Thanks to By Andy McGlashen, the Associate Editor of Audubon Magazine, for this bright spot on the horizon, a signal that long shot comebacks are possible:
An official report says that South Florida’s wading birds had an even better 2018 than we thought.
A year ago, Everglades scientists and environmentalists were ecstatic about what looked like a blockbuster breeding season for South Florida’s wading birds. Turns out, it was far better than those early estimates indicated. New data show that the region hosted its biggest colonies of waders in more than 80 years, offering a flashback to the historical Everglades and a glimpse of how the ecosystem again could look once restored.
All told, wading birds built 138,834 nests throughout South Florida, with 122,571 of them in the Everglades, according to an annual report released last week by the South Florida Water Management District. That’s about three and a half times the average for the past 10 years, making it the strongest nesting season since before the region’s hydrology was transformed with engineering projects that made development possible but also contributed to steep declines in wading bird numbers.
When Audubon spoke last spring with Mark Cook, an avian ecologist and lead author of the report, he estimated from helicopter surveys that one massive colony contained around 18,000 White Ibis nests. But after a thorough count using drone photography, Cook now says the birds built more than 56,000 nests at that site alone, making it by far the region’s largest wading bird colony since the 1930s. There were more than 100,000 White Ibis nests throughout South Florida, more than five times the average count over the past 10 years. “That’s unbelievable,” Cook says. “They’re kind of off the charts.”
White Ibises were by far the most numerous wading birds last year, but Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Wood Storks also flourished, with each species building more than twice its 10-year average number of nests during the nesting period that ran from December 2017 to July of 2018.
Because their nesting success is tied closely to the way water moves through the Everglades, scientists look to wading birds as indicators of the ecosystem’s health and the impact of the massive effort to restore its historic hydrology. Last year’s breeding explosion doesn’t mean all is well with the system, however. It was basically a fluke: An extremely rainy 2017 filled wetlands and fueled production of small fish and crayfish. Then, a dry period gradually drew down the water level, stranding fish in crowded pools, where they offered a smorgasbord for waders and their nestlings. Those lucky conditions mimicked pre-settlement Everglades hydrology, and offered a glimpse of what restoring that historic water flow could yield.
The report provides “a bit of hope for those of us who have read those historical accounts of clouds of wading birds in the Everglades so big that they blocked out the sun,” says Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida, which provides some of the data used in the report. “Having never seen it, you start to think, maybe it’s apocryphal. Maybe it’s like my dad with his fishing stories. But last summer’s supercolonies proved that it was not an exaggeration.”…
Read the whole article here.