Saturday, June 23, 2018

Where’s the Wildlife?



Mature gopher tortoise enjoys a post-Irma sunning.

Mature gopher tortoise enjoys a post-Irma sunning.

Some of our favorite Marco Island residents didn’t get the mandatory evacuation notice from Captain Baer, and then the eye of Irma passed over Marco Island… So, where did they go? What did they do?

“Florida’s fish and wildlife species have experienced natural weather events such as hurricanes for thousands of years and generally are well adapted for survival,” explains FWC staff. “Wildlife have specific mechanisms to defend themselves against different types of weather, generally without the assistance of people.”

In the days following Hurricane Irma, there weren’t any burrowing owls or gopher tortoises to be seen on Marco Island. Concerned residents started asking… did they survive?

Burrowing owl perched under a house eave for the day.

Burrowing owl perched under a house eave for the day.

With a sigh of relief, I saw the first burrowing owl hunting on the road on the evening of day four post-Irma, and the next day, a mature gopher tortoise roaming a hillside in the estates. By the weekend following Irma, owls were back on their perches, and gopher tortoises precariously crossing the road between debris piles.

There’s been a few calls in to the City about new burrows, and a few others about owls perched under the eaves of roofs and on the sides of houses behind a bush or the like, which is not unusual after a heavy rain event. If you do find a burrowing owl in an unusual spot, please give the owl space and it will return to its burrow on its own. When piling debris, take care to avoid owl and tortoise burrows giving them a 10-foot buffer to avoid collapse.

Flock party of terns, skimmers and willets enjoy the JW Marriott beach before the tourists return. Photos by Chadd Chustz

Flock party of terns, skimmers and willets enjoy the JW Marriott beach before the tourists return. Photos by Chadd Chustz

If you do find injured wildlife on Marco Island, call the von Arx

Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy near Naples Zoo:

239-262-0304. Impressively, the von Arx Wildlife Hospital was only down a day and a half after Irma passed. Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the Conservancy’s von Arx Wildlife Hospital advised that the hospital will always have minimal shutdown times during such events, even if phone lines are down due to power outages. Some 85 animals including grey squirrels and gull billed terns were admitted into von Arx during the week following Irma. If you are able to contribute to their efforts, visit: https:// www.conservancy.org/wildlife-appeal.

Enjoy regular updates and insights on Marco Island nature and wildlife, straight from the desk of the City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist, Chadd Chustz. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered in this column, or a question you’d like answered, contact Chadd at 239-389-5000.

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