Last week we visited Oreo several times on the dock where she had roosting for about a month. She, like about forty other area oystercatchers, was foraging in the marshes and oyster beds behind Masonboro Island, and when the high tide flooded her shellfish buffet, she retreated to a dock that stretched out into the Intracoastal Waterway. It offered a safe place to preen and nap, a clear vantage point from which to watch for the approach of falcons and other predators, and freedom from disturbance by people, dogs, or boats.
But when we downloaded the latest coordinates from Oreo’s transmitter this Monday morning, we also learned that it offered Oreo a spot from which to launch her migration to Florida. Florida! When Ted and I looked for oystercatchers to target for the tracking project, we looked for banded birds that had been sighted previously in Florida. They would be making the longest migrations, so we were most interested in their flights south. We struck out on all of our capture events—the closest we got was catching UP, whose mate, UR, has been recorded in Florida—so we pinned our hopes on CF7, CFX, and Oreo, all of which had not been banded before. But we knew we’d have to get lucky to have captured a “Florida bird,” and, incredibly, we did get lucky and Oreo is a Florida bird. What did her migration look like?
Oreo’s transmitter sent its last North Carolina coordinates at 4:49 a.m. on September 17. She was approaching the Georgia shoreline late on the evening of September 18, making her flight less than two days long. She was last reported on Egg Island Bar, just north of Little Saint Simons Island, GA, on the morning of September 19, and next logged a location west of Amelia Island, FL. From there, she angled across the panhandle, making a beeline for one of the largest American Oystercatcher roost sites in the county, Cedar Key, FL. She arrived around 2 a.m. on September 21, completing the second leg of her journey in less than two days as well.
So, Oreo undertook a journey of about 490 miles in two legs. First she flew roughly 280 miles to Georgia and then she took off for the remaining 200 miles to Cedar Key. She completed the entire trip in no more than five days, including her single stopover. She crossed the panhandle of Florida in less time than it takes a car, and made her way without a map or a GPS unit or Siri.
She’s now near Cedar Key, a small village on the shore of Florida’s relatively remote and undeveloped northern Gulf Coast. Cedar Key is home to one of the largest roosts of American Oystercatchers in the county. Every winter several thousand oystercatchers congregate there to take advantage of the relatively mild winters and miles and miles oyster beds that fringe the coast of Florida’s Big Bend. They, along with Marbled Godwit, Willet, and other species of shorebirds, spend their winters commuting from roost site to foraging site and waiting out the cold up north. Over the winter, biologists from Audubon of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will also visit the area to resight bands and monitor numbers at roosts. Meanwhile, Oreo will be unimpressed by all the fuss, and will just be hoping to find the next tasty oyster.