Recent heavy rainfall in Collier bodes well for wood stork nesting season

A wood stork takes flight from an embankment next to a canal on Immokalee Road in North Naples on Wednesday afternoon. Recent heavy rains have wildlife officials optimistic about nesting prospects for Southwest Florida's wading birds, particularly wood storks, whose nesting success is an important indicator of wetland health. Tristan Spinski/Staff

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI, Tristan Spinski // Buy this photo

A wood stork takes flight from an embankment next to a canal on Immokalee Road in North Naples on Wednesday afternoon. Recent heavy rains have wildlife officials optimistic about nesting prospects for Southwest Florida's wading birds, particularly wood storks, whose nesting success is an important indicator of wetland health. Tristan Spinski/Staff

— Rains that saturated portions of Southwest Florida in recent weeks haven't created much of a disruption for the region's abundant wildlife, and it's been good for the endangered wood stork.

Staff members and volunteers at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a long-established roosting spot in northern Collier County near the Lee County line, are ecstatic about the effect the accumulated rain will have for wood storks.

"It's just what I've been waiting for," said Jason Lauritsen, Big Corkscrew assistant director for Audubon of Florida. "I am, for the first time this season, optimistic about nesting."

The recent rains pushed water levels at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and its surrounding area far above average. Now, the wood storks have a chance of nesting here this winter, Lauritsen said.

The birds depend on having just the right amount of water in marshes, cypress sloughs and pine flatwoods to survive.

For now, the current water level is a bit too high, though it is expected to decline — 15 inches to 18 inches of water is deep enough to provide enough small fish for adults and their chicks. It's also shallow enough for the adults to easily wade through to catch food.

The average peak at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is 37.41 inches deep of water. On Wednesday, the sanctuary reported 38.04 inches of water deep.

During the most recent deluge about 10 days ago, the sanctuary received about 4.5 inches of rain, Lauritsen said.

In Southwest Florida, wood stork nesting season typically begins in January or February, Lauritsen said.

But some of the localized flooding could encourage storks to nest earlier, he said.

After a period of drought, all of the recent rains might translate into the second time that wood storks have nested at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in six years.

"This would be a much-needed nesting event," Lauritsen said.

Wood storks' nesting success is an important indicator of wetland health, he added.

In October, Collier County's coastal area saw 10.5 inches of rainfall, according to data from the Big Cypress Basin, the local arm of the South Florida Water Management District. The basin reported that 5.4 inches fell in North Naples and 8.3 inches fell at one measuring spot along Interstate 75 falling in that recent rainstorm.

So far this year, rainfall is at 53.27 inches, which is about equal to the historical average for the same year-to-date period, district spokesman Randy Smith said.

Otherwise, the recent rains won't have a major effect on wildlife, though they did postpone Tuesday's planned release by biologists of an 18-month-old endangered Florida panther in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

"Overall, the impact is negligible because wildlife is well-adapted to drought and rainy cycles," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Mark Lotz, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he doesn't anticipate any problems from the high water for Florida panthers and deer habitat.

Panthers can find refuge in hardwood hammocks and pinelands.

"The water that is out there right now is what is seen during the height of rainy season," Lotz said. "It's not really a major devastating type of event as far as the wildlife goes."

However, there hasn't been a shift of home ranges, Lotz said.

Panthers continue to move through their home range and are able to walk through water to higher grounds.

Since the rain event wasn't prolonged, it didn't eliminate lands for wildlife to roam, Lotz said.

Southwest Florida residents may see some lingering effects in their own neighborhoods. They may see more mammals and snakes moving through their yards seeking higher grounds until the water recedes, Morse said.

While the water could mean that reptiles, including alligators, turtles and lizards, may have the ability to travel, Morse said reptiles may not travel as much as they would if it were in the warm months because their metabolism has slowed down.

The rain has been beneficial to many wading birds, including limpkins, Fakahatchee Strand park biologist Mike Owen said.

"We were hoping for the rain," he said.

These wetlands are sponges and filters; they are absorbing most of the rain water and cleansing it southward to the coast, Owen said

__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

© 2011 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

itmattershere writes:

Love seeing these guy's, have a pair that I see almost every day. This is the Florida we should be & can be proud of, until the oil slicks come.

swampbuggy writes:

We have been producing oil for 60 years in woodstork habitat. Where are the oil slicks?

hadenuf writes:

I am so happy for them.

Here4Now writes:

I really like these birds. They look like old men (their heads at least)

Hollywoody writes:

Yep... kinda ugly birds but nice personality.

haymaker writes:

in response to Here4Now:

I really like these birds. They look like old men (their heads at least)

And uwee! GOOD EATING!

Come with their own chopsticks!

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