StoryMap: My internship study on human disturbance of protected seabird nesting colonies

Hey there! My name is Kaitlyn Dirr, and I’m a 2021 Hollings scholar. This summer for my NOAA Hollings internship I had the pleasure of serving as the avian intern for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in Naples, Florida. In this position, I studied protected seabird nesting colony disturbance focusing on two of Florida’s local seabird species: black skimmers (Rynchops niger) and least terns (Sternula antillarum).

On an undisturbed sandy beach, Kaitlyn smiles, holding out a pigeon-sized bird, with a long beak that is wide at the base and quickly narrows to a point. Both of her hands appear gently, but firmly wrapped around the bird, holding it's wings against its body. Her shirt identifies her as a volunteer with Rookery Bay Research Reserve.
Kaitlyn Dirr, a 2021 Hollings scholar, holding a newly banded black skimmer (Rynchops niger) chick at Big Marco Pass. All birds were handled and banded by trained biologists under state and federal permit holder Adam DiNuovo. (Col Lauzau)

I had such a fun time observing these species in the field that when it came time to present, I wanted to find a more immersive way to share all I had learned with my audience. I created an Esri StoryMap to serve that purpose! With nesting colony sound files and various nesting site maps for readers to interact with, the StoryMap allows readers to explore the impacts of different levels of Critical Wildlife Area offsite link protection on nesting colony disturbance.

Story map: Protected seabird nesting colony disturbance study

By: Kaitlyn Dirr

View the story map full screen offsite link

The hands-on learning I was able to experience in the field during my internship this summer was invaluable. Working as an avian intern at the reserve reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in wildlife and fisheries management and sparked an interest in bird work!

Photos from the field

Four adult black skimmers stand out starkly against a substrate of white shells. A few chicks are among the adults, but blend in well to the background. The adults have a head and back capped with black feathers, with the bottom half of their face and belly being white. Their beaks are large — as wide as their face at the base, then tapering to a blunt point, with the bottom beak characteristically sticking out past the top.
Black skimmer (Rynchops niger) adults and their chicks at a seabird nesting colony on Second Chance Island, a Critical Wildlife Area in Collier County, Florida. Skimmers are medium-sized seabirds with a large wingspan. Their unique bill has a longer lower mandible that allows them to skim the water's surface for food. (Col Lauzau)
Two young, downy chicks in a shallow hole on the beach. They are nestled around a beige and black speckled egg. The chicks and egg blend in well to the white, shell-covered beach.
Black skimmer chicks in a nest on Second Chance Island, a Critical Wildlife Area in Collier County, Florida. (Monica McKenzie)
A white bird with light gray wings, a black capped head, and a long orange beak, stands over two eggs tucked into a shell-covered beach.
A least tern (Sternula antillarum) on eggs. Least terns are small seabirds that dive close to shore to catch small fish and other prey. Breeding adults have a black cap and a yellow bill.​​​​​ (Col Lauzau)
A few dozen black skimmers cluster unevenly, resting on a narrow sandbar. Their black bodies stand out starkly against the sand, which appears nearly white on the sunny day. A bar across the bottom of the photo indicates that the image was captured June 28th, 2022, at 9:05 a.m., and it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
A trail cam photo of a seabird nesting colony on Second Chance Island, a Critical Wildlife Area in Collier County, Florida. (Kaitlyn Dirr)
Four black skimmers fly away from a sandbar against overcast skies. A few older chicks stay grounded near clumps of grassy vegetation and several other black skimmers can be seen resting further down the sandbar. A bar across the bottom of the photo shows that the image was captured on June 25, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. on an overcast, 88 degree Fahrenheit day.
A trail cam photo of a flush of black skimmers at a seabird nesting colony on Second Chance Island, a Critical Wildlife Area in Collier County, Florida. (Kaitlyn Dirr)
Headshot of Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn Dirr, 2021 Hollings scholar

Kaitlyn is a 2021 Hollings scholar and biology major at the University of South Carolina.