Audubon of Florida News

H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve Saved From Pipeline

posted on October 11, 2014 in Land Conservation

H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve from SWFWMDThe 8,146 acre H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County has been saved from serious impacts threatened by the Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline. The original route for the pipeline would have passed directly through the preserve lands owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

Audubon Florida and Marion County Audubon Society urged SWFWMD to stay firm in the agency’s objections to the pipeline route across the tract. Audubon also contacted Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Governor’s office, urging support for SWFWMD’s staff positon.

The 8,146 acre H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve contains one of the most robust populations of the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay in the state, and the original pipeline routes would have threatened this habitat.

After a meeting on October 10th with representatives from DEP, SWFWMD, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff, and both Audubon Florida and Marion County Audubon, the Sabal Trail Pipeline agreed to change the pipeline route to skirt the edge of H‏álpata Tastanaki tract, avoiding any significant impact. Pipeline construction will also be coordinated with the construction of a multi-use trail planned for the Cross Florida Greenway.

Many thanks to SWFWMD, DEP, and the Governor’s office for protecting these important conservation lands!

American Oystercatchers Return to Gulf Coast Via Detour Through NE Florida

posted on October 10, 2014 in Birding,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

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 is the seventh blog in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Two American Oystercatchers from North Carolina on their way to the Gulf CoastEvery fall we look forward to resuming our annual surveys of American Oystercatchers wintering along the “Nature Coast” and each season finds new birds venturing south on their first migration along with veterans of many years returning to their favored locations from Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County to the power plant jetty just south of the Barge Canal spoils in Citrus County.

On rare occasions, we will encounter birds of that population in northeast Florida. Such an event occurred October 1st in lower Nassau Sound during a routine shorebird survey. Approaching a favored roost site for local Oystercatchers and other coastal species, I noted two birds resting near a flock of migrant Caspian Terns. Presuming these to be “resident” birds, my first binocular view brought quite a surprise: both birds carried dark green bands with alpha codes! With multiple Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons present in the sound I rushed to set up a tripod and mount my scope to read the bands. Experience has taught us that marked birds can flush and fly over the horizon in minutes taking all valuable data with them, and  a flying Peregrine Falcon at any distance can compel birds to flush without warning and abandon a site.  Fortunately, no raptors appeared and the resting birds provided ample time to study their bands and record the codes.

I immediately knew that both birds originated from North Carolina, but we have recorded far too many band codes to recognize a previously sighted bird and I would have to wait until I returned home to search our records before confirming any resights. Doing so, I learned that one bird (EO) was indeed a winter veteran recorded on the gulf every year since 2007. The second bird (UT) was more problematic. Banded at North Core Banks, Cape Lookout, NC in 2010 UT had been resighted there multiple times but nowhere else. However, Doris reminded me that each season we record a few “problem” codes that cannot be matched in the database. Typically, this is attributable to misread codes, data entry typos or incorrectly recorded codes. The original “wrap around” alpha codes have always presented a challenge to read and record correctly due to partial exposure of one or the other letter. Depending on distance, wind vibrating optics, ambient light, flock density, vantage point and other factors, Xs can resemble Ks, Fs with Rs, Ps with Rs, Os with Js, Js with Us and so on. Often, even photos cannot resolve a “suspect code” if only a partial letter is exposed. Such factors may have contributed to our lack of records for the UT bird on the gulf coast. It’s possible the bird was present for one or more years, but due to our failure to correctly read and report its bands, the sighting could not be entered into the database.

The fact that the two North Carolina birds were together certainly suggest they will eventually cross over to the gulf coast and join the wintering flocks there. Given the mystery of the UT bird, it will certainly be on our radar as we resume our gulf surveys and hopefully we can confirm its presence there soon. Some might recall that bird DG[CF6] with satellite transmitter was tracked from North Carolina to the vicinity of Amelia Island last fall before turning and crossing over to the gulf toward Horseshoe Beach. Later that winter, the bird shed its transmitter but was resighted prior to spring migration. Perhaps we’ll cross paths with that bird too sometime during the next several months.

Observations of My Backyard Woodpeckers

posted on October 7, 2014 in Birding

Caroline Stahala is Audubon Florida’s new Panhandle Program Manager located in Panama City. Caroline has lived in Florida since 2005 and worked in a variety of ecosystems and bird species including woodpecker species, shorebirds, wading birds, grasslands songbirds and tropical parrots. Enjoy her latest post, below.

Red-headed Woodpecker by Lorraine MargesonI have always had a fondness for woodpeckers, therefore, I was thrilled when a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers set up a nest in a dead oak tree in my new northwest Florida sandhills backyard.  These birds are expected in managed forests but I didn’t really expect them in my backyard!

This species has been on a consistent decline since the mid 1960’s with an estimated 50% population reduction. This summer I had the pleasure of sitting on my back patio watching the parents fly in and out of the cavity in the dead oak tree. No wonder they picked my backyard, Red-headed woodpeckers are cavity nesters that seem to prefer existing cavities in snags for nesting and roosting. This means dead trees or dead snags are vital to the species. Of course most of us remove these sorts of snags from our yards.

It was obvious when the chicks fledged because of their begging calls.  The chicks would start calling in a far pine tree and that’s when the distinctive white flash of the parents’ wings would appear headed straight for the chicks, most likely to feed them. This species is known to cache or store food for later on. Although I did not observe this particular behavior, these woodpeckers did exhibit some remarkable mid-air insect catches and also foraged on the ground quite frequently. Towards the end of August, the chicks were identical in silhouette to the parents but the young woodpecker’s could still be heard begging.  I hope they were calling due to laziness and not because they couldn’t feed themselves yet, because in mid-September, they disappeared. Although they are resident in Florida, they must have been looking for habitat that was better suited to their needs.  Maybe an area with more acorns or insects. It is common for these birds to move from breeding locations even as residents.

Maybe more oaks in my backyard would provide them with acorns for the winter, but that could also decrease some of the open space they like to forage in. Well, I will just have to wait for them to return next spring.  But in the mean time, maybe this means the sapsuckers that left rows and rows of holes in my oak trees will now be returning.  Stay tuned and I will let you know if they show up.

For more information on Red-headed Woodpeckers or other bird species, please visit Audubon’s website birds.audubon.org.

 

Advocates Stand Up for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

posted on September 30, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

topsailhill_map_arrowCongratulations to all the advocates for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park who packed a special hearing of the Walton County Commission last night!

Despite the fact that Topsail Hill’s main entrance never runs at capacity, commissioners were considering sending a request to the Florida Park Service to provide a new, unstaffed boardwalk access into one of the most undisturbed parts of this important preserve. This boardwalk would have benefited a small number of neighborhood residents at the expense of public tax dollars and imperiled natural resources including federally endangered Choctawhatchee beach mice and state Threatened Snowy Plovers.

In a tremendous show of civic engagement, Walton County advocates packed the chamber and defenders of Topsail outnumbered boardwalk advocates more than 2 to 1 in testimony. Ultimately, the board voted not to file the request with the Florida Park Service, especially citing the fact that the proposed use of Tourist Development dollars to create a boardwalk to benefit a limited number of residents was inappropriate.

Congratulations to the dedicated advocates of Walton County whose time and dedication produced this terrific result for Topsail. The high, windswept dunes, beach mice and shorebirds thank you!

You can view the commission hearing and advocates’ impassioned testimony online by clicking here.

Banded Caspian Tern Déjà Vu

posted on September 26, 2014 in Citizen Science,Coastal Conservation,Northeast Florida

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 is the sixth blog in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Closeup of band codeThe term “snowbird” is familiar to Floridians and understood to represent northern residents who annually shift south to escape winter’s harshest weather. But eons before humans adopted such behavior, countless generations of birds practiced a similar strategy flocking to Florida’s shores or passing through to more favorable winter digs in lower latitudes as the sun made its seasonal descent in the northern skies. Human snowbirds are readily identified by out-of-state license plates, but their avian counterparts are more difficult to distinguish from resident birds unless they carry unique markers that identify their point of origin.

Fortunately, increasing numbers of birds carry markers in a broad variety of shapes and colors, making it possible to report the coded information and gain insight into each bird’s migratory pathways and longevity, knowledge that contributes significantly to long-term research and conservation efforts. Some birds are resighted and reported in multiple years because they spend every winter in Florida on the same beach area, a phenomenon known as “winter site fidelity“. Transient migrants are less frequently recorded since they provide limited opportunity for detection during brief migratory stopovers in Florida.

Caspian Tern sighted in October 2010On October 2, 2010, while Doris and I were conducting a routine regional survey, we noted several Caspian terns roosting among a flock of mixed species on Big Bird Island in lower Nassau Sound. One of the birds was banded with a large, light blue band engraved with the code (AEJ).  Knowing the data was of value to the researchers who applied the markers, we reported the code to the Bird Banding Lab and later learned the bird had been banded as a young chick on Gull Island in Lake Ontario on 7/02/08.  Since that time, we have recorded and reported other, uniquely-banded Caspian Terns but have yet to resight any of the same birds in the same area until this week.

On September 23, during a typical seasonal Nor’easter, I visited the jetty roost in Ft. Clinch State Park and found a large aggregation of mixed larid species hunkered on the shore sheltering from the gusty winds and light drizzle. Amongst the flock were less than ten Caspian Terns, including a bird with a light blue band engraved with the code (AEJ). As I photographed the bird, I wracked my memory and wondered if it might be the same tern resighted four years previously just south of Amelia Island. After processing the photos and checking our image archives I was pleased to discover that indeed, it was the same bird recorded and reported in 2010. Déjà vu!Caspian Tern sighted September 2014.

Although Doris and I have recorded hundreds of uniquely marked birds of multiple species and some over many seasons and after thousands of miles of migration, this bird seemed special. We see relatively few Caspian terns in this region and most occur for a few weeks in early fall. Consequently, our opportunities to locate previously resighted terns are few, yet the annual journey of this bird crossed our pathway once again leaving us to marvel at the wonders of migration.

Keep Florida’s Shorelines Beautiful and Safe for All

posted on September 24, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

Photo by Rusty ChinnisEach October, volunteer boat captains and their crews coordinated by Audubon’s Florida’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, Tampa Bay Watch, and Sarasota Bay Watch visit bird nesting islands and foraging habitats in west central Florida’s estuaries, lakes, and rivers to remove fishing line and other trash that pose an entanglement threat to birds and other wildlife.

A Saturday in October with a high tide is chosen because this is the only time of the year when almost no birds are nesting on the bird colony sites in this region of Florida.  That means that volunteers can remove the deadly line, balloon ribbon, lures, and other fishing gear snagged in mangrove trees and saltmarsh habitats without endangering chicks or eggs in the nest or frightening fledgling birds.  The higher tides allow boat captains to safely approach islands surrounded by shallow water, seagrass and mudflats, and oysterbeds.

Fishing line is hard to spot, entangled in the mangroves or washed up on marsh and beach shorelines, but it is a clear hazard to wading birds.  Nesting pelicans and wading birds sometimes even deliberately collect it, mistaking it for the softer grass materials that they use to line their nests.  Once a leg or wing is entangled in the line, it becomes a remorseless killer.  A single long line stretching across a bird island can persist for years, entangling many birds.

Audubon and Tampa Bay Watch began the fishing line cleanup in 1993 after a sobering survey at Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where staff found over 50 dead birds snared in line. Sarasota Bay Watch, a newly formed group, has been a fishing line cleanup partner with Audubon for six years.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists report that entanglement in fishing gear is the primary cause of mortality of Brown Pelicans, killing adults as well as young, inexperienced birds.  Of course, other birds and wildlife as dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and otters also fall prey to this insidious, invisible killer.

Photo by Mark RachalPre-registration ensures that captains and their crews have permission for this once-a-year event from landowners and managers to otherwise restricted bird nesting sites.  Audubon and the Bay Watch groups have coordinated this activity with park, refuge, and wildlife area managers and receive their full support and participation.

An important component of the fishing line cleanup has been the outreach to fishermen.  Newspaper and other media coverage have helped spread awareness of the need for fishermen to properly dispose of line and other fishing gear.

For Tampa Bay:

BOATERS: Tampa Bay Watch, in partnership with Audubon Florida, is recruiting shallow-draft volunteer boaters to clean Tampa Bay’s colonial bird nesting islands and shorelines on Saturday, September 27.  Contact Anne Dowling, 727.867.8166 or adowling@tampabaywatch.org or http://www.tampabaywatch.org

For Sarasota Bay:

Join the Sarasota Bay Watch Seventh Annual Monofilament Cleanup on Saturday October 4th at 8:30.  We meet at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, which generously hosts the event with lunch provided to volunteers.  To register, contact  http://sarasotabaywatch.org/.

 

Jacksonville’s Bluebirds Get New Homes

posted on September 3, 2014 in Northeast Florida,Wildlife

The team at Bacardi.Over the last 60 years, bluebird populations have steadily declined for a number of reasons including a lack of natural cavities in trees and snags and increased competition for nesting sites and food from non-native bird species. Nest boxes are an easy way to help bluebirds increase their population numbers.  Nest boxes are specifically designed to create an appropriate sized nest cavity for bluebirds, and when positioned and maintained properly, bluebirds will readily use them and fledge numerous chicks throughout the summer.

Native grassesAs part of its biodiversity program, Bacardi Bottling Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida, has restored five acres of native warm season grasses on its property, and installed a dozen bluebird nest boxes within the restoration area.  Audubon Florida staff recently joined Sally Cannon, Eric Hearn, Jen Lishen and Denise Guillet of Bacardi during their weekly Nest Watch to monitor their bluebird boxes.  Some of the nest boxes were empty, but many had the beginnings of nests or nests with eggs.  There was also an abundance of grasshoppers and other insects, otherwise known as bluebird food, living amongst the newly restored grassland.

Bluebird eggs in a box.Audubon Florida is happy to see many corporations creating environmental stewardship and sustainability policies in their corporate strategies.  Strategies including energy and water savings and land restoration are simple ways for corporations to generate a softer impact on the environment they depend upon.  We encourage you to learn more about the environmental policies of the corporations you frequent – what you learn may surprise you.

Gulf Ecosystem Advocates Needed as Restoration Planning Gains Steam

posted on August 28, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Events,Gulf Oil Spill

[object Object]Slowly but surely, things are starting to move with the RESTORE Act process and the flow of money.

This time last year, all interested parties were commenting on a proposed set of regulations from theU.S. Department of the Treasury that will govern how the Gulf States and municipalities spend money resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After considering those comments, the Department of the Treasury issued an Interim Final Rule earlier this month.

The RESTORE law steers 80% of any civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The law designates the estimated $5 to $20 billion dollars to ecosystem restoration, economic recovery, and regional tourism promotion. Most of that money will come from BP once federal court proceedings conclude. Approximately $1 billion has already been collected from a settlement with Transocean, the company that operated the doomed oil rig.

Some RESTORE funds will be available for dispersal once the Treasury rule is final. Barring any challenges to this rule, this is expected to happen on October 14, 2014.

While we wait for the Treasury regulations to be final, you can feel the activities of the Counties stepping it up as well. The Gulf Consortium, consisting of Florida’s 23 Gulf counties, is anticipating receiving some grant funding to assist with the development of Florida’s State Expenditure Plan. This group will select a consultant to help guide them through the process.

Most of those 23 counties also have their own RESTORE Act Advisory Committees. These committees oversee a separate revenue stream of trust fund dollars received based on the extent of damage done in the county. Each committee has one environmental representative dedicated to ensuring that their County spends funds to address environmental and ecological damages.

On August 21, 2014, those representatives from the Panhandle area (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Franklin counties) gathered for a day at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center near Freeport, Florida to share updates and look for ideas on how to advance shared priorities. The meeting was organized by the Defenders of Wildlife and also included representatives from Audubon Floridathe Nature ConservancyNational Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation.

The Panhandle Counties are all working on their individual expenditure plans and processes and are all in different stages of readiness to accept project proposals. All committee meetings are open to the public.

One resounding cry heard at the August 21 meeting was the need for more public involvement. Consider attending one of the below public meetings. All times local. For additional information, please click here.

upcoming_publicmeetings_august2014

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.

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