It’s hard to believe that the first day of spring recently arrived! The Vernal Equinox occurred, meaning that the tilt of the Earth has again changed, bringing new animal visitors to our area while others leave for warming climates further north. We humans have noticed a difference in recent weeks also. The average high temperature has gone from 78-80 degrees to, well, 78-80 degrees. The air conditions have gone from dry to…still dry. But give Mother Nature some time. Things will change in the next few weeks, for sure.
Among the newcomers we welcome back are the swallow-tailed kites. There have been several sightings around Marco Island and the Isle of Capri in the last few days. Every year these beautiful birds make their way from as far away as Peru and Brazil to our region where they will nest, mate and raise their young. Just before fall they will all make that journey back to their homes in Central and South America.
Some islands south of Marco have recently closed to guests in preparation for more returning guests. Pretty soon the least terns, black skimmers and a variety of plovers will be gracing our beaches to also mate and produce their young. Look for more and more markers on our beaches to notify you of their locations. The above just need a small scrape on the surface of the sand to call their nest and many are so well camouflaged with their natural colors that you can be inches away before you notice them. Please watch your step and stay out of the marked areas to give these birds an opportunity to do what nature intended them to do.
In the western Everglades you will see more and more wood storks as they prepare for their mating season. They need a good supply of food or they simply will not mate. From the time of courtship to the fledging (flight) of the young, a stork family can go through more than 200 pounds of fish in 60 days. They hunt, not by sight, but by feel with their beak. So if we have a heavy rain season prior to nesting and the water is too deep for these hunters to stir the bottom or if there is not sufficient rain, then they will not proceed with their normal rituals and a full season of young may be lost due to food availability.
The brown pelicans are gathering nesting materials these days, and building birthing nests for their young that arrive in just a few months. You will find many of them in the red mangrove trees, especially in the rookery areas around the island.
Leaving us are the magnificent white pelicans, about twice the size of our local brown pelicans. Many are on the northward journey where they will nest and mate before returning here next fall.
Also the peregrine falcons, once nearly extinct east of the Mississippi, are passing by as they cover nearly 5,000 miles on their migration route…each way! Interestingly, there has been a pair of these falcons that, over the last three years, have NOT followed the full southern migration pattern and have instead stayed in the Marco Island area for the winter months.
If you all keep an eye on the sky, and on the beach as well, you just might see these new arrivals on your walks in our area. Spring is always a gift. That’s why, right now, we call it “the present!”
Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours, which conducts walking tours of the western Everglades. He is also a naturalist on board the well-known dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer, and a member of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism. Bob loves his wife very much!