Experts tell us a lack of nests could be a sign of a Southwest Florida environment’s water woes. And, if there’s not enough of one particular bird nesting, it can be a clue to water concerns.
We looked into why researchers believe there are fewer wood stork nests at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County this season.
“Every year I try to learn more and more about birds and then it gets more interesting every year because I see more,” said Jennifer Flynn. Fortune favors the prepared mind … I come to see the plants too.”
Flynn and her cousin, Doug Sonerholm, have visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for years.
“It’s different every time,” Sonerholm said. “It depends on the weather, the time of the year, the time of the day.”
Something different corkscrew swamp researchers have noticed is a lack of wood storks nesting in February.
“We do see wood storks foraging and many other wading birds foraging in the surrounding marshes, but no nesting behavior yet here,” said Lee Martin, a research technician at the sanctuary.
Martin flew over the swamp to observe wood stork colonies recently. More wood storks can be seen nesting two years ago when maps from 2018 and 2020 are compared.
“Water levels are pretty typical for this time of year,” said Dr. Shawn Clem, the research director at the sanctuary. But what’s unusual — if they’ve gone up and down so many times.”
Clem says December rains increased the water level, allowing the fish to swim to other areas and making the prey more difficult to catch.
“The prey begins to concentrate as water levels come down,” Clem said. “And that makes it easier for them to catch them, and then we get that rain in the dry season. It spreads all the fish back out.”
And, while wood storks should be able to endure atypical years, factors like changes in water supply and vegetation could have an impact. Less food means fewer wood storks, which are an indicator of the health of the swamp.
In the meantime, folks will keep their eyes to the sky and down below for creatures like the wood stork to continue monitoring the swamp’s health.
Clem says wood storks could still nest in Corkscrew Swamp this year, but in order for them to be successful, they have to do so before the wet season.
“The problem is because we have these other things going on, that when we have a bad year, it makes the situation even worse,” Clem said. “Because it kind of exacerbates what’s already a bad situation.”