Shorebird Internship 2017

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This position has been filled – thank you for your interest!

Description:

We are seeking one intern to assist the SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Program’s shorebird monitoring project from Feb. 6, 2017 through August 4th, 2017. Primary duties include: Assisting the shorebird biologist, shorebird monitoring and surveys, nest searching, setting up nest area enclosures, interacting with the public, communicating with our team of volunteers, and data entry.  Additionally the shorebird intern will assist with the care and maintenance of several live animal exhibits at our nature center (snakes and aquatic turtles) and may be occasionally required to give presentations about them. The intern will also assist with other departmental projects as needed, including but not limited to: invasive species removal, sea turtle monitoring, bald eagle nest monitoring, small mammal trapping, freshwater fish and invertebrate sampling, frog call surveys, prescribed burns, and vegetation monitoring.  Housing is provided.

Required Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, environmental science, or closely related field
  • Ability and desire to work long, irregular hours (including weekend hours)
  • Ability and desire to work outdoors in adverse conditions (intense heat, biting insects, etc)
  • Ability and desire to interact with the public and give presentations
  • Ability to collect accurate data and enter into Microsoft access and excel databases
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Ability to live in shared housing
  • Ability to lift and carry heavy objects (up to 40 pounds)
  • Must possess a valid driver’s license
  • Willingness to clean and maintain several live animal exhibits (snakes and aquatic turtles)
  • Willingness to learn and assist with other projects as needed

Desired Qualifications:

  • Previous field experience with ground-nesting birds / nest searching
  • Ability to identify and re-sight banded birds
  • Experience with GPS and GIS
  • Willingness to use your personal vehicle for work on occasion (mileage reimbursed)
  • Bird identification skills
  • Experience with public outreach and environmental education

Salary: $200 week/ $400 travel allowance/ housing provided

To apply:  Please send a cover letter, resume, and 3 references to Audrey Albrecht at shorebirds@sccf.org   by December 31st, 2016 (no phone calls please)

Multi-organization effort leads to successful capture and rehabilitation of Reddish Egret on Sanibel

shorebird-release-5517SCCF has once again teamed up with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) to capture a juvenile white morph reddish egret at Blind Pass. This individual was previously captured on September 7th to remove a small amount of monofilament from its foot. On that day the bird was banded and released. SCCF’s shorebird biologist continued to check on the bird while conducting routine surveys, and on September 26th noticed monofilament hanging from the left wing. The bird was amazingly still able to fly despite its entanglement. On Sunday October 2nd, researcher Amanda Powell from ARCI and SCCF’s Audrey Albrecht were able to successfully capture the bird again.

20161002_132452Upon capture, they discovered there was more than just line hiding under the wing and the bird was taken to CROW (Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife). Once at CROW the hooks and line were successfully removed and the laceration sutured. After a week of rehabilitation the bird was ready for release. SCCF staff released the bird on Monday October 10.

This bird’s story serves as a reminder of the danger that monofilament poses to all types of coastal wildlife. Monofilament can be recycled, and should be disposed of properly in the collection bins located near beach accesses and boat ramps. If you accidentally hook a bird while fishing, please reel it in and release instead of cutting the line! This bird is also an example of an individual who has lost its fear of humans and habitually begs for bait fish.  Please do not feed wildlife.

SCCF is grateful to the assistance from ARCI and CROW in the successful capture, rehabilitation, and release of this reddish egret.

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More Information:

FWCs monofilament recycle program

 Reel and Release Brochure

ARCI Tracking Studies

2016 Sanibel and Captiva Shorebird Nesting Season

A 5 week old plover chick nestled under his dads wing

A 5 week old plover chick nestled under his dads wing

The 2016 shorebird nesting season has come to a close. SCCF’s shorebird biologist and shorebird intern have been monitoring nesting Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and Wilson’s Plovers since mid-February.  No nesting attempts were made on Captiva this year; all nests were on Sanibel.

The snowy plovers on Sanibel only fledged 4 chicks in 2016.  Of the 28 nesting attempts this year, only 7 nests made it to hatching, producing a total of 17 chicks. The primary causes of nest and chick loss were due to depredation (primarily crows and gulls) and washover events (primarily Tropical Storm Colin).

Wilson’s Plovers fared much better with 4 chicks successfully fledging in 2016. Of the 3 nest attempts, 2 nests hatched a total of 5 chicks. One nest was washed over during Tropical Storm Colin.

The Least Terns did not succeed at producing any fledglings on Sanibel this year.  They formed a nesting colony west of Bowman’s beach in mid-May.  A canine predator depredated the majority of the 23 nests in late-May, leaving only 6 nests remaining. At least 2 of those nests hatched and 3 chicks were observed in the colony prior to Tropical Storm Colin. All remaining nests and chicks were lost during the storm. The terns did not return to Sanibel to nest in 2016, but likely formed a new colony elsewhere. Many fledglings were observed on the island during July and August.

SCCF Sea Turtle Nest Numbers Break Records on All Island Beaches

SCCF Nests and LighthouseIt has been a banner year for loggerheads nesting on Sanibel and Captiva! As of August 4, the nest numbers for the East and West End of Sanibel were 164 and 430, respectively. The previous records for these beaches were 120 and 376 (both set in 2015).

184 nests have been laid on Captiva to date, also breaking their previous record of 179 nests laid in 2000.

With 722 total loggerhead nests on the two islands combined, and scattered nesting continuing into August, 2016 has shattered the all-time record of 622 nests for the two islands combined!
While we’re breaking records on Sanibel and Captiva, the Statewide numbers won’t be totalled until the end of the season in October.

At least for the SCCF Sea Turtle Program, these numbers show that decades of coordinated conservation efforts are starting to pay off, including nest protection, reducing fisheries interactions, and limiting artificial lighting in coastal communities.

Here are the nest counts as of  August 4, 2016:

8/4/2016
Sanibel East Sanibel West Captiva Total
Loggerhead Nests 164 430 184 778
Loggerhead False Crawls 332 803 283 1418

First Prescribed Burn of 2016 at Sanibel Gardens

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SCCF Field Technician Victor Young with Sea Turtle Coordinator/Biologist Kelly Sloan using the drip torch.

A prescribed burn was conducted on about 19 acres of wildlife habitat in the Sanibel Gardens Preserve (owned by SCCF and the City of Sanibel) on Friday, June 3. The burn was conducted by SCCF and the City of Sanibel.

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Burn boss, Toby Clark (left) checks the fire line

Habitat preservation and human safety are the main reasons for performing controlled burns. Our habitat on the island is adapted for fire. When periodic fire is denied, the habitat begins to change, mostly to hardwood hammock.

This results in the progressive narrowing of the once open-canopy grasslands that historically covered Sanibel and were maintained by fires caused by lightning strikes. Without fire to keep the grasslands open, hardwoods will eventually take over. Many faunal species — from wading birds to invertebrates — depend on these open grassy wetlands for both habitat and prey.

When fire-adapted habitat is left unburned over many years, the fuel, or accumulating organic debris (leaves, sticks, dead grass, etc.), become an increasing risk for wildfire. These types of fires are usually started from lightning strikes or human carelessness (discarded cigarette butts, discarded matches, etc.) and are unpredictable. The reduction of these fuels through a scheduled controlled fire regime greatly helps to prevent these scenarios.

Prescribed burns on Sanibel are made possible with help from the Sanibel Prescribed Fire Task Force (City of Sanibel, Florida Forest Service, Sanibel Fire Control District, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and SCCF).

Cabbage palms are adapted to fire and can survive as long as their “bud” doesn’t burn. Detailed planning, vigilant patrolling, and the correct atmospheric conditions are needed. Prescribed fire is the most effective habitat management technique to keep shrinking ecosystems — such as open freshwater marshes, —from disappearing.

Prescribed Burn of the Sanibel Gardens Preserve Scheduled for Tomorrow

FullSizeRenderPress release from the City of Sanibel
Contact Holly Milbrandt, Public Information Officer
Prior to burn (239) 472-3700; Day of burn (239) 470-4005

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and the City of Sanibel will conduct a prescribed burn of approximately 19-acres of the Sanibel Gardens Preserve on FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2016.

A change in forecast conditions may result in postponement of the burn or cancellation of the planned prescribed burn. The prescribed burn will help to preserve the natural ecology of the area and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires.

The Sanibel Gardens Preserve is located west of Tarpon Bay Road, between Island Inn Road and Sanibel-Captiva Road. Click here for a map of the prescribed burn location (prescribed burn areas are outlined in green).

Ignition is expected at approximately 10 a.m., FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2016, with completion of the burn by 4 p.m. Current weather forecasts are suitable for the burn. However, a change in forecast conditions may result in postponement of the burn or cancellation of the planned prescribed burn until further notice. Please monitor the City’s website
www.mysanibel.com for the latest updates.

On the day of the burn, all areas of the SANIBEL GARDENS PRESERVE will be CLOSED to the public. Additionally, the EAST portion of ISLAND INN ROAD (between Tarpon Bay Road and the gate) will be CLOSED to ALL VEHICULAR, PEDESTRIAN, AND BICYCLE TRAFFIC beginning at 7:30 AM. SANIBEL BOULEVARD will also be CLOSED to all non-local vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. The Bailey Tract at the J.N. “Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge will be open, but pedestrian and bicycle access from the Bailey Tract to Island Inn Road will be CLOSED. Please adhere to all signs, road closures, and instructions about closed areas provided by law enforcement and fire personnel. Access into the burn unit will be strictly prohibited during the prescribed fire operation.

While the burn is being conducted, there will be a Public Information Station outside of Bailey’s General Store at 2477 Periwinkle Way to provide more information on the status of the burn. For questions on the day of the burn, please visit the Public Information Station or contact Holly Milbrandt, Public Information Officer at (239) 470-4005.

Depending on the wind direction and strength, it may be possible to see or smell smoke. Smoke sensitive individuals should keep their windows closed and avoid outdoor activities in the affected areas. Residents and visitors are also encouraged to close their windows, cover pools, and move cars and furniture indoors. Please adhere to all warning signs and instructions provided by law enforcement and fire personnel. Ash and smoke associated with a prescribed burn cannot be prevented.

After the ignition of the prescribed burn has been completed, there may be occasional smoke seen from the burned area for several days. Fire personnel will monitor the burned area and adjacent roads taking all precautions necessary to have personnel and equipment on site to minimize fire activity and smoke impacts to the public.

To learn more about prescribed burns, click here for a list of Frequently Asked Questions. To be included on the City’s list of Smoke Sensitive Individuals and receive notification regarding future prescribed burns on Sanibel, please contact Joel Caouette at the City of Sanibel at (239) 472-3700 or email Joel.Caouette@mysanibel.com.

SCCF’s Indigo Snake Project Provides Education to Local Institutions

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Adult Eastern Indigo Snake

SCCF is in its third year of captive breeding its legally acquired eastern indigo snakes in the SCCF Nature Center, as a subsidiary of the SCCF Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project (SPISEIP). The eastern indigo snake is a large (5 – 7 ft), docile, black snake that is now extirpated in many parts of Florida, including Sanibel and Captiva. It has been a state protected species since 1971 and a federally threatened species since 1978. This means that it has been illegal to harass, touch, catch, keep, and kill, etc. wild eastern indigo snakes in Florida since 1971. Legally held (captive) eastern indigo snakes are either the result of confiscations by law enforcement (that are then given, and permitted, to someone because they can’t be released) or from captive-bred stock whose origins predates the state and federal listing of the species. Legal captive eastern indigo snakes cannot be sold in Florida due to them being a Florida listed species.

The SPISEIP began in 2012 when SCCF partnered with the Orianne Society; a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the eastern indigo snake. Chris Lechowicz was placed on their federal permit to conduct a mark-recapture study in Pine Island Sound to assess the population status, collect genetic samples, and come up with recommendations to sustain these populations. This species was once common on many barrier islands in Florida, but have been severely reduced to just a few islands in Pine Island Sound in recent years. Some populations still exist in the Florida peninsula, but many populations have been decimated due to development and especially the construction of new roads through large tracts of land. Eastern indigo snakes have a very large home range and road mortality is one of their main threats due frequently crossing roads.

Juvenile Eastern Indigo snake

SCCF’s original pair of captive indigo snakes (that were given to us in 2011 and 2012) are not from Pine Island Sound, but from a long line of captive bred animals that were produced in Lakeland, FL by the only permitted breeder in Florida at the time. A common question we are asked is: “Why do you breed indigo snakes at SCCF?”  The best answer for that is “conservation through education”. Nature centers, conservation organizations, schools and numerous individuals would like them for live exhibits or for educational lectures on snake conservation. Educational snakes are a very powerful tool to help to change negative feelings about snakes (and their role in the environment).   An adult indigo snake certainly gets everyone’s attention at a lecture and the message about their plight and that of other snakes, are better appreciated. Plus, the opportunity to legally touch or hold one can be a transformative experience for those who have a mild or unsure fear of snakes.

Indigo PIT Tag

A PIT tag, like a microchip for a cat or dog, is inserted for identification

Legal captive indigo snakes are very hard to acquire, especially in states that are in their natural range (like Florida).  By breeding these snakes, we are able to give other educators and organizations, that conduct similar conservation work, legal eastern indigo snakes that will be used to help change the minds of many people with negative feelings about snakes and teach people about this magnificent, unique, and troubled species in Florida.

Many people ask if the snakes we have produced can be released on Sanibel since they are now absent from the island. The answer to that is no.  Pine Island Sound snakes are genetically distinct from other populations in Florida and snake biologists, as well as state and federal agencies would not allow the mix of gene pools.  Plus, the problem that led to their extirpation has not been addressed, which is a busy road (Sanibel-Captiva Road) bisecting two major land areas (SCCF and Refuge Lands). To have any hope of repatriating indigo snakes back on the west end of Sanibel, Sanibel-Captiva Road would need to be either elevated or a barrier constructed on both sides with frequent eco-passes underneath to allow wildlife to go back and forth. Also, the stock for the repatriation would need to be from Pine Island Sound snakes.

Indigos new home at CROW

A new home at CROW

This spring, some of our captive-bred eastern indigo snakes that hatched at the SCCF Nature Center on 7/23/15 will be given to Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary (West Naples), C.R.O.W (Sanibel), FGCU (Fort Myers), and Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute (North Carolina) for educational and outreach exhibits. The hatchlings were held until April to assure that they were readily feeding and large enough to be micro-chipped.  If you have any questions about this effort, please call 239-472-3984 or email Chris Lechowicz at clechowicz@sccf.org.  If you see a wild eastern indigo snake on any of the islands in Pine Island Sound, please take a picture and send it to indigo@sccf.org or call 239-472-3984.

1st Day of Sea Turtle Season

Sea Turtles Aug 2015 (1 of 25)Today marks the start of the 2016 sea turtle season for Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Sea turtle season continues through October and during this time we expect to see hundreds of sea turtle nests.

Each morning nests are staked off by a large network of volunteers in order to monitor and protect them. Sanibel and Captiva provide great nesting habitat for sea turtles, so it is important we keep the beaches pristine and safe for their use. There are several things you can do to help keep the beaches sea turtle friendly.

  • Respect all staked nests.
  • Sea Turtles Aug 2015 (2 of 25)Turn off all lights — Nesting females and hatchlings primarily emerge after dark so remember to turn off all lights. Sea turtles use the brightest horizon to navigate towards the water. Any artificial lighting will cause confusion and steer turtles in the wrong direction. This includes beachfront lighting, flash lights, flash photography, and even iPhones.
  • Remove all beach furniture and toys — Clear everything off the beach from 9 pm – 7 am. Obstacles on the beach can cause nesting females and hatchlings to become entangled.
  • Fill in all holes on the beach — if you dug a hole on the beach please fill it in. Nesting females and hatchlings can fall into holes, causing them to be venerable to predators.
  • Never approach a nesting sea turtle — if approached the sea turtle will likely abandon her nesting attempt.

Be on the Lookout for Snowy Plovers

Can you spot the snowy plover?

Sanibel Island is home to many species of nesting birds. Some are more noticeable than others, such as the many ospreys calling loudly from their highly visible nest platforms. Others, like the snowy plover, can be easy to miss. These tiny shorebirds are most commonly found resting or feeding among the wrack at the high tide line; but are often overlooked because of their quiet nature and perfectly camouflaged plumage.

In February and March, the snowy plovers pair off and begin establishing territories along the beach. The males will dig practice nest scrapes in several locations. When the pair decides they have found the ideal location, they will begin mating and eventually lay eggs.  A typical snowy plover nest is a shallow depression in the sand sometimes lined with small pebbles or shell fragments. They will lay one egg every other day until they reach a full clutch of 3 eggs, which they then incubate for 4 weeks.

SNPL_camo 1During nesting season, it is not uncommon to see areas of the beach roped off with string and posts bearing informational signs. These areas are essential for snowy plover nesting success and chick survival.  Nests are very difficult to see, and it would be easy for someone to mistakenly step on one.  Fencing off a large area around the nest minimizes disturbance to the nest.

When people, dogs, and vehicles are too close to the nest, the adult will be off the nest, leaving the eggs vulnerable to the elements or predators. Adults will call loudly, and feign a broken wing in hopes of distracting potential predators from their young. If you see an adult exhibiting these behaviors, it means you are too close to the nest or chicks. The proper course of action is to immediately stop moving and carefully observe the ground around you. Once you are sure you are not standing near a nest or chicks, slowly walk away from the birds and continue to watch your feet as you go.

Snowy plover chicks are precocial, which means they will be up and running and finding their own food within a few hours of hatching. They can feed themselves, but still rely on their parents for protection from the elements and predators until they are fledged. The chick’s instinct when approached by people or predators is to crouch down and stay very still. Their sandy colored speckled plumage allows them to blend in perfectly with their surroundings.

Please help protect nesting snowy plovers by respecting the signs and staying outside the roped off areas. It is also important to remember to keep all dogs on leashes, and never allow children or dogs to chase after birds on the beach. If you have questions about snowy plovers or other shorebirds on Sanibel Island, please contact the shorebird coordinator Audrey Albrecht via email at aalbrecht@sccf.org

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Possible First Naturalistic Photo of a Rare Sanibel Rice Rat

20151202_111336The Sanibel rice rat (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli) is a semi-aquatic and imperiled species of rodent that is protected by the state of Florida. This very rare mammal is endemic to Sanibel Island (only known from Sanibel). It is often confused with the native cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) and the exotic black rat or “palm rat” (Rattus rattus) that are very common on the island. Sanibel rice rats primarily live in Spartina marshes and do not go near people or their homes. Besides long term monitoring by SCCF and the Refuge, there is a large study occurring on Sanibel rice rats on the island currently by the University of Florida with funding from an FWC grant. Here is a very rare look at a Sanibel rice rat that was photographed on the SCCF Center Tract in November 2015, by SCCF, staff during biannual monitoring for this species.

This is possibly the first naturalistic photo of a Sanibel rice rat in the wild – all previous photos are in captivity or being held during health checks.

The main reason for their scarcity on the island is the reduction of habitat due to succession from open wetlands to hardwood hammocks. Prescribed fire directly affects this species because fire is the best tool, and most natural way, to maintain their habitat

Harmless Watersnakes Often Mistaken on SanCap

Cottonmouth (not found on SanCap) vs. Florida watersnake (harmless, and found on SanCap)

Cottonmouth (not found on SanCap) vs. Florida watersnake (harmless, and found on SanCap)

This time of year usually means high water in the basins on Sanibel. With that, come more frequent observations of snakes by residents and visitors. This is because the wetlands, where several Sanibel snakes call home, become flooded and watersnakes or their relatives need a place to dry out and sun themselves. With no other options, those dry places become backyards, sidewalks, and parking lots. When water levels drop, most aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes retreat to dry areas near the edge of the wetland and out of the way of most people.

Unfortunately with the rise in snake observations due to high water come the reports of “water mocassins” (cottonmouths), a venomous snake in Florida. Sanibel is well within the range of the Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti), however they have never been documented on Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva, Cayo Costa or Pine Island.

Watersnake, not Cottonmouth
The snake that many people are seeing, and unfortunately misidentifying, is the Florida watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris). This is a common snake of the freshwater basins of the island. In brackish and saltwater (mangrove) areas of the islands, that snake is replaced by the mangrove saltmarsh snake (Nerodia clarkia compressicauda). Both of these harmless snakes are unfairly persecuted by people because they are thought to be “mocassins” simply because they are seen in or around water.

This does not ignore the fact that we are in the range of the Florida cottonmouth and it is possible for them to arrive here by swimming across the bay or arriving in shipments of sod/mulch/plants etc. Snakes are a very important part of the many ecosystems on Sanibel. They both eat prey and get eaten by predators as part of the food web. Native snakes should not be harmed, especially on this conservation island.

A major issue is that most people cannot correctly differentiate between the two snakes. Common verbal inaccuracies that I often hear from snake novices are “it had a triangular head,” “it rattled its tail,” “it had a heavy body,” “it was swimming,” etc.  The truth is that most snakes have a triangular shaped head and most exaggerate that triangular shape when they are threatened. Most snakes will rattle their tail, even though they don’t have a rattle, as a false threat. It is true that cottonmouths have a large, heavy build, but well fed watersnakes can also be massive. Finally, all local snakes can swim. There are many misnomers when it comes to snakes — and watersnakes probably experience the worst of that in regards to the cottonmouth.

Here are some key diagnostic features for the Florida watersnake (usually between 2.5- 3.5 ft) as compared to the cottonmouth:

  • Round pupils, as opposed to all venomous snakes in the U.S. with the exception of the coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) which have elliptical pupils (like a cat).
  • Banding is usually reddish with white outlines. The white is usually visible along the lower side of the snake (near the underside), even on dark specimens.
  • The labial scales (upper lip scales) have dark vertical outlines.
  • The body can be highly contrasting or almost solid black, but the banding should still be somewhat noticeable on dark animals.
  • Primarily a freshwater inhabitant.

The mangrove saltmarsh snake (usually 1 – 2.5 ft): (1)

  • Round pupils, as opposed to all venomous snakes in the U.S. with the exception of the coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) which have elliptical pupils (like a cat).
  • Narrow banding (difficult to see in most adults.
  • Variable color forms (black or brown with faded banding, all red or orange, or a blending of those.
  • Primarily a salt water or brackish inhabitant (found in mangrove systems).

The Florida cottonmouth (usually 3 -5 ft) as compared to the nonvenomous watersnakes of Sanibel:

  • Elliptical pupils, like a cat.
  • Wide, non-conformed bands with spots and speckles intermixed.
  • Labial scales not boldly outlined, but can have a pattern.
  • Brown or black bar on each side of the head that hides the eye of the snake (common to most rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths).
  • Mostly freshwater but also inhabits saltwater in north Florida.

Diamondback rattlesnake found on Sanibel Causeway – Taken back to Pine Island

Juvenile Eastern Diamondback (taken back to Pine Island)

Juvenile Eastern Diamondback (taken back to Pine Island)

On October 1, 2015, a juvenile eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) was found by Lee County staff and brought to CROW from the Sanibel Causeway. The last documented eastern diamondback rattlesnake on Sanibel was in 1996. They are  currently considered extirpated on the island, but they still occur on two other large islands in Pine Island Sound (Cayo Costa and Pine Island). Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and eastern indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi) are considered colonizing snakes. They are known for traveling across large waterways and between islands. This snake is most likely a transient from Pine Island or some other small island in Pine Island Sound. This snake was relocated to Pine Island where diminishing populations still occur.