Wild life research conducted on Tampa Harbor dredge material island

Published Sept. 26, 2014
Three newly banded black-bellied whistling ducklings are spotted at another pond at 3-D.

Three newly banded black-bellied whistling ducklings are spotted at another pond at 3-D.

For a little disposal island, there’s a lot happening at Tampa Harbor’s 3-D.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contractors on Dredge Material Placement Facility 3-D in Tampa Bay recently earned warm-n-fuzzies as they assisted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in effort to collect data. 

The Corps and its contractors, Carter’s Contracting Services, Inc. and LG2 Environmental Solutions (LG2ES), hosted and volunteered as assistants during a two-day FWC operation that involved building a corral and herding wild ducks for banding. 

Yep.  Ducks. Not branding; banding. They were banding special ducklings born on 3-D. 

A bird aficionado and LG2ES monitor on the construction worksite, Lorraine Margeson heard that the FWC was interested in banding black-bellied whistling ducks (BBWD) for research, and she knew the large congregation on 3-D was easy pick’ens.

“I thought they could easily capture the ducklings, since they couldn’t fly yet and were essentially in a pond with no place to go,” Margeson said.  She quickly coordinated with her supervisors and the Corps, and then contacted FWC Waterfowl and Small Game Program Leader Jamie Feddersen who immediately coordinated with the Corps to gain access to the site.

Time was critical, according to Feddersen, because Margeson indicated that many of the ducklings weren’t capable of flight.  “This makes capture much easier and increases our ability to conduct an effective and successful trapping event,” he explained to Corps officials. 

To Aubree Hershorin, Ph.D., project biologist, this sounded like a great opportunity for the FWC and she was glad that the Corps and the contractor were able to accommodate the request while constructing the 3-D dike raising.  The raising will bring the dike from 23 feet to 40 feet to create about 15 million cubic yards of capacity and will help sustain another 20 years of dredging for the Tampa Harbor Federal Navigation project. 

Feddersen was excited about this venture because of a newly started multi-state color-banding project that the FWC is undertaking with several southern states.  Collectively, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas have breeding populations.

“Each of these state's wildlife agencies, along with Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have agreed to begin marking BBWD with colored leg bands with color contrasting alpha-numeric codes in hopes that birdwatchers, biologists, or anyone can see, read, and report the bands,” Feddersen said.  

The BBWD are a subtropical duck and, until recently, were generally found only in South America and coastal Central America.  Within the past 10 years they have expanded their range throughout the southern United States.  Feddersen said very little is known about their movement patterns and their natural expansion is extremely interesting, with sightings as far north as Virginia.  “Our hope is to gain some basic demographic and movement information on these birds, of which we understand very little,” he said.  

Feddersen said he was impressed with the number of ducks he saw using the ponds.  “It was good to see that many black-bellied whistling ducks and mottled ducks all on the same pond.  Plus, after seeing the area, I can understand why there is a lot of duckling production.  This area has no real predators – no alligators, no raccoons or opossums; maybe some snakes and they’ll eat eggs out of the nests, but probably not too many.” 

The day before the banding event, a small team built a corral made of fence posts and plastic construction fencing that they intended to herd the ducklings into.  By the next day, however, the majority of the ducks had “flown the coop”.

“Events did not go as planned,” Feddersen explained. “When we showed up, we found that many of the ducklings had moved to another pond.  There were a few still left on our initial pond, but when we put our kayaks in the water and started paddling, they all scurried out and we weren’t able to get people into position to prevent them from climbing the banks.”

Feddersen said he was discouraged when that happened, but the team pulled together to formulate a new plan for another pond that had quite a few ducks on it. 

“We grabbed a few stakes and a bit of fencing from our corral and moved over to the other pond and chose a natural funnel point to put up a quick corral.  We positioned all our workers (three FWC staff and five volunteers) around the pond and started walking and herding the flightless ducks toward the funnel point and corral.  The ducks cooperated pretty well,” Feddersen said, “and with a little coaxing, walked right up the funnel point and into the corral.” 

The team captured and banded 51 BBWD with an aluminum Federal band, and placed color leg bands on 26 of them. 

“We generally band a handful every year during our summer banding period,” Feddersen, “but this is the first time we have made a BBWD-specific capture attempt.  This is the largest number of BBWD that we have ever captured at one time and it is the second location in the state where we have placed color leg bands.”

Feddersen said that the FWC is viewing this first year as more of a test year to see if all the cooperating states can actually catch a large number of BBWD. Florida plans to put out 125 color leg bands throughout the state. 

“We’re currently working with the owners of the www.bandedbirds.org website to see how we can incorporate the BBWD color leg band sightings into their established reporting system.”  Feddersen says that for now, anyone seeing a color leg band on a BBWD can send an email message to ducks@MyFWC.com with the following information: Date seen, location (latitude and longitude if possible), band number and color combination (example might be an orange band with black letters), and the observer’s name.  He says photographs are great and are encouraged!

Margeson, who was excited about the venture from the get-go, already photographed and reported on a few banded ducks found in another pond on 3-D.  

To hear what a BBWD sounds like, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-bellied_Whistling-Duck/id.


To request photos, email susan.j.jackson@usace.army.mil.

Susan Jackson

Release no. 14-061