Striking and boisterous, black skimmers are Florida state-threatened birds who are rapidly losing their habitats as a result of coastal development.
They're also imperiled due to increasing disturbances, mostly caused by humans and human-sponsored predators, such as dogs and fish crows.
Many enjoy watching these unique shorebirds on Sarasota's beaches. But to visitors' delight, skimmers can also be spotted at Myakka River State Park.
In early 2023, beach conditions were especially hazardous for shorebirds due to rampant red tide, which contaminated their food. And for the first time, a large flock of 92 black skimmers took refuge in the park, where they found newly restored floodplain marshes at the Upper Myakka Lake and ample, untainted food.
Protecting imperiled species is a priority for Myakka's Florida Park Service team. So to keep the skimmers safe in their newly chosen spot, a temporary barrier was placed, preventing disturbances from park visitors.
When flocks of birds are startled and forced to fly with no reason, they extend energy they'll need to replenish, or are forced to move to a less optimal area. While disturbing wildlife is always to be avoided, the extra protection was important as rest is critical for birds getting ready for their arduous nesting season.
Thanks to bird banding, which allows us to identify individual birds, Florida-based skimmers, as well as migratory ones from New York and New Jersey, were spotted among the flock in the park.
These findings highlight the importance of Myakka's existing and newly restored protected habitats for imperiled wildlife both near and far.
It was especially meaningful to spot 5B, who was banded as a chick on St. Pete Beach in 2019. For the past two years she's nested with the North Lido Key colony — one of the largest skimmer colonies in Florida.
This summer, after spending quality time at Myakka, 5B again nested with the colony at their new location on South Lido Beach, where she successfully fledged a chick.
And thanks to banding, we also know that 5B survived the winds and storm surge associated with Hurricane Idalia unscathed. Perhaps we'll see her at Myakka again this winter.
Friends of Myakka River exists to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River. Together, we're protecting and sharing Myakka's Magic, to the benefit of future generations, and our own. Follow us @FriendsofMyakkaRiver