Costal Wetlands Ecosystems of SWFL. Part 3, Shore Birds

In a two-hour walk along the southern coast of Fort Myers Beach hundreds of birds were readily observed. The photos show just a few of the birds present and this posting doesn’t really capture a full catalogue of all of the possible birds in this group. These observations were made from 8:15 to 9:30 AM. The area is not restored after the Hurricane Ian floods. The shore was relatively flat with the sea and as I was leaving the waters were rising with the tide. Except for the Osprey, the birds in this posting belong to the Aequornitornathes as discussed in our post on Calling Birds by Clades. Shore birds seem to be a frequently undervalued group. This is somewhat understandable because they are relatively small, fast flying, limited in chroma, difficult to access and seasonal.

26.405637, -81.896622
The GPS location for these observations.

Some of the birds found in this area are at risk and some are endangered. This is a State and the Audubon Society designated sanctuary. Others birds are routinely found throughout the shore area. This is nesting, mating and hatching time for these birds and large areas are marked off-limits to all to prevent damage to the nests, eggs and mating behaviors of the birds. The photos were all made from outside of these restricted areas.

The title photo is a flock of Black Skimmers roosting on the 10 to 12 inch high dune about 200 meters from the shore line using the 400 mm lens. This is fairly representative of the terrain and accessibility for observation. All of the birds were very busy in their mating and nesting behaviors. Nearby there are numerous empty multistory condominium buildings ruined by the storm. Additionally there is considerable construction work on those damaged sites.

Nesting Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger, scavenging along the shore
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres along the shore
Ruddy Turnstone in the dune area
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Rock Sandpiper Calidris ptilocnemis
American Oystercatcher at work along the shore
Black-Bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus
Sand Piper along the shore.
Snowy Plover (immature)
Snowy plover almost invisable
Osprey, carrying fish captured from the Gulf of Mexico, flying to its nest on a perch on Fort Meyers Beach tree line.


Nine bird species were identified. Here are a few important lessons to be learned from this first trip. The area is a State protected site and you cannot approach the birds closer than 100 meters. Available birds are seasonal and their activity is somewhat predictable. The birds listed here usually flock in species. The food resource comes from the sea. They mate, nest, lay eggs and hatch on the beach during spring season. For better images some combination of extra effort should be applied. This includes: patience and better understanding of the bird behaviors, more stealth and closer approach if allowed by the Audubon Bird Naturalist who is on site daily. Use a lens with focal length greater than 400 mm and a tripod.

These small shore birds are generally at risk for flock survival. Some are endangered, some are threatened. As you would expect the usual culprits are warming, environmental squeeze*, loss of habitat, and a relatively new threat. The recent increased threat is an avian viral infection N1H1 which has globally decimated the poultry and wild bird population. This variant of H1N1 is highly contagious and the domesticated populations together with the wild populations have cross contaminated one another. This cross contamination makes the control of the disease extremely difficult because the wild group is an untreatable reservoir. The hope is that, in the wild population, the disease will burn itself out by killing the susceptible animals while the resistant survivors repopulate the species. With small populations such as the snowy plover, this may result in their extinction. The domesticated population must be kept highly quarantined and a vaccination needs to be developed and deployed. Bird flu may jump species to other farm animals and to humans.

* Environmental squeeze is the loss of beach habitat from human encroachment and rising water.

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#Osprrey #Plover #Sand Piper #Tern #Turnstone #Skimmer #Oystercatcher #environmental squeeze #avian flu #H1N1

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