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Nesting Bird Update

Carlos Beach and Little Estero Island CWA

July 27, 2022

There are four species being monitored in this area: Wilson’s plover, snowy plover, least tern, and black skimmer.

Additionally, there were two nesting pairs of Killdeer in the CWA, and one on Carlos Beach, each pair nested twice. Only one pair fledged three chicks from their second attempt. All other nests were predated or abandoned, or the chicks were predated.

American oystercatchers did not breed at this site, but have been seen stopping by in the last month.

Wilson’s Plover

According to the most recent numbers available from the Florida Shorebird Alliance (2021), there were 912 breeding adult Wilson’s plovers in Florida.

This year there were twelve Wilson’s plover nests in the monitored area, five on Carlos Beach and seven in the CWA. Four nests were lost to flooding or predation. Two nests hatched chicks that were predated as downy chicks. Five nests successfully fledged a total of thirteen chicks.

There is still one chick on the beach, and recently I have seen about twenty adult Wilson’s plover on the east side of the beach near the new tide pool that fills up at high tide, hanging out with other birds preparing to migrate, including marbled godwits, short billed dowitchers, willet, black-bellied plover, least sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, and others.

Snowy Plover

According to the most recent numbers available from the Florida Shorebird Alliance (2021), there were 359 breeding adult snowy plovers in Florida. Lee County is the furthest south they are recorded nesting, and the nests on Carlos Beach are the furthest south nests known.

There were eleven nests this season, one in the CWA, and ten on Carlos Beach. Unfortunately, only one chick has fledged this entire season. The eggs were predated, abandoned due to disturbance, or flooded out of eight nests. Three nests hatched at least one chick, but the chicks were predated or lost in the tropical storm.

There may still be one chick on the beach from a nest that hatched a couple of weeks ago, and the final nest of the season hatched last week (one egg hatched, one egg did not), but the hatchling has not been resighted since it first hatched.

There were some interesting banded snowy plover sightings this year. “Sage” a banded bird from Outback Key nested twice on Carlos Beach after loosing his first nest to predation.

Photo of "Sage" by Jean Hall

Unfortunately, both of his nests on Carlos Beach were also predated. “Green, light-blue/green” was banded on Sanibel last year and nested on Carlos Beach, she hatched two chicks, which were lost in the tropical storm on June 4th. “Shalimar” from Outback Key was also frequently seen on Carlos Beach throughout the season but has not been definitively linked to a nest.

Least Tern

According to the most recent numbers available from the Florida Shorebird Alliance (2021), there were 14,382 breeding adult least terns in Florida.

The least terns had a very rough year on Carlos Beach with a lot of predation from laughing gulls and constant harassment for the first several months of their nesting season.

At the height of the nesting season there were 188 nests and the first hatchlings were on the beach. The spring super high “King Tides” flooded much of the colony in mid-May, destroying 60 nests, then the June 4th tropical storm wiped out 75% of the colony (130 nests)- leaving only 40 nests on the beach. The terns did not attempt to renest after many had already lost nests to gulls and flooding so many times. My best guess is that about 30 chicks fledged from the Carlos Beach colony, there are currently the last three feathered chicks of the season on the beach.

The least tern colony in the middle of the CWA had a much less dramatic season. They were not affected by flooding from high tides or storms, and less predation and harassment from gulls. There were 45 nests at the height of nesting season, and I estimate that 20 chicks fledged from the colony.

Currently the last three nearly flight capable chicks are on the beach hanging around outside the posting convincing their parents to bring them fish.

Additionally, four sea turtles nested in this colony with the terns!

Black Skimmer

According to the most recent numbers available from the Florida Shorebird Alliance (2021), there were 6,010 breeding adult black skimmers in Florida, with the colony on Carlos Beach being the only one in Lee County.

The skimmer colony faced consistent harassment and predation from laughing gulls this year, and has been increasingly engulfed by vegetation- both crows foot grass and the harmful sandspur grass which grew rapidly around them after they nested. It has been difficult to get accurate counts of nests and chicks, with many downy chicks unable to escape the sharp clinging sandspur grass to get out onto the beach. At the height of nesting season there were 700 adults, 188 nests, and 106 chicks. At least 40 chicks have been lost so far to bacterial infections due to open wounds from sandspurs, and adults are often seen limping and holding their foot up with a sandspur lodged in their foot pad.

An herbicide was applied to parts of the beach in April before the skimmers arrived, but not to the area where the skimmers nested. The herbicide treatment does appear to have been successful- the vegetation in treated areas is smaller and has not yet created seedheads. In addition, two sessions of hand pulling sandspurs from the skimmer area yielded fifteen giant bags of sandspur plants removed with the thanks of Audubon, FWC, and Turtle Time volunteers.

The colony is currently hatching the last nests of the season, and there are about 60 chicks on the beach, with the first round of flight capable chicks dispersing to nearby beaches.

About 30 banded skimmers have been recorded at the colony this year.

Robin Serne


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