Sunday, November 11, 2012

When in Drought – The Roseate Spoonbill

Originally published on Audubon Guides on September 10th, 2012
I could be a meteorologist in Florida. In May the weather forecast is a chance of rain through November. The rainy season coincides with the tropical storm season. A nice afternoon rain shower is par for the course on any given day.

Lake Trafford is a 1600 acre inland lake in northeast Collier County. It’s been called the headwaters of the western Everglades. There are no springs or creeks to fill it up. The lake relies solely on rain water. At its deepest point it’s about thirteen feet deep. As the afternoon rains have fallen across south Florida, the clouds have parted as they’ve passed the lake. When Tropical Storm Isaac skirted the gulf coast, rain bands slipped past the lake on either side. The result is a 1600 acre lake that has dried down to about 1200 acres with mudflats extending far out from shore. The lake is more than four to five feet lower than normal.
Roseate Spoonbills on Lake Trafford © Pete Corradino
The consequence is a high concentration of American Alligators, estimated at about 3000-4000. A variety of wading birds are also enjoying the late summer shallows. The Roseate Spoonbills are most conspicuous. In a landscape of leafy greens and muddy browns, the cotton candy pink plumage of the spoonbills is a carnival of contrast.

The bald-headed, spatula-spoon-billed bird has a distinct method of feeding, sweeping the bill back and forth over the shallow mudflats, sucking in water, fish, crustaceans and insects and straining out anything undesirable through its serrated-edged bill. The pink is diet related. Certain algae contain carotenoid pigments which shrimp consume and then pass on to spoonbills. These pigments are displayed in the pink flight feathers as well as the creamcicle-orange tail feathers.

Spoonbill populations have suffered for over a century in part from plumage hunters who collected the feathers for ornamentation in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Populations declined further due to the use of the chemical pesticide DDT that caused thinning of the eggshells and low birthrates. The population has increased in the last few years and despite the lack of rain on Lake Trafford, the low water has created a refuge of sorts. If every cloud has a silver lining, than it’s reflection on Lake Trafford is pink. 

1 comment:

  1. I love seeing the Spoonbills in such numbers! Usually I never see more than 2-4 at a time here in Tampa