Audubon of Florida News

Now Available: Audubon’s State of the Everglades Report – Spring 2014

posted on April 16, 2014 in Everglades,Publications

Audubon_SOTE_Spring_2014_coverMillions of wading birds – Spoonbills, Egrets, Herons and Storks – once dominated Everglades landscapes. Now their numbers have been reduced by 95%. Although a few species are showing some rebound, others just don’t have enough dependable foraging habitat to feed their young.

This spring issue of State of the Everglades provides an update on 2013’s wading birds.

Last year, over 48,000 wading birds nested in the Everglades.This is an improvement, but not enough. Restoration progress and success have contributed to an increase in nesting, but it is still just a fraction of restoration goals.

As Everglades advocates, we must learn what is happening to life throughout the ecosystem – from seagrasses and mangroves, to baitfish and top predators. It is a question of life and abundance. When fish and birds are scarce, there is something wrong with the system. When numbers of fish and birds rebound, the right things are being done. That information tells us the “State of Everglades.”

Take a moment to check out our latest report for a comprehensive and concise examination of these recent successes and other progress in the fight to restore the River of Grass.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD.

Boots on the Ground in the Bahamas: Search for Piping Plovers

Piping Plovers at roost; Andros, Bahamas. Photo: Lindsay AddisonThe 2011 International Piping Plover Census turned up 1,075 plovers on just a few islands in the Bahamas – about 13% of the global population. In February and March 2014, National Audubon dispatched several teams of staff biologists to look for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds overwintering on Acklins, Andros, Crooked, Long, and east Grand Bahama islands – places previously not searched. Marianne Korosy, Audubon Florida’s IBA Coordinator, joined Lindsay Addison of Audubon North Carolina and Kerri Dikun of Audubon New York and staff biologists from the Bahamas National Trust for a full week of surveys in the North and Middle Bights of Andros Island with a weekend trip to the Joulter Cays. Total number of Piping Plovers tallied for the week – 206, with 11 birds previously banded and each with a story to tell.

Mount Pleasant Fishing Lodge, Andros, Bahamas

Expectations were high when we arrived at our home base on North Andros – the Mount Pleasant Fishing Lodge, with comfortable cottages right on the beautiful blue Caribbean shoreline. Andros is famed for its bonefish flats and throngs of international tourists provide a living for Bahamians that operate lodges catering to bonefisherman and scuba divers. But we were after a much rarer “prey” – globally imperiled Piping Plovers.

Andros is trifurcated by tidal estuaries – called “bights” – that connect the east and west coasts. Within the bights and surrounding the main islands are hundreds of small cays and mangrove islets, shoals, coral reefs, and tidal creeks providing many square miles of bonefishing paradise and, we hoped, foraging and roosting areas for a mother lode of Piping Plovers.

Scanning shorelines and mangrove prop-roots for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds. Photo: Lindsay AddisonBeginning on the evening of our arrival, and for the next four days, our crack Audubon team and expert guides from the Bahamas National Trust combed dozens of cays and shorelines spanning the 20-mile width of North Bight and Middle Bight and areas along the eastern coast of North Andros.

The first day’s boat-based search was a super start: 20 Piping Plovers foraging on a flat at the mouth of Cargill Creek on mainland North Andros and a short while later, we counted 38 Piping Plovers foraging on the sandy mudflats of Big Wood Key in North Bight. 

Piping Plovers foraging on Big Wood Key. Photo: Lindsay Addison

The next few days were a bit slower. We targeted islet coastlines that appeared to be exposed at low tide on aerial maps but, once there, we found the majority of the island shorelines to be coral rock with vertical scarps, acres of stunted red mangroves, and shallow flats covered with seagrass – perfect for bonefishing but not for foraging shorebirds. Hour after hour we scanned shorelines from the boat or on foot using binoculars and spotting scopes.

Scanning shorelines from the boat. Photo: Lindsay AddisonThe good news? We were able to rule out large areas of the bights as unsuitable habitat so future searches need not cover the same areas.

What we found: American Oystercatchers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willet, Sanderling, Least and Western Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, Royals Terns, and several species of wading birds. Bottlenose dolphins and green sea turtles joined us one day in dead-calm waters and huge red starfish dotted the shallow areas on many islands. .

Nest of a Bahama Woodstar hummingbird. Photo: Kerri Dikun

A brief stop at an upper-crust lodge on Broad Shad Cay gave us up-close looks at a colorful Caribbean rock iguana, a Bananaquit, and a once-used nest of a Bahama Woodstar hummingbirdA highlight of our journeys included two Reddish Egret nests with two nestlings in each. The second nest had one dark morph and one white morph nestling – a first for all of us!

White and dark morph Reddish Egret nestlings. Photo: Lindsay Addison

On day 4 we walked five miles of the eastern shoreline of Big Wood Cay at low tide. We found broad expanses of beautiful sand flats and coral rock with live coral, urchin and fish-populated tidal pools, a sea hare, and several small black-tipped sharks at the shoreline — but no Piping Plovers.

Low tide hike, Big Wood Cay.

That evening we were ferried to the northern area of North Andros and spent the next three nights at a lodge named “Love at First Sight”Dawn broke the following morning with a light rain that continued most of the day. Not to be deterred, we hoisted scopes and daypacks over our raincoats and hiked down the Queen’s Highway – Andros’ only paved highway – to hunt for Piping Plovers in North Blanket Sound. Scored: 14 Piping Plovers and other shorebirds under a sky full of swirling Bahama Swallows.Scoping Piping Plovers in the rain; North Blanket Sound, Andros. Photo: Lindsay Addison

In addition to shorebirds, Andros is home to West Indian native and endemic birds and a host of Neotropical migrants that spend their winter in the upland Caribbean pine forests, salt scrub, and coastal hammocks.

Bahama Oriole. Photo: Lindsay AddisonAlthough our primary focus was shorebirds, we perused coastal hammocks along our target beaches logging colorful life-birds such as Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Greater Antillean Oriole, Western Spindalis, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Cuban Peewee, Loggerhead Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Thick-billed Vireo, Black-faced Grassquit, Red-legged Thrush, Bahama Yellowthroat, and Bahama Mockingbird.

Marianne Korosy discusses Piping and Snowy Plover habitat differences with Audubon and BNT Board members and staff. Photo: Kerri Dikun

The week came to a close with Lindsay, Kerri, and I on a boat trip to the Joulter Cays, accompanying Matt Jeffery, Deputy Director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program, and several Audubon and Bahamas National Trust Board members and senior staff. Our two organizations are working in partnership to map and census waterbird species that will support designation of Global Important Bird Areas and National Parks such as the Joulter Cays. We found Piping Plovers – 126 of them – roosting on two sandy shoals with some other bird species we hadn’t seen previously: Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, and Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls. What a grand finale!

Piping Plovers. Photo: Kerri DikunAll in all, our team tallied 206 Piping Plovers on Andros’ islands; 11 of them were color banded. What did the bands tell us? Ten of the 11 birds breed on the northeast Atlantic coastline: five in Massachusetts, two in New Jersey, and one each in New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland. The eleventh banded Piping Plover breeds in Michigan, the only one confirmed from the Great Lakes population. Flyway connections established by resighting these special birds, and their large numbers, are the gold currency of the Audubon-Bahamas Trust partnership. Long may it live!

Stand Up for Everglades Birds and Wildlife. Help Make CEPP a Reality.

posted on April 8, 2014 in Everglades,Water Issues

anhinga_macstoneAudubon Florida’s Everglades Team and advocates like you have worked for years to make restoration of the heart of the Everglades a reality. Now, your voice is needed on Thursday to seal the deal at the South Florida Water Management District.

On Thursday, April 10, the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District will vote on sending a “Letter of Support” to the state and federal partners of the important Central Everglades Planning Project. Man-made changes have left the Everglades without enough clean water in the right place at the right time, causing a significant decline in nesting of indicator species like Roseate Spoonbills and Everglade Snail Kites.

CEPP will restore the heart of the ecosystem and flow water south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay through a bundle of projects that store and clean water, redirect it south to rehydrate Florida Bay, and protect urban areas by preventing Everglades water from seepage.

Some of CEPP’s benefits for the Greater Everglades Ecosystem include:

  • Increasing wildlife habitat for native species
  • Decreasing harmful wet season flows to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by finally sending water south
  • Delivering 70 billion gallons of freshwater to the southern ecosystem annually
  • Rehydrating aquifers for over 7 million people who rely on the Everglades for drinking water

For the Central Everglades, the time is now or never. SFWMD staff and the Army Corps, along with the environmental community and others have done a tremendous job of working together to develop a plan with unparalleled ecological benefits. If the Letter of Support is not approved next week, the future of this project could be in jeopardy.

Governing Board members need to hear from you about the importance of approving CEPP. Join Audubon Florida at the hearing to make your voice heard on Agenda item #34 for the Everglades.

April 10, 2014
9:00am
SFWMD Headquarters
B-1 Auditorium
3301 Gun Club Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33406

If you plan on attending, please click here to email Audubon’s Jane Graham for additional details.

Volunteers Help American Oystercatchers in the Tolomato River

posted on April 1, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

Andrea Small (Aquatics Preserve Manager), Nicki Dix (GTMNERR Research Coordinator) and Stefanie Nagid (AF) on the nesting rake at high tide.American Oystercatchers lay their eggs in hollows on bare sand or shell bars, called “rakes”, raising their chicks right by the water’s edge.  This keeps the chicks close to food sources and mom and dad while the parents are foraging, but also makes eggs and chicks vulnerable to drowning if waves or tides over-wash their nest sites.  Ideally, adults choose sites less prone to over-wash, but with extensive habitat loss, waves caused by boat wakes, storm surges and sea level rise, safe sites are harder and harder to come by.

Over-wash is a persistent cause of nest failure in Florida.  To help reduce the likelihood of over-wash for one oyster rake in the Tolomato River north of St. Augustine, the Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves undertook an ambitious project in late February with support from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Audubon Florida and students from Bethune-Cookman University and Santa Fe College.  The goal was to buffer an oyster rake from passing boat wakes with 4,500 pounds of bagged recycled oyster shell, hoping to give this season’s oystercatcher chicks a better shot at survival.

Volunteers unloading bagged shell from one of the boats.Andrea Small, Aquatics Preserve Manager, led the adventure at 6:45am from the Vilano boat ramp.  The project was tide-dependent and required four boats to ferry the 150 thirty-pound bags of shell from the shell-packing area to the nest rake.  Low tide was at 1:00pm, so installation needed to be completed before then otherwise the boats, and volunteers, could be stranded until the tide returned.

Volunteers laying bagged shell in the three designated locations as the tide is receding.The weather the week prior had blue skies, sun and 80-degree temperatures, but the morning of the project was clear, windy and near freezing.  Even with suboptimal temperatures, everyone was eager to work.  All volunteers arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to tackle the challenge.  Everyone was provided with waders, gloves and life vests, loaded onto the boats and dropped off on the rake.  The boats made their way up-river to the packing area, were loaded with the bagged shell and then returned to the rake for the volunteers to unload.  Shortly after 9:00am, the first bags of shell arrived to the rake.  Volunteers formed a hand-off line and the boats were quickly unloaded.  The bags were stacked in three layers along three points of the river side of the rake and secured in place with rebar to prevent shifting from the on-coming waves.  The volunteers could see almost immediately that the bagged shell was diminishing the wave action on the rake!

Volunteers securing the corners of the bagged areas with rebar at low tide.By noon, all the bags were in place and low tide was coming quickly.  Everyone was loaded back on the boats and returned to the boat ramp.  Even through the wind and cold and wet feet, everyone was pleased at being able to participate in some small way for the conservation of the American Oystercatcher.  This and other oyster rake sites along the Tolomato River will be monitored by FWC and Aquatics Preserve staff and other volunteer bird stewards during nesting season in hopes of reporting successful nests and fledged chicks.

Eagle Eyes on the Everglades at the Bass Museum, March 30

posted on March 27, 2014 in Events

Event at Bass

Thank You for Defending Florida’s Water

Black-crowned Night-HeronSB 1464 passes in committee, but late filed amendments improve bill

A sense of urgency was felt leading up to yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Environmental Protection & Conservation Committee, as Audubon Advocates like you and other environmental groups worked to inform committee members about the serious problems in SB 1464 – Environmental Regulation.

Your emails and phone calls were crucial in reminding legislators how damaging this environmental permitting bill would be. In less than 24 hours, over 1,100 people contacted committee members about this bill.

As the clock dwindled down in the committee meeting, amendments starting flying as SB 1464 came up for discussion. Senator Thad Altman (R-Melbourne) emerged as a hero with a series of late-filed amendments that vastly improved this controversial bill.

One amendment from Senator Altman addressed Section 4, one of Audubon’s largest concerns. The amendment removed the section of the bill that prohibits local governments from protecting wetlands in certain drainage districts. Senator Altman also filed numerous other amendments that restored power to local governments in permitting and water supply planning.

Not to be outdone, Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) removed Section 1 of the bill, a provision that would have prevented counties from enforcing wetlands and springs regulations if they were modified or readopted since 2003.

Thank you for defending Florida’s water. There is still a long way to go as we battle this bill, but know that your efforts yesterday made a tremendous difference in addressing the most harmful sections.

Nesting Birds Prepare for Upcoming Season at Fort Matanzas

Royal TernsLast week, Stefanie Nagid, Audubon Florida Northeast Policy Associate, was lucky enough to observe returning nesters such as Black Skimmers, Roseate Terns, and Royal Terns loafing along the sandbars and beaches of Fort Matanzas National Monument (FMNM) and Vilano Beach, St. Augustine.

Black SkimmersEven though there was no actual nesting taking place yet, some of the Wilson’s Plovers at Fort Matanzas were already pairing off and displaying pre-nesting territorial behaviors such as chasing off competing plovers, chest-pumping and peeping. With the arrival of spring and nesting shorebirds, we are excited to see what next month’s bird survey will bring!

If you are interested in being a part of the Florida Shorebird Alliance, please contact Naomi Avissar with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at naomi.avissar@myfwc.com.  You can also visit the Alliance website for more information – click here.

Join the Audubon Society of the Everglades for their Annual Meeting on Tuesday, April 1

posted on March 26, 2014 in Chapters

Eric Draper_Headshot_WEBThis year’s meeting includes a special presentation from Audubon’s Eric Draper!

The Audubon Society of the Everglades is holding its annual meeting next Tuesday, April 1 and you are invited! Don’t miss a special presentation from Audubon’s Eric Draper, “Water and Land Conservation Next Generations”.

The evening will include a pot luck dinner. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. and the food will be served at 6:30 p.m. The annual meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. People with last names that begin between O-Z, please bring a main dish; A-J, bring salads and veggies; K-N, bring desserts. All food should be ready-to-serve, as we have no kitchen. Audubon Society of the Everglades will supply drinks.

Eric Draper is Executive Director of Audubon Florida. Audubon owns Florida’s premiere ecotourism destination Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary as well as other conservation lands and nature centers, fields 20 scientists to study water birds, operates the Center for Birds of Prey, and is the state’s oldest and most influential conservation group. Audubon Florida has 35,000 members and 44 chapters.

A Florida native, Eric Draper is a career conservationist and is recognized as a leading advocate for Everglades restoration, water resource protection and land conservation. Previously, he was National Audubon’s Sr. Vice President for Policy, staff director for the Florida House of Representatives Majority Office, and started Florida TNC’s government relations program.

Location:

FAU Pine Jog Environmental Education Center
Rooms 101 and 102
6301 Summit Blvd. (near Jog Road)
West Palm Beach, FL 33415

White Ibis is the Bird of the Month for April! Attend next Tuesday’s meeting to hear more about this fascinating bird from expert, Clive Pinnock.

Eagle Scouts Make Big Impact at Audubon’s Center for Birds of Prey

posted on March 20, 2014 in Birds of Prey Ctr.

Christopher BondAudubon Florida’s Center for Birds of Prey opened its newest education exhibit March 1 with the help of a local, dedicated Eagle Scout and his father. Christopher Bond, an Eagle Scout based out of the Orlando area, created an interactive Atlantic Flyway exhibit for the center, with help from his father.

The Bald Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon, the Swallow-tailed Kite, and the Osprey are represented on a flyway map, with each raptor’s migratory patterns illuminating upon pushing its corresponding button. Truly a family effort, Christopher’s older brother Andrew, who is now in college for computer science, helped his brother by doing graphic additions to the Atlantic Flyway map. Their father lent his electrical engineering expertise to the young men to install the LED lighting on the map. The whole exhibit took the Bond family approximately 96 hours to complete.

Audubon President David Yarnold checks out the new exhibit. Christopher solicited donations from family, friends, and the community in order to complete the exhibit, which was his final Eagle Scout Project. During David Yarnold’s, President and CEO of National Audubon Society, recent visit to Audubon Florida, he commented on the great exhibit, and how Christopher is an excellent example of a young man embracing Audubon’s strategic focus of building future stewards. When asked by an Audubon staff member who inspired him for this project, Christopher replied with, “You did.” The Center staff are excited that the exhibit can educate and inspire people about the flyways and birds of prey that migrate along them.

More than 50 projects have been completed at Audubon Center for Prey by Eagle Scouts as their contribution to the Central Florida community before their final review as Eagle Scout rank.  These projects range from exhibits such as the Flyways exhibit to building nest boxes for screech owls.  The Center has great respect for these young men, who are helping to benefit raptors and their habitats and supporting Audubon’s mission.

To see Christopher’s hard work and The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s newest exhibit, center visitation is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM in Maitland, Florida.

 

Audubon’s Jay Watch Annual Report Now Available

Jay WatchAudubon Florida coordinates the Jay Watch citizen science program statewide. Volunteers conduct scientific surveys that measure annual nesting success and count the total number of Florida Scrub-Jays at more than 50 sites in 19 counties. The success of the Jay Watch program, and the program’s contributions to the recovery of Florida Scrub-Jays, depends upon dedicated volunteercitizen scientists like you, your family, and your friends. 

Audubon is pleased to provide you with our photo-filled, year-end report about Florida Scrub-Jays and the Jay Watch citizen science program. Enjoy the articles and photos about our training programs, Scrub-Jay population trends, new opportunities for volunteers in habitat restoration, and what you can do to help Florida Scrub-Jays.

Remarkably, in just 2013 alone, over 250 volunteers invested nearly 2,050 hours sharpening their skills in onsite trainings and performing field surveys across the state. To join our growing volunteer base of Jay Watchers or gain more information about opportunities across the Florida peninsula, you’ll find our website and contact information on the last page of the report.

Click here to download.

 

 

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