Audubon of Florida News

2014 Everglades System Status Report Offers Signs of Hope

posted on August 20, 2014 in Everglades

LakeOkeechobee_tcale_webRECOVER (REstoration COordination and VERification) is composed of a team of scientists and researchers who are tasked with evaluating the health and function of the Everglades Ecosystem. Every few years the RECOVER team releases their System Status Report, a document that uses performance measures to evaluate the progress of Everglades restoration. Last week the 2014 Report was released. This important report provides information on the ecological health of the Everglades.  Data and analysis from multiple government agencies show that while progress is being made, there is still work to be done.

Projects that have been completed, or are nearly complete offer signs of hope that restoration is working. Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and C-111 South Dade projects have all measurably improved hydrology in the areas where they have been put in place. Improved hydrology means healthier habitats – and that’s good news for wildlife. In the Southern Everglades, better conditions have led to increased nesting of Roseate Spoonbills and endangered American crocodiles.

Conditions in Lake Okeechobee have also improved. Because Lake levels were kept from getting too high or too low, underwater plant communities are healthier, fish populations have increased, and more of the Lake’s littoral marsh is suitable for wading bird foraging.

roseate-spoonbill-mrclean1982While these improvements are encouraging, there are other areas in the Everglades that continue to suffer ecological declines. Authorization and construction of additional restoration projects are needed to reverse declines, increase habitat health, and allow the historic abundance of wildlife to return to the River of Grass. One of these projects needed most urgently is the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). Once completed CEPP will help rehydrate the parched wetlands of the Central Everglades, and improve the health of Florida Bay.

For more information, please click here for an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade

FCIS_Project_August2014This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.

The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.

FCIS_Project_crane_August2014The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.

The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.

Fishermen’s Tips for Releasing a Hooked Bird

posted on August 13, 2014 in Birding,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

Pelican treble hookWherever fishermen and birds overlap, sooner or later a bird gets hooked or entangled in fishing line. What happens next will determine the fate of the bird:  If the fisherman cuts the line, the bird likely will die from starvation, as its capacity to forage is impaired, or dehydration, if the line becomes entangled in the trees at its roost site.  Or a savvy fisherman will reel the bird in, set it free, and save its life.  But to protect him or her self from the bird, which will flap long wings, squawk loudly, and snap its beak, a fisherman needs to take some basic precautions:

  1. Put on sunglasses or other eye protection.
  2. Enlist a partner to help with controlling the bird.
  3. Grasp the bird’s head firmly and then cover the eyes with a towel, shirt, or even a hat to calm it.
  4. Fold the wings up and secure the feet, holding firmly.
  5. Cut off the hook’s barb and back the hook out. This removes the hook without causing more damage to the bird.
  6. Check the bird for other hooks or line and remove them too. Often a bird has been hooked before.
  7. Put the bird on the dock, facing the water and step back. A feisty bird is likely to survive.
  8. If the bird is seriously injured, has swallowed the hook, or doesn’t fly, it should be taken to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator. Call the Wildlife Commission 1-888-404-3922 for one near you.

Congratulations! You have saved the life of a bird!

What to do if you hook a pelicanFor the brochure “What to do if you hook a pelican!”, click here to download or see page 12 of the 2014 Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Regulations.

For hard copies of the brochure contact Ann Paul,



Summer Camp with Francis M. Weston Audubon – A Real Life Experience

posted on August 11, 2014 in Chapters,Coastal Conservation

Lessons on the beachThis summer, 19 youngsters from Escambia County had the opportunity to learn about Sharing the Shores with their feathered neighbors.  A week-long camp entitled “Environmental Encounters” put on by the Francis M. Weston Audubon Society (FMWAS) was held at Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola, FL. This wonderful coastal park provided the perfect location for campers to learn about flora and fauna of woodlands, wetlands, and Gulf ecosystems.

painting the eggsNature hikes, games, field investigations, and animal encounters were just a few of the daily activities.  Each day campers learned about a new part of our coastal environment using equipment including anemometers, thermometers, transects, and binoculars to look at biotic and abiotic factors found in each ecosystem. Volunteers from agencies such as Gulf Power, Florida Native Plant Society, Francis M Weston Audubon, and AmeriCorps were gracious enough to donate time and activities to enhance the lessons, making them even more engaging and meaningful.   Their time and effort was greatly appreciated.  The kids loved it all!

eggs - scrapeThe students were surveyed at the beginning and end of the camp to assess their knowledge of shorebirds and environmental issues surrounding the health of these birds. The results of the pre and post tests showed an average improvement of 42%!  That just goes to show that the some of the best educational experiences are ones in which you have just that… experiencesReal life experiences! Nothing takes the place of observing, touching and beginning to understand the things that most people only read about.  It was summed up nicely by one boy saying “I can’t wait to come back next year!

We certainly feel the same way!

artists with decoysPlanning and coordination of the camp was funded by Audubon Florida, recognizing the unique talents of FMWAS educational program and staff.  The camp was also sponsored by Big Lagoon State Park with local support for scholarships.

American Oystercatchers in Florida – Summer 2014

AMOYprefledgeRE[40]preband80414reduceAmerican Oystercatchers spend the entire summer raising their young on an individual oyster rake.

This year Audubon Florida was fortunate to assist the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in banding an Oystercatcher chick on the south Amelia River. There are many unanswered questions about how these rare birds migrate and breed, and re-sighting banded birds provides answers to those questions.

If you see banded Oystercatchers, please report them by clicking here.

Photo by Pat Leary.

Excessive Nutrients Threaten Health of Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem

posted on August 8, 2014 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

Audubon_ExcessiveNutrients_LakeOkeechobee_factsheet_coverimageJust a little south of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee is in need of help. Pollution continues to enter the Lake at alarming rates from fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater in the Okeechobee watershed.

Audubon has produced a new fact sheet that explains why high phosphorus is a problem for our treasured lake and gives a vision to fix it. Click here to download. Please feel free to share this document on social media, or print and distribute at your next chapter meeting or community gathering.


A Restored Kissimmee River in Sight

kissimmeeriver_restoredThe remarkable Kissimmee River Restoration Project is approaching completion after decades of construction. Agencies are preparing to operate the finished project in the coming years.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with a rule to protect water for the restoration project. The rule, known as a water reservation, is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system

At a public SFWMD meeting last week, Audubon advocates and environmental partners told water managers that water for Kissimmee Restoration must be fully protected. Water for our ecosystem cannot be siphoned away to utilities and other thirsty water users in the Central Florida area. Click here for more information about this meeting.

Once complete, Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be the largest functioning restoration project of its kind in the world. The project restores 40 miles of the river and floodplain and almost 25,000 acres of wetlands. The benefits of the project are already unmistakable, and it isn’t even fully operational yet.

Earlier this month, Audubon’s Everglades Conservation Team joined our environmental partners in the Everglades Coalition on a trip to see the Kissimmee River Restoration project first hand. The group saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Crested Caracaras, and much more! Click here to read more about this trip.

Kissimmee River Restoration Adventure with the Everglades Coalition

Kissimmee EvCo tourWhere can you see Swallow tailed Kites, numerous Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Wild Turkeys, and one Roseate Spoonbill within hours on the last day of July? Try the newly restored section of the Kissimmee River.

Last week, Audubon enjoyed partnering with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to tour the Kissimmee River Restoration Project with over thirty of our environmental allies at the annual Everglades Coalition Retreat. The Everglades Coalition  is comprised of over 50 environmental organizations, including many of our closest friends in the conservation community. It was a great opportunity to get out with friends to see the magic of this restoration project.

Kissimmee Avon kiteKissimmee River Restoration started in 1992. It is now over 90% complete. In the 1960’s, the Kissimmee River was channelized into a large canal for flood control. This huge canal drained the water from miles of important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Kissimmee River restoration project reestablishes miles of the natural winding Kissimmee River, and restores miles of wetlands and floodplains in the Northern Everglades. Already, populations of birds are higher than what was even projected for post restoration.

And, the project is not even operating at full capacity yet. Once it is complete and operating in a few years, the results should be stunning.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and SFWMD’s David Colangelo showed us areas of the restored river and floodplain. The winding oxbows of the restored rivers were vibrant with paul kissimmeevegetation.

Endangered Everglade Snail Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were all around.

We could hear the cackles and laughter of Limpkins just yards away in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.

Many thanks go to Everglades Coalition co-chairs Cara Capp of National Parks Conservation Association and Jason Totoui of Everglades Law Center for making this trip happen! It was refreshing to get out and enjoy this special place together.



Advocates Stand Up for the Kissimmee River and Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

Kissimmee river picRecently, Florida’s environmental advocates demanded that the South Florida Water Management District fully protect water for the Kissimmee River Restoration project and its remarkable natural system. The message was clear. Don’t give water needed for restoring the natural system to utilities or other consumptive uses.

The meeting was held by the SFWMD to move forward a water reservation to protect water for Kissimmee River restoration project. A water reservation is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system.

Our team attended with Kissimmee Valley Audubon, Orange County Audubon, Audubon of the Western Everglades, and other allies like the Everglades Foundation and One Florida Foundation.

After two decades of work and over $900 million in public investment, the precedent setting Kissimmee River Restoration Project is now over 90% complete. This project transforms miles of the drained Kissimmee floodplain and channelized river to a winding river and wetland paradise.

The River and its Chain of Lakes support diverse wildlife. Over 98 species of wading and wetland dependent birds live there, including Swallow Tailed Kites, Whooping Cranes, and Audubon’s Crested CaraCaras.

Failing to protect water for Kissimmee restoration through this legal tool could have a domino effect on the entire ecosystem from Kissimmee Valley to Florida Bay and coastal estuaries. Getting the right amount of water at the right time is extremely important to support life throughout the ecosystem.Kissimmee Snail Kite

Now, there is pressure from water supplies in the Central Florida area. Utilities and water managers are considering tapping up to 25 million gallons per day from the Kissimmee Basin for water supply. Audubon and our environmental allies demand that water for the restoration project is fully protected. We request that the water management districts increase water conservation methods  to promote a more sustainable use of water in the region.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the rule. There will be several more public meetings and we’ll need your voices to speak up for Florida’s birds!

For additional information, please see the following news clips:

A New Bird Steward’s Perspective at Huguenot Memorial Park

posted on August 6, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

RoyalTern_feeding_HalSnyderDid you ever what it was like to be a volunteer Audubon Bird Steward? Please take a moment to read the following post from Abby Paganucci, one of our dedicated stewards from Jacksonville. Enjoy!

Locals and visitors crowded the beaches of Huguenot Memorial Park.  It was my first day as a volunteer bird steward on a weekend, and it was a busy one.  After City of Jacksonville Parks Naturalist Shelley Beville showed me the ropes, I went ahead and set up under the stationed shaded tent on the beach.

The beach is split up into zones, which makes it easier for lifeguards to identify locations in case of an emergency.  When you step onto Zone 11, there is a distinct difference in the number of birds that inhabit the area, and cars are not allowed to drive past this point.

RoyalTern_group_HalSnyderTwo species of birds dominate the area – Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns.  My duty was to inform the beach visitors about the birds that colonized in the area to mate.  More specifically, to educate visitors about and protect the numerous chicks that recently hatched.  Although the Royal Terns are rather peaceful, the Laughing Gulls do possess a competitive side.  Stewarding not only helps protect the chicks from car traffic, but also helps reduce disturbance which prevents the chicks from scattering and stumbling into another bird’s territory.  In turn, this helps reduce bird-on-bird aggression.  Unfortunately, there were still some chicks wounded by adult gulls and some that wandered away from their parents and ended up on the other side of zone 11, where the cars are parked.

I was incredibly satisfied with the amount of people who came up to me concerned about bullied chicks.  Some would carry the chicks over themselves; others would offer to bring me over to them.  It is important for chicks to stay with the rest of the colony where they have safety in numbers and their parents can find them to feed them.  Returning the chicks to the rest of the colony protects them from getting run over and also gets them back where they can be tended to by their parents.

It was a very nice experience to see that so many people would take time out of their beach day to express concern for the wounded animals, and also good to know many of these chicks recover and fledge successfully.  I look forward to my next time volunteering.



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