Backyard Buzz - The Rookery Lagoon Background - March 13, 2020

Recently, there has been some community discussion regarding The Landings’ Rookery Lagoon. This Backyard Buzz provides factual background information.

For years, wading birds have inhabited an island in the middle of Lagoon 71 in the Midpoint phase of the community, and this became known as The Rookery Lagoon.

It’s important to note that the natural lifecycle of any Rookery averages between 5-10 years due to the continual changes in nesting behaviors and the natural migration of these birds. The heavy nutrient load (bird feces) from the nesting population is extremely acidic and eventually destroys the trees and vegetation. The island on The Rookery is no longer favorable for nesting. However, wading birds will continue to frequent the island.

Over the last 10 years, wading birds have migrated to various other lagoons for nesting, including Lagoon 2 (located off of Bartram) and Lagoon 124 (located inside of the Deer Creek Village Gate), along with other areas throughout the community.

At one time, wood storks also nested at The Rookery Lagoon, most recently in 2009. Wood storks are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Therefore, the site was protected for a period of 10 years until such time as no wood stork activity and/or nesting took place. During these last 10 years, other wading birds at The Rookery Lagoon attracted the presence of several species of vultures, which have continued to cause damage to residential properties.

Landings Association staff have been working for more than 10 years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to properly manage the Midpoint rookery in Lagoon 71, including issues with vultures and their associated damage. USFWS is the agency with the authority and jurisdiction for migratory populations, such as wood storks. They have continued monitoring this rookery annually (through the DNR) and since 2009 have documented no evidence of wood stork nesting activity. They consider this location to be an inactive wood stork nesting site. USDA has been working with area residents to address concerns about the vulture activity.

The Association has conducted annual maintenance, outside of nesting season, on this rookery under the guidance of the USDA and DNR for many years. The work is done to remove the dead woody material. Since the population of wood storks has been relocating to more favorable locations, and USFWS and DNR have declared the site as inactive, this maintenance will ultimately provide a natural area with aquatic plants for the lagoon island. In the meantime, the USDA will continue to work with residents to help mitigate the problem of vultures in the neighborhood.

The Landings Association has been advised by the USFW to maintain the site in accordance with the recommendations of our USDA Representative. Moving forward, future maintenance of the Rookery Lagoon will include: (1) Annual bush hogging and removal of dead woody material from the island; and (2) Quarterly trimming and herbicide management of plant material on the island (e.g., dog fennel and woody vegetation).

This week, BrightView and TLA staff bush-hogged the island, along with successfully removing an invasive Chinese Tallow tree and two smaller scrub trees (which were compromised as a result of previous nesting activity). TLA staff will reevaluate the island in the spring to determine the feasibility of additional aquatic plant installations.

Staff, in conjunction with the USDA, will continue to evaluate the maintenance of The Rookery and make any necessary modifications to the plan as required.