Ornithology: Florida and Andros Island, Bahamas 2013
The 2013 Ornithology January session started an adventure that first led to Homosassa Springs, Florida and the Halls River. Once in Homosassa, students learned the ins and outs of tent camping, the basics of observing and identifying birds, and snorkeling. The class canoed and explored the Halls River where they looked for birds and the endangered Florida Manatee. For over two hours students snorkeled with manatees that were very accommodating and friendly. What an exciting experience! After a couple days in Homosassa Springs, the tents were packed up and the group traveled to Sanibel Island. The first day on Sanibel was a relaxing day on the beach our first good look at shorebirds. Snowy plovers, sanderlings, black skimmers, and a greater black-backed gull were recorded. The next day the group traveled to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge where they were met by Toni Westland, a supervisory refuge ranger. Toni was full of excitement and enthused to take the group on a wildlife drive. During this trip the students saw Roseate Spoonbills, wood storks, short-billed dowitchers and several species of herons. In addition to looking for birds at Ding Darling the students provided a couple of hours of service work by kayaking along mangrove trees near the shore to remove monofilament fishing line. Fishing line is one of the leading causes of death among birds like brown pelicans that roost in mangrove trees. The staff at Ding Darling was able to give valuable advice to the students who are looking to pursue a career within the environmental field. Following the last night on Sanibel it was time to pack up and continue south to Collier-Seminole State Park for a night. This was the mosquito capitol of Florida! After an evening meal prepared in the dark and cleaned-up in the dark it was time to clear tents of mosquitoes. Not an easy task and there was one or two that evaded capture. The next morning it was off to Big Cypress National Park Preserve to meet with Lisa Andrews. Here the group learned about this unique National Park and participate in a wet hike through a cypress dome. The wet hike gave many of the students their first experience with marl and a hike that threaded through a waste deep swamp. The next day it was off to Ft. Lauderdale, but along the way the class stopped at buffalo tiger’s airboat rides. The ride traversed the everglades where students saw the glades from a different perspective. During the tour, the boat Capitan grabbed one of the alligators without any hesitation. It was an interesting event for sure. After the airboat ride it was a straight shot to Ft. Lauderdale and the first hotel in a week and a real bed. Ahhhhh! After a good night of rest, the group boarded the first flight to Andros Island, Bahamas. The planes were small, but the flight to Andros was beautiful. Once on Andros it took a half an hour drive to the Forfar field station down a narrow bumpy road. After arriving at the field station, a week of not stop adventure began.
The purpose of the course was to survey for the endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus) for the National Audubon Society. Over the course of the week 28 piping plovers were counted and seven of them were banded (see survey results). There are only about 2,000 pairs of piping plovers in the world and Andros appears to be an important wintering habitat.
Throughout the week students had the opportunity to kayak in the ocean, explore cays, snorkel along a barrier coral reef, in a marine blue hole, and a freshwater blue hole. Most evenings everyone was quite tired. On Thursday evening the group traveled to a local restaurant for some local cuisine of grouper, conch, and lobster. One of the most memorable experiences of the trip was the day spent in Joulter’s Cays. Joulter’s is one of only a few places in the world where the sand make small spherical granules call oolitic sand. The egg shaped sand was very different than other places and a good place to observe birds and snorkel.
When there was a little downtime at the field station, students and staff competed in friendly games of sand volleyball, basketball, and euchre. Upon returning to Indiana the temperature was 70o colder. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr. The week passed quickly with new friendships formed and fond memories of a great place were captured that will last a life time.
Link to Piping Plovers Survey Results