter on 20 June 2014 at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. 
Movements of Ding from 20 June 2014 to 20 September 2014.
Reddish Egrets are one of two wading bird species that have not recovered from the population crash associated with the plume-hunting industry of the early 1900's.  ARCI has been studying Reddish Egrets for over five years, beginning with our previous work in the Florida Keys, one of the historic strongholds of the Florida population. We are using satellite telemetry to monitor seasonal movements and to map and describe the distinctive physical features of this species’ foraging habitat, which is relatively rare in Florida. 
Ding is outfitted with a solar-powered, GPS satellite transmitter on June 20th, 2014 at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge with ARCI's Brehan Furfey.
Zeroing In, Finding Patterns
Ding's transmitter dispatches data to orbiting satellites, granting us the opportunity to study his movements every day. Some highlights we have seen include:
  • Two days after being tagged, Ding flew nearly 4 miles east to a large wading bird nesting colony in Tarpon Bay, where he stayed just one day. 
  • Ding has favorite roosting and foraging locations along the Refuge’s Wildlife Drive, which were quite predictable for the first two months of tracking. However, on 19 August, Ding began making 5-mile day trips north to the southwest coast of Pine Island. 
  • Ding's movements are tide dependent; as the tide recedes, it opens up shallow foraging areas. 
You too, can follow Ding. Link through our website to see the last 14 days of Ding's movements: http://arcinst.org/arci-tracking-studies
Ding's movements are tide dependent. Reddish Egrets take advantage of receding tides to forage in shallow areas. 
The Refuge and Beyond 
ARCI is collaborating with Florida Audubon and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the next two years to determine the best methods for long-term monitoring of Florida's Reddish Egrets. With the help of birds like Ding, we will uncover knowledge needed to reverse the Reddish Egret's steadily declining trend in Florida

When you're driving along Wildlife Drive, don't forget to watch out for Ding! 

Special Thanks
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (J. N. Ding Darling NWR, Region for Migratory Birds), Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, International Osprey Foundation, Jim Griffith, and Dr. Bart Ballard (Texas A & M University) for financial and in-kind support; and Mark Westall for assistance in the field.