Babies everywhere in Rookery Bay

Conservancy Eco Cruise Shows the Sights

By Judy Hushon | Conservancy of Southwest Florida Board Member

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Good Fortune II sails out into Rookery Bay twice daily, and has done so since December. What started with signs of nest building and courting has now in early April developed into nest tending and raising young.

The juvenile eaglets are now as big as the parents and have fledged. They are going out on daily trips with the parents to learn the fine art of fishing. Instead of the parents dropping fish into the nest, now they must learn to fend for themselves. In addition, the eaglets have demolished the nest for the third year in a row. I kind of feel sorry for the parents who have to start from scratch to construct the nest each December. The young eagles will not develop the characteristic white heads and tails until they are approximately four years of age. It is also interesting to note that the eaglets tend to hang around the nest tree when they are resting, but the adults relax in nearby trees, well separated from their offspring.

The osprey are slightly behind the eagles as their babies are still nest bound. However, they are growing fast and have almost doubled in size in the last 2 weeks. The babies have the same slash through the eye as the adults, but their feathers are mottled, not solid dark brown like the parents. Even as juveniles, the sex coloring differences are apparent. The females have brown spots on their chests while the males are pure white. The babies in different nests are a few weeks different in maturity, but none of them appear to have fledged. We spied one mother feeding large strips of fish to her young after tearing them from a fish carcass that she held in her talons.

Nearby one of the nests we spotted a double crested cormorant male that had a fish that was too large for it to swallow. He was trying to keep a grip on the actively flopping fish and drag it toward shore. However, there was an osprey nest nearby and we wondered how long it would take the osprey to decide to retrieve the fish for itself.

The great egrets are also actively nesting on the Rookery Island. The nests are only visible during the day. There appear to be 7–8 nests with the adults sitting firmly on them, probably meaning that they contain eggs. While the adults sit on the nests the wind stirs the beautiful breeding plumage that they spread out over the nest. A few weeks ago we were treated to the courting ritual of one of these pairs. The male built the nest then fluffed his breeding plumage and stretched his neck toward his prospective mate. For the time being she was ignoring him, but since that nest is now actively occupied she was apparently won over by his spectacle.

Some birds appear to have already departed for their more northern ranges. The oyster catchers are no longer hanging out on the oyster bar as you enter Henderson Creek from Rookery Bay. There also seem to be fewer terns than in previous weeks though we did spy some least terns and royal terns.

Near Marco Island we were treated to a show of cavorting juvenile dolphins. They appeared to be jumping back and forth over each other and their mothers. With juveniles it cannot be all work and no play and the dolphins like to put on occasional spectacular displays.

It was a great day to be out on the bay with full sun and a light breeze. One of our passengers remarked this is exactly why we came to Florida!

Good Fortune II eco cruises run through April 30. To book your trip visit www.conservancy.org/goodfortune.