Audubon Florida News

SWFWMD Staff Removes H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve Tracts From Surplus List

posted on April 29, 2015 in Land Conservation

After meeting Friday, April 24 with Audubon’s Chalapata_swfwmdharles Lee and others concerned with protecting conservation lands in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Ken Frink, Director of the district’s Operations, Lands & Resource Monitoring Division announced that the 47 acres of recovering Scrub Jay habitat at Halpata would be removed from the surplus list.

Frink also indicated that Pine Island, a conservation tract in the Braden River in Manatee County would be recommended for transfer to the county (which is actively managing the island) instead of surplussing the tract. Other tracts in Hillsborough County, including tracts adjacent to the Alafaya River will be considered for transfer to Hillsborough County rather than being surplused and sold on the open market.

While this is a good outcome for those tracts of land, others still hang in the balance. Over 1,500 acres of land in the Green Swamp is proposed for surplus with the district retaining a conservation easement. For most of this acreage, provided that the conservation easement is appropriately worded, this will make little difference as much of the surrounding land is already held in conservation easements rather than owned outright by SWFWMD and other state agencies.

However, two tracts totaling 338 acres are located immediately adjacent to the Van Fleet State Trail. Converting those tracts from fee ownership by the district to a conservation easement will deprive the public of the ability to utilize those tracts. Particularly because this trail is part of a trail complex where $60 million is being spent in this year’s budget to complete the “Coast to Coast” trail, it is inappropriate and short-sighted to remove the possibility that these tracts can be used in the future by the growing recreational constituency on the Van Fleet State Trail.

Other tracts, such as 39 acres just north of SR 44 at Flying Eagle Preserve cry out for an answer “WHY” when it comes to surplus. If the district’s mission is truly “Water Resources” then retaining tracts such as the piece of Flying Eagle at risk seems to be a straightforward and rational decision. The Flying Eagle tract is at least 99% deep wetlands consisting of cypress swamp and open prairie marsh. See the tract by clicking here.

Even though the district is proposing to surplus the tract with a conservation easement, its difficult to understand what a private buyer would want it for – unless it is to later challenge the easement and the regulatory process with a controversial effort to fill and develop it.  This tract (and other similar ones) ought to be kept in the district’s inventory – we will fight for that.

The District’s Governing Board will meet on May 19 to reach a final decision on this round of surplus.

Audubon Florida staff will be meeting with District staff and contacting board members in advance of the board’s final decision.

For additional coverage in the Ocala Star-Banner, please click here.

Shorebird Research Spring Update: American Oystercatchers in the Spotlight

posted on April 28, 2015 in Coastal Conservation

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_banding_1Spring has arrived on Florida beaches with warmer temperatures and shorebirds beginning their yearly nesting cycle. The Audubon/Florida Park Service partnership team is conducting weekly nest surveys at three state parks in the Florida panhandle: St. Joseph Peninsula, St. George Island and Bald Point State Parks. These parks include some of the last remaining undeveloped barrier islands and coastal beaches which are also critical for beach-nesting shorebirds. The five main species monitored at these parks include: Snowy Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns, American Oystercatchers and Black Skimmers,

Following recent banding events, we are highlighting the American Oystercatchers breeding at these three state parks. The banding efforts are part of a long-term research program, in collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the American Oystercatcher Working Group, assessing nest success and reproductive performance, survival and movement patterns.

But first, what is an American Oystercatcher? It is a large “crow-sized” shorebird with black and white plumage, pink fleshy legs, a bright reddish-orange bill and bold yellow eyes. As their name implies, oystercatchers are adept at prying open oyster shells to feed. They spend the majority of their time foraging and roosting around oyster bars. Right now, those oyster bars are the battling grounds for adult oystercatchers attempting to find the best mates, the best nesting locations and optimal foraging hotspots. Oystercatchers are frequently spotted on oyster bars across from the boat launch at St. George Island State Park near Goose Island, especially during low tide. To see the birds, binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended as they allow observation without scaring the birds away. American Oystercatchers are sensitive to human disturbance since they view us as potential predators and a respectful distance should always be maintained.

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_banding_2At the beginning of the breeding season, oystercatchers scratch shallow depressions in sand or shells to make pre-nesting scrapes before choosing the best one for their nest. Once eggs are laid, they are incubated for 30 days until hatching, and the parents care for the semi-dependent chick for another 30 days until the chicks are flight capable. These are two critical months the birds have to avoid predators and disturbances, human activities and storms that threaten their survival. Following fledging, juvenile oystercatchers must survive an additional two years until they are capable of breeding.  Most oystercatchers do not reproduce until they are at least 3 years old.  However, it is a tough life and few nests survive to hatch, few chicks survive to fledging and few survive to reproduce as part of the adult population.

Pre-nesting scrapes have already been observed this spring during our weekly surveys. Once the scrapes are found, we mark the area with temporary posts and signs to inform the public that birds are using the area for breeding. Posting is a way to protect nesting birds from human disturbances that can cause these threatened species to abandon their nests or lead to indirect predation by opportunistic predators such as laughing gulls. By preventing human intrusion, we hope to increase the odds that nests will survive to hatch, and more chicks will fledge. We recently added new interpretive signs to educate park visitors of beach-nesting shorebird areas and hope this effort will contribute to a reduction in human disturbance.

Along with conducting breeding surveys and protecting breeding habitat, we have the unique opportunity to band some of the birds. Why do we band individual American Oystercatchers? Currently in Florida, their population numbers are low and they are considered state threatened. By banding oystercatchers, we have the opportunity to monitor the movements of individual birds within the nesting territory and to their wintering grounds—which can be in a different part of the state, country or even continent! Banded individuals can help us monitor how long oystercatchers survive at the state parks and if they move to a different nesting territory and or continue to use the same location year after year. Over time, as we monitor nests and breeding adults, we have the chance to observe and document the field-readable codes uniquely identified to each individual. Throughout the course of the breeding season, resighting banded individuals will help us identify each territory as well as individual nesting success and in turn dictate the overall productivity and health of the population.

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_decoyTrapping oystercatchers requires reading behavioral cues and plenty of patience. Using our oystercatcher decoy “Woody” and an audio playback call causes a pair of territorial oystercatchers to react to and try to chase off the intruder from their territory. This behavior provides an opportunity to catch individuals.

We banding Oystercatchers by placing red bands with vertical white numbering on each upper leg and a USFWS metal band applied to the lower right leg. We also collect of the bird’s physical characteristics and then they are released to reunite with their mate.

Already, Red 72 has been re-sighted foraging on the opposite side of Goose Island and it appears that American Oystercatchers are very localized when foraging. After banding Red 73, a scrape was found during a survey near the original banding location. We will continue to monitor these birds for the rest of the year, and hopefully, for the rest of their lives.

More information on resighting American Oystercatchers and banding schemes that are used by different states can be found at the amoywg.org. More information on American Oystercatchers populations throughout their range can be found by clicking here.

Beach-Nesting Bird Season Has Begun

posted on in Coastal Conservation

Snowy Plover and Newborn Chick by Jim UrbachBeach-Nesting Bird season has officially begun! This is when life really starts gets exciting on our beaches and coastal areas!

Reports from the Panhandle on the first-of-season Snowy Plover nests are coming in.  Phipps Preserve had a first full nest of 3 eggs on March 13 and Dog Island had its first egg on the 11. Reports of nest activity have come in from St. George Island State Park and Navarre Beach.

The Snowy Plovers have been pairing up, selecting mates and making scrapes, which is their pre-nesting breeding behavior, since early February. The American Oystercatchers have also been pairing up and making scrapes. Their nests will be active any time now. On paper, the official season is Mid-February thru August, but birds don’t read! So we all adjust accordingly if needed.

Over the Winter:

Red Knot in Northeast Florida by Pat LearyWhile bitter sweet, a congratulations is in order to USFWS for declaring the Rufa Red Knot as a threatened species under the ESA. Keep this link handy as we’ll be updating it throughout the season with additional news. You can also read about the efforts of Panhandle Rooftop Coordinator Michele Landis and her volunteers and staff, making nesting safer for rooftop nesting birds throughout the panhandle.

We’ve conducted workshops and reached out to law enforcement, sea turtle and beach mice professionals, state park personnel, and lifeguards – all professionals who work on our beaches.  Our goal is to help educate on behalf of beach-nesting birds and share ideas on how to help these species that are in trouble. We’ve also been providing educational walks, articles, new species identification signs and public speaking engagements in communities across the panhandle. Finally, the winter has provided us the opportunity to focus on non-breeding bird surveys as well as some habitat restoration and enhancement.

Staff, partners and volunteers have been busy getting sites posted under FWC guidelines and it’s looking good. We all started our weekly breeding surveys at sites across the Panhandle and we report our data into the Florida Shorebird Alliance Database. www.Flshorebirdalliance.org   This FWC link is a good resource for bird stewards and offers lots of information on beach-nesting birds.

Upcoming:

We’ll soon need Bird Steward volunteers at nesting areas from Pensacola to Bald Point SP! On beaches and rooftops. This is your time to see those cute little birds, have an excuse to get to the beach, conduct citizen science and provide a critical component in the coastal bird management plans.  Your efforts often help determine the success of our breeding birds. Without this direct protection and educational outreach to beachgoers, nesting sites will often fail. This is especially true on summer weekends and holidays. If you are new and wish to volunteer, contact FLConservation@audubon.org.

Coastal bird walks for shorebird migration and beach-nesting birds will also be conducted by Audubon staff. Contact: BSamuelsen@audubon.org if you are interested.

Florida’s State Parks Are Critical for Piping Plovers

Pat and Doris Leary are avid birdwatchers and citizen scientists from Fernandina Beach, FL, who volunteer their time and substantial skills to survey coastal waterbirds in Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and Florida’s Big Bend. This continues a blog series in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

TGreat Lakes Piping Plover overwintering at Little Talbot Island State Parkhe critical role of high quality habitat protected within Florida’s coastal parks and preserves was demonstrated recently by two recent, cross-state resightings of the same banded Piping Plover. On March 23, during a routine beach survey at Little Talbot Island State Park in Duval County, I detected a flagged plover in alternate plumage roosting with several other birds. Because none of the regional winter-resident plovers were as advanced in their molt, it had to be a migrant heading back to its northern breeding grounds. Careful study through a spotting scope offered partial views of the gray flag’s code, but positive identification was impossible. And then the birds flushed and vanished in the gloomy conditions.

BaldPointObserving other birds flying south with the wind, I elected to return to the park’s south inlet shore. Approaching the area, I found a large concentration of mixed shorebird species including a few piping plovers and the “lost migrant”.  Perhaps due to the harsh conditions and presence of migrating merlins, all the birds were nervous, rushing about the beach and taking flight repeatedly. As I carefully approached the birds, they flushed yet again with most landing on the opposite side of a shallow beach overwash but I soon detected my quarry running through the milling birds toward the distant inlet shore.

I removed socks and boots and waded through the chilly waters. Fortunately, the mass of birds ultimately settled down and I was able to approach the plovers to once again study the flag code. Some time passed before I was certain of reading the bird’s plastic leg marker correctly: a gray flag on the upper right leg bearing the code “E1”. At one point the migrant rested next to another banded plover carrying a black plastic flag with the code “J5” denoting it as a Maritime Canada plover that spent the winter locally.

Upon returning home, images were processed and a report was submitted to Cherri Gratto-Trevor in far distant Canadian Maritime Piping Plover with gray flagSaskatchewan, Canada. Cherri is a long time plover associate and the current director for piping plover banding efforts across Maritime Canada. As is her practice, Cherri quickly responded and informed me that the migrant was originally banded on May 29, 2014 at Crow Neck Beach in southern Nova Scotia. This bird spent the winter on Three Rooker Island, part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park in Pinellas County. Audubon Florida’s Marianne Korosy recorded the plover there on February 6th during Florida’s statewide mid-winter shorebird survey and it was last recorded there on March 9th.

A high percentage of migrant and wintering piping plovers are annually recorded in Florida’s state park and preserve beaches every season. Two Canadian Maritime plovers wintered in Little Talbot Island State Park and several others were recorded there during fall migration. Likewise, many banded plovers were recorded as migrants and winter residents in the Gulf Coast state parks – on Three Rooker Island and adjoining Anclote Key. Several other maritime plovers wintered in Cayo Costa State Park in southwest Florida. On both Florida coasts, banded plovers from the Great Lakes and Great Plains populations have been recorded frequently in passage or winter on state park beaches.

Huguenot Memorial Park: the bird protection area keeps flightless chicks from being harmed by vehiclesWith so much of Florida’s coastlines heavily developed and impacted by burgeoning numbers of residents and tourists alike, our undeveloped coastal parks will only increase in value to Piping Plovers and other shorebirds as time passes. We must be vigilant to increased pressures to expand development and carrying capacities in our parks if we hope to maintain their natural integrity and critical functions for native and migratory wildlife for decades to come.

Flamingos Return to Palm Beach County

posted on March 23, 2015 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Flamingos in STA 2Many tourists travel to Florida each year and mistake the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill for another iconic pink bird – the American Flamingo. Savvy Florida birders and big year listers know that the only place in the state you have a chance of seeing real, wild Flamingos is in extreme south Florida. Only occasional reports pop up on rare bird alerts or on ebird in isolated places like Snake Bight or Cape Sable in Everglades National Park. That may be changing. Last year a group of over 100 Flamingos showed up in Palm Beach County. This year, some have returned to the same spot.

So where is this mysterious location that has been attracting this sought after Florida icon? A place called STA 2. STA stands for Stormwater Treatment Area. These areas are large treatment wetlands that are critical pieces in the puzzle of Everglades restoration efforts. STAs help filter out phosphorus and nitrogen from water on its way south to the River of Grass. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) operates these areas and – luckily for birders – has established a great partnership with Audubon chapters to allow birding at several STAs.

Audubon Society of the Everglades (ASE) is now organizing field trips to see the Flamingos and other birds at STA 2. This is thanks to the efforts of ASE board member Linda Humphries who coordinated with SFWMD staff member Dr. Bijaya Kattel to organize the chapter-run trips.

On March 22, Dr. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate, attended the most recent trip to see these rare and iconic birds. The Flamingos did not disappoint. Eight birds were seen close enough for visitors to get some great looks at the birds through spotting scopes, binoculars, and camera lenses. ASE board member Susan McKemy lead the trip and SFWMD staff members Dr. Bijaya Kattel and Dr. Mark Cook were also in attendance helping answering questions about the STA and its birdlife.

The next field trips to see the Flamingos are scheduled for March 22 and 28, and April 4, 12, 18, and 25. Reservations are required. Birders interested in attending one of the upcoming trips can email asetripinfo@gmail.com to request a spot. More information is available on the ASE website.

Audubon Florida commends the partnership between its local chapters and the SFWMD. Along with trips to STA 2 and STA 1-East run by ASE, birders can also visit STA 5 with Hendry-Glades Audubon, and Lakeside STA with Audubon of Martin County.

Click here for more information about all STA field trips.

Audubon Rallies for Amendment 1 at the Capitol

posted on March 2, 2015 in State Government,Volunteering,Water Issues

rally_image_feb15Audubon Intern Brittney Deoliveira submitted this recap of her experience helping with the Rally for Amendment 1 & Clean Water on February 18. Thanks to Brittney joining the team that helped organize over 400 people in support of this very important issue. Enjoy!

On February 18, hundreds of Floridians gathered on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee to rally in support of clean water and Amendment 1, which 75% of Florida voted for on the 2014 election ballot.

As one of the many college students attending the rally on that cold, yet clear day, it encouraged me to see all ages peacefully united together at the Capitol. While volunteering at the Florida’s Water & Land Legacy tent and assisting rally attendees, I had the opportunity to speak with numerous constituents, many of whom traveled miles for this specific Capitol Day. A lot of networking occurred on the lawn, as well reencounters of past acquaintances.

Vehicles and trucks honked their horns as they passed by at the intersection of Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway. The signs held at the rally not only showed creativity, but they each sent a certain message: “Save Our Springs,” “Buy The Land, Send It South,” and “Don’t Frack Florida”, amongst others.

After witnessing the optimistic passion of everyone, it became clear to me the motivation behind their presence at the rally and meeting with Senators later that day. Whether the interests were for Florida’s tourist economy, agriculture, the environment, or our children’s future, the preservation and conservation of Florida’s resources remains of essence in the hearts of Floridians, and they made it clear once again at the Capitol.

Audubon Scientists: “Everglades Restoration Cannot Wait”

posted on February 17, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverNew South Florida Water Management District Report Highlights Steep Decline in Wading Bird Nesting

Each year the South Florida Water Management District releases its annual South Florida Wading Bird Report. Now in its 20th year, this report provides information on the status of wading bird nesting around the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are valuable ecological indicators that provide insights into the health of this unique ecosystem.

Twenty years of data show that while state and federal restoration managers are making progress, much work remains to save the River of Grass and its avian inhabitants.

The 2014 report shows that wading bird nesting was 28% lower than last year.

Contributors to the report (including Audubon Florida) recorded a total of 34,714 nests. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The decline in nesting of these and other wading birds species is due to the lack of suitable foraging habitat across South Florida, highlighting the urgency of Everglades restoration projects. The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Download Audubon’s Fact Sheet on this year’s wading bird nesting efforts and to see our recommendations for ensuring the recovery of populations in decline and to learn where restoration efforts are allowing bird populations to bounce back. Feel free to print and share this document at your next Audubon Chapter Meeting or community gathering.

For more information, please see the following news reports about this issue:

Extra Protection for Rooftop Least Terns

posted on February 13, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

Every spring, Least Terns return from the wintering grounds in South America to breed and raise their young on the flat, open beaches along Florida’s coasts. These threatened seabirds prefer to nest on beaches, but sometimes rely on buildings with gravel rooftops in developed areas. When natural beach habitat is unavailable or experiences too much disturbance to successfully raise chicks, the flat, gravel rooftops are the next best thing! Because these birds normally lay their eggs directly in scrapes in the sand, gravel rooftops provide a similar, but artificial, nesting habitat.

Gravel rooftops have provided a safe place for Least Terns, and other seabirds, to raise their young without human disturbance or predation by cats, coyotes, raccoons, and other nest predators. Although their overall nesting success on rooftops is higher, Least Tern chicks do struggle to stay ON the rooftop. Chicks can be flushed off the rooftop as a result of disturbance or bad weather. Those that survive the fall can easily dehydrate on the ground, get stepped on or run over, or eaten by predators.

One of the largest rooftop nesting sites in Northwest Florida is The Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach. This business has been working with Audubon Florida to protect their rooftop colony of Least Terns and return fallen chicks to the rooftop. In 2014, their staff safely returned over 50 Least Tern chicks! In addition to rescuing these stranded baby birds, the owners of this hotel provide guests with car wash tokens to thank them for understanding the mess that comes with staying beneath a colony of Least Terns.

On Monday, February 9, the Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach, FL became a much safer nest site for Least Terns. Staff from Audubon Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gulf Coast Tree Specialists and a group of brave volunteers installed “chick fencing” on the Motel’s rooftop. The day began in the parking lot of the Motel with the crew preparing the bricks with attachment points for the fencing.

roofchick_groupMike Wright used his bucket truck to lift the ton of bricks, along with anyone without a fear of heights, onto the rooftop to construct the fence. Thanks to Amy Raybuck, Justin Davis, Becca Hatchell, Christopher Nielens, Melissa Alverson, Bob Gilmore, Candis Harbison and Rebecca Metzger for all of your help. Without you this project would have taken days.

If you drive past the Chateau Motel this summer and see Least Terns flying overhead, be assured their chicks will be safe from falling off the roof.

Audubon Academy in Apopka, FL – A Day of Birds, Learning and Fun!

posted on February 2, 2015 in Chapters

Acad_Florida_2015Based on preferences shown in a survey of Audubon Chapter Presidents last spring Audubon Academies for 2015 will now be one day regional events! Yes, after 10 years of full weekend events the Chapters Committee of the Audubon Florida board has decided to bring leader education and support closer to you! Leaders from two regions have volunteered to host these “by-the-chapters-for-the-chapters” programs. Orange Audubon and Pelican Island Audubon will host the first Academy on Feb. 28 in Central Florida.

tower_acadThe Central Florida AUDUBON ACADEMY will include an introductory driving field trip on Lake Apopka’s North Shore Restoration Area (a globally important IBA, much of which is not currently open to the public), presentations on chapter building, chapter fundraising and fiscal obligations, how to reach diverse audiences, taking birding a step further with citizen science, integrating social media into chapter communications and outreach, after school programs for kids and more. There will be adequate opportunities for networking with Audubon colleagues which is always a highlight.

acad_florida_outside_2014The day includes this very special field trip, relevant learning sessions and lunch all for just $15 and will be held at the University of Florida/IFAS/Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, 2725 South Binion Road, Apopka, FL 32703 on Saturday, Feb. 28th from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. (field trip from 7:45–9:45 a.m.).

Additional resources:

Questions?—contact Loretta Satterthwaite or Bob Stamps, (407) 886-2925, LNS-oas@att.net, or RHS-oas@att.net.

PS – For those of you in the northern part of the state, NW chapters are planning the second Academy for May 9th in the Panhandle so stayed tuned!

Fact Sheet: 2014 Everglades Wading Bird Nesting Report

posted on January 29, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverThis month the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) released the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report, which showed a steep decline in wading bird nesting in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are important ecological indicators – their health reflects the heath of the broader ecosystem.

The data in this year’s report shows that Everglades restoration cannot wait. In their report, the SFWMD estimated wading bird nesting in 2014 to be 28% lower than last year. A total of 34,714 nests were recorded. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Click here to download Audubon Florida’s summary of this important report and learn more about the health of wading birds in the Greater Everglades.

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