Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Happy Earth Day to All of Us!

Stepping Stones

Here we are on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and what an interesting time we live in! The human race is in a battle with a virus. The word “quarantine” is more prominent than anyone of this generation has ever known. Other circumstances because of this human isolation conditions are affecting lives like no other experience imaginable.

Photos by Bob McConville | Wilson’s Plover on Sand Dollar Spit.

So, let’s escape the human factor for a few moments and see what the rest of nature in our area is up to. Thanks to the loan of a brand-new rental boat from Rose Marina here on Marco Island, I was able to get out and see what was going on with the rest of the world. With my wife Cathy by my side, also a Master Naturalist as well as a “superhero” nurse in the community, we left the marina dock at 8 AM. Our primary goal: check out the mating and nesting areas of some local birds and see what’s happening. Our first destination was the ABC Rookery Islands, just east of the Jolley bridge.

This time last year, baby pelicans were already prominent on the island closest to the bridge, but none were sighted. However, lots of great egrets were in the center of the island, hopefully in the midst of a successful nesting season. As we pulled away from the islands’ boundary, I noticed some dolphins along a sandbar along the north side of the river. Being a member of a dolphin study team, I had to see which dolphins were feeding. As we approached, I got some photos of the dorsal fin markings which identify each individual. First, there were just a few, then more dolphins appeared from two other directions until a total of nine or ten were feeding in the same area. We saw C.U. Jimmie, Rocky, Captain Jack, Trixie, G3, Muffin, and Kona to name a few.

Further west on the Marco River, we saw another mom and calf. Just past the Snook Inn, our big male Notch was resting in a cove along with Kaya and her 19-month-old calf Ariel. At the Isle of Capri seawall, two more males—Hatchet and Capri—were feeding. All in all, we saw 18 different dolphins along our journey, also including some younger dolphins playing together—that being Llama, Double Dip, Aubrey and Coco. It was an unexpected great dolphin day! However, our primary concern was the bird population. 

We pulled up to Sand Dollar Spit, where the secured nesting areas were already roped off to protect the Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Plovers, many of which are in the area but not yet nesting. A quick walk of the area gave proof that several species of Plovers were indeed here, while Least Terns flew overhead, diving and feeding in the nearby Gulf waters. Among the birds on the beach, I also noticed some Ruddy Turnstones and a Lesser Yellowlegs.

We traveled over to the shoreline at the south end of Keewaydin Island where we sighted about 200 Black Skimmers flying over the Gulf Shore. A few more dolphins—momma Kaycee and her calf Sunshine—were feeding in the currents. On the backside of the shoreline, two manatees cruised by as well. Back up along Hurricane Pass and over to the entrance to Rookery Bay, there were a number of Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets feeding along the base of the mangrove trees—the tide was still coming in.

We pulled into an area known as Deep Hole at Channel Marker 22 and immediately had a Swallow-tailed Kite flying overhead. More herons and egrets were feeding, as well as some brown pelicans. Fishermen were pulling in several species of local fish too.

So, it seems like the rest of the animal kingdom is going about its annual routine as Mother Nature planned. In addition to our local wildlife, it was great to see the Least Terns here, all the way from Venezuela, and the Swallow-tailed Kites that travel across the Andes Mountains of South America to mate and nest in our own back yard. On this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we should all be thankful that the rest of the world’s animal kingdom has not been affected by a contagious disease—and when we survive our pandemic, we will still be able to enjoy the rest of nature as it should be. Stay safe!

Bob is a naturalist on board the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of 2 books and an award-winning columnist for this newspaper. AS always, Bob loves his wife very much!

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