Sunday, February 28, 2016


[Two islands vegetated largely by Brazilian peppper (an exotic invasive species although one useful to some native species) constitute the Fellesmere Grade/Stick Marsh wader rookery near the head of the St. John's River in Florida. Taken with my iPhone at about 6:35 p.m. February 28, 2016, handheld. Click to view.]

Rookeries (nesting colonies of various bird species) are of course birder magnets, so twice today we found ourselves at the Stick Marsh rookery south of Palm Bay, Florida near the town of Fellesmere. A spectacular array of Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, and mainly Glossy but also some White Ibis kak, croak, squabble, and fly in and out, especially at dawn and dusk. Add Anhingas, squealing Limpkins, chuckling American Coots and Common Moorhens, and other Florida standards - a Snail Kite flew by this morning - and this site, at least right now, is a must see for birders visiting the Space Coast region.

Rookeries form where food is abundant but nesting and roosting cover is not, which perfectly describes this region when it comes to fish-eating waders.

How many birds involved, you ask? In the ~ 3 minute video above, I estimate ~350 ibis, egrets, herons and spoonbills flew in or out. We were there for a half hour, and the flight was reasonably constant. So, extrapolating, 3,500 waders came into or flew out of the rookery while we were there - and I doubt I captured more than a third of the birds coming in while I videoed, and this also does not count the birds that were already in the trees and stayed put! "Spectacular" does not do this place justice.

This morning we chatted with David Cox of the Florida Conservancy about the birds and threats to them. David was there surveying the rookery. Waders like spoonbills and herons are seriously threatened by climate change and accompanying sea level rise, whether we're talking about Florida or Cape May, NJ. We need to learn all we can about what these inspiring species need, and provide it.

This particular rookery is also threatened, albeit unwittingly, by fisherman roaring by and even through in loud boats. A no wake zone and some barrels blocking the channel bisecting the two islands would go a long way to help the colony, and would be a small inconvenience to the fishermen using this popular area (and I speak as an avid fisherman).

[Roseate Spoonbills were mainly flying out of the rookery at dusk, suggesting they were going off to feed at night. Click to enlarge. More stories and photos from the Florida trip to follow.]

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