Monday, February 19, 2018

Migratory Birds Are Back on Marco’s Beaches


A gathering of royal terns and black skimmers off Residents Beach, enjoying the sandbar. Photos by Maria Lamb

A gathering of royal terns and black skimmers off Residents Beach, enjoying the sandbar. Photos by Maria Lamb

A month after Marco Island took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, its sevenmile beaches are looking pretty good, and it is ready to welcome back returning residents and visitors.

September was a costly month to Southwest Florida, and the business community along the beach worked around the clock to get things back to pre-Irma schedule. The good news is that our beaches are as pristine and wide as before the hurricane, and our wildlife visitors are back!

In addition to beautiful beaches, Marco Island is also known for its abundant and varied wildlife. During this time of the year, as the weather cools down, shorebirds become a common sight on our beaches. For some of these migratory birds, Marco Island is the end-stop of their southward journey from the Arctic. They are here to feed and rest. Lately, large colonies of terns and black skimmers seem to be enjoying the presence of temporary troughs and sandbars in front of Residents Beach and the JW Marriott.

Getting back to normal - Residents Beach tiki all look great for the season!

Getting back to normal – Residents Beach tiki all look great for the season!

After the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, seeing these feathered creatures gather again on Marco’s beaches is a very welcome sight. “Birders” recognize Florida as a prime destination to spot hundreds of bird species. Our island is part of the Atlantic Flyway, which means that it is a major layover for migratory birds headed for points south in the fall or winter, and back again in spring and summer.

A hotel guest flushed these birds to take a “selfie.” The birds are threatened, and some are endangered. It is illegal to “flush” them.

A hotel guest flushed these birds to take a “selfie.” The birds are threatened, and some are endangered. It is illegal to “flush” them.

The beaches are welcoming back the “snowbird” residents who are anxious to get back to their beach walking routine. Hotel lounge chairs are slowly filling up with guests. Day trippers’ foot traffic has also picked up on South Beach. Sunset and early morning yoga sessions are back on schedule.

These are some of the upsides – but sometimes in our exuberance, humans forget that our shorebird wildlife just went through the same traumatic experience as we did. The wildlife we see on our beaches are those that “made it” back here.

It is important that we share the beaches with our wildlife that are here to rest and feed so they can continue their migratory journey. Most of the birds we see on our beaches in the fall are also listed as “threatened,” and some are listed as “endangered” species. There are fewer and fewer of them returning each year.

Most of the bird “flushers” or “selfie takers” are guests of our local hotels or “day trippers” from off the island. It is heartbreaking to watch them flush the birds to snap a photo. It is easy to spot resident beach walkers, as they typically keep a safe distance when encountering wildlife on our beaches. Tips on sharing the beach with wildlife:

Teach children to play responsibly on the beach and avoid areas with large colonies of sitting birds.

While walking, keep a safe distance from colonies of sitting birds. They need to rest and feed – it is a matter of their survival.

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