Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Black Skimmer Bingo – Update

During the winter at BiodiversityWorks, we shift gears from fieldwork to office tasks as we analyze and report results from the preceding season and begin preparations for the projects in the year to come. This time is filled with reflection on our successes and excitement for the future, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t look out our windows sometimes and reminisce about long summer days working intimately with the island’s flora and fauna.

Fortunately, we can live vicariously through work of biologists and wildlife observers in warmer climates. One of the most  enjoyable ways we do this is through resightings of black skimmers we banded as they move along their migratory pathway or relax on their wintering grounds. Since 2017, BiodiversityWorks has fit 58 skimmers hatched on Martha’s Vineyard with leg bands sporting individualized letter/number codes, and every winter we eagerly await reports of where these birds have migrated.

 At the end of December, we gave you an update on what re-sights we had received as the skimmers ventured southward. Now, as we round into spring and excitedly welcome back some of our earliest migrants, we wanted to highlight some of the most interesting re-sights we’ve received in the last three months.

O(J7) (pictured left) was regularly observed in a large flock over-wintering on Key West. O(E7) and O(A8) were observed in northeastern Florida. I mention all these birds together because they are some of the oldest banded skimmers from Martha’s Vineyard. O(J7) and O(E7) were both banded in 2018, and O(A8) was banded in 2017 – our first year of banding. These 7th- and 8th-year birds demonstrate the high survival rates we’ve seen from skimmer hatched in this northernmost colony. In fact, more than one-third of the birds (8 out of 23) banded in those first two years have been observed in the last seven months.

On the other end of the age spectrum, O(N0) (the bird Kayla and Rich are banding in the photo at the top of this post) was a 2023 fledgling and has been wintering on Amelia Island in Florida since January. O(N0) and another 2023 fledgling, O(N2), seem to be soaking up as much sun as possible before beginning their trek northward, with O(N0) present at Amelia Island up until at least March 21.

We also love when birds we haven’t heard about in a while pop back up. O(K5) has been regularly seen in the large Key West skimmer flock, but prior its first re-sighting of this past winter on February 10, we had received no reports of this bird for two years.

 

These re-sights can create engaging story lines. There was no other skimmer with a more well-documented winter than fifth-year bird O(K2) (seen here being banded in 2020). When we receive multiple re-sights of the same bird, it helps us piece together individual migratory timelines and preferences. This past winter, O(K2) was the poster boy for such observations.

O(K2) was banded at Eel Pond in 2020 but has only been seen once on Martha’s Vineyard by BiodiversityWorks since it fledged. However, during this past winter we learned of 12 unique observations for this skimmer. O(K2) was seen twice at Huguenot Memorial Park near Jacksonville, Florida, in October and November 2023. This is a common overwintering area for many of our skimmers. But O(K2), not yet done with its journey south, was observed in the familiar Key West skimmer flock on January 30th and stayed there for nearly a month (last observed on February 22).

Another month went by before O(K2) popped back up again in Tybee, Georgia, on March 17, as reported on a Facebook group page. The change in latitude indicated that the migration north was underway then for at least some skimmers. In the five years since O(K2) was banded, we have received observations from Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. But it wasn’t until this past winter that we got multiple re-sights in rapid succession, allowing us to tease out a more detailed picture of this bird’s migratory path. As we continue our banding projects and connect with more biologists and wildlife observers along migratory pathways, we hope to get an even more precise understanding of where these birds are going and how best to focus skimmer conservation efforts in the near future.

For now, we stay on alert for any more observations as our skimmers migrate back in our direction to return to their breeding grounds. Each subsequent observation reveals another piece to the puzzle, so we implore you to report any banded birds you see to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/bblretrv, but entering “www.reportband.gov” in your browser search window will re-direct to the appropriate page). As we wind back up to the 2024 field season, we hope to contribute to the re-sight database ourselves as the Black Skimmers return to Martha’s Vineyard for another breeding season.

<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/silas-beers/" target="_self">Silas Beers</a>

Silas Beers

Position

Silas joined the BiodiversityWorks team in 2022 as the Wildlife Technician. Good luck catching him in the field, though! Depending on the day he could be out on the beaches searching for shorebird nests, trudging through a bog tracking turtles, hunkering down in the woods catching bats, or wherever else the day's wildlife adventure requires. He currently lives in West Tisbury but grew up in Virginia, receiving a B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech in 2021.

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