Audubon Florida News


posted on February 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Audubon Jay Watch Partners to Restore Rare Scrub Habitat

Audubon Jay Watch, FWC Ridge Rangers, and Highlands Hammock Park staff team

Timberrrr” calls were heard near and far on the morning of January 9th in the Tiger Branch area of Highlands Hammock State Park.  A lone pair of rare Florida Scrub-Jays calls this area “home” but the overgrown habitat could host many more birds if restoration is successful.

Paul Ahnberg, Jay Watch volunteer, cuts a sand pine sapling in a recently burned scrub zoneTwelve Audubon Jay Watch volunteers, 18 Ridge Rangers, a volunteer corps of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, three Park rangers, and three additional volunteers felled 1,891.5 sand pines up to 12 feet tall in 3 hours’ work using chain saws, pole saws, hand saws, and hand loppers.

That number, again: 1,891.5 sand pines cut. “I ran out of gas for my chainsaw while cutting the last tree,” quipped Jerry Burns, one of the three volunteers there that are both Jay Watchers and Ridge Rangers.

Audubon provided a hearty lunch for the hardworking volunteers and Park staff after a morning of cutting pines in 10 acres of scrub burned within the past year and another 27 acres planned for near-future burns.

Prescribed burn in scrub habitat; Photo by Chris Becker, Florida Park ServiceWhy spend the time and effort to cut sand pines? Years of fire suppression causes sand pines to become both tall and numerous. Sand pines have seed cones that are opened by fire, producing a new generation of saplings that create dense sand pine forest patches within overgrown scrub.

Sand pines hide fast-flying Cooper’s Hawks from the view of unsuspecting Scrub-Jays and pine stands also provide predator cover for small mammals and bird egg-loving snakes. Cutting the pines and leaving the downed wood to dry out before setting a prescribed fire prevents the cones from opening to release seeds.

Florida Scrub-Jay; Photo copyright: Susan Faulkner DaviThat’s why the sweat equity invested by 30 volunteers and Park rangers was vital to habitat restoration – work that, according to Park staff, would’ve taken them three or months to accomplish alone.

With a wave of their wings, the resident Florida Scrub-Jays say “THANK YOU” Jay Watchers, Ridge Rangers, and all who made this event possible with smiles and hard work.




Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Winter 2015 Annual Report

posted on December 29, 2015 in Publications

When we see Florida’s birds in their native habitats we are reminded of the beauty in the world.Audubon_Naturalist_AnnualReport_Winter_2015_COVER

We also know that our efforts are making a difference – from clean water to abundant wildlife.

Their role is to overcome the odds, to make the best of changing habitats, to nest and nurture the next generation, and to give us hope for the future.

Our role is to protect the land and water that birds and other wildlife and people need to survive.

Thanks to your help, Audubon Florida leads the way to restore the Everglades, manage habitats for endangered shorebirds, and enforce the rules that reduce pollution and keep development away from special places.

Together we make a difference.

Click here to start your free PDF download of Audubon Florida’s 2015 Naturalist Magazine Annual Report. Inside you will learn the many ways Audubon Florida members, volunteers, and donors helped to protect birds and wildlife in 2015.

Thank you for all that you do.


Florida Audubon Society Completes Acquisition of Newest Sanctuary in the Chassahowitzka Marsh

posted on December 16, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

John Emory Cason SanctuaryThe U.S. Family Foundation has completed a transaction deeding 80 acres of pristine coastal marsh and hammock habitat in Citrus County to the Florida Audubon Society.

Located just southwest of the community of Homosassa and immediately north of the boundary of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the new Audubon property will be known as the “John Emory Cason, Jr. Bird Sanctuary” in honor of its former owner.

John Emory Cason Jr, who passed away in 2012, was a lifelong resident of Inverness, Florida and an avid outdoorsman and well-known local farmer. Cason had a wish that his coastal property be preserved forever as a sanctuary in the hands of an owner who would guarantee its permanent protection.

The location of the property is far out in the marsh west of U.S. 19 and has no road access, not even walkable access from adjacent roads – the closest being S. Rooks Drive in Homosassa. Other than reaching the sanctuary via airboat or kayak, the only visitors this new sanctuary will see are the birds themselves, and there will be plenty of them.

Over 200 species of coastal birds have been documented by the staff at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. A copy of the bird checklist can be downloaded here.

Roseate SpoonbillsCharles Lee, who manages sanctuary properties for the Florida Audubon Society, Inc., commented, “This is one of the most diverse and compellingly beautiful tracts of coastal marsh and hammock I have seen. It has wide open marshes and some pockets of open water against a backdrop of towering sabal palms at the edge of the hardwood hammock. There are Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks in the marsh and a wide variety of birds of prey, such as Bald Eagles, Coopers Hawks, Red Shouldered Hawks, and several species of owls that patrol the edge of the forest and marsh looking for their next meal. It is truly an extraordinary place”.

The Florida Audubon Society, Inc accepts the donation of sanctuary properties that meet its standards for ecological value and fit within the organization’s management capabilities. As the government programs that purchase and conserve land have become less reliable, Audubon seeks wildlife sanctuary donations from individuals who want to preserve their land. The donation of land and the donation of cash and securities are tax deductible.

For more information, please contact Audubon’s Charles Lee at

C-44 Reservoir & Stormwater Treatment Area Groundbreaking

posted on December 8, 2015 in Everglades,Water Issues

Groundbreaking at C-44On November 20, Audubon Florida’s Eric Draper, Tabitha Cale, and Celeste De Palma attended the groundbreaking of the C-44 Reservoir & Stormwater Treatment Area (STA). This project is the first component of the Indian River Lagoon-South project (IRL-S) in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The C-44 Reservoir is a key storage component of the entire Indian River Lagoon-South and a major step towards increasing storage of local basin runoff and improving ecological conditions in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. Both ecosystems have suffered from altered water flow patterns and degraded water quality due to excessive water discharges from Lake Okeechobee and large volumes of stormwater runoff during the heavy rains experienced in the years past.

Audubon's Tabitha Cale and Celeste De Palma with Representative Patrick MurphyOnce completed, the C-44 Reservoir & STA will capture, store, and treat local runoff from the C-44 basin, providing clean water to the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon, helping to restore the delicate balance of fresh and saltwater in these ecosystems. This project will provide 3,600 acres of new wetlands and reduce average nutrient loads, significantly improving water quality in the lagoon and the estuary.

This is a major step towards restoring key habitat for birds and bringing back America’s Everglades.

Banded Snowy Plovers Tell Story of Conservation in Florida

SnowyPlover_1_2015Audubon Florida’s Coastal Conservation team operates throughout the state. They are – in many ways – the eyes and ears of our shores. Please take a moment to enjoy this interesting story from Audubon’s Marvin Friel in the Panhandle:

Yesterday evening, just before dusk, we rushed down to Windmark Beach (a mainland beach located in Gulf County near Port. St. Joe). What we were looking for as the sun was quickly setting was a uniquely banded Snowy Plover – a Snowy Plover whose haunts and habitat are known only to Audubon’s research team and a few locals like Barbara Eells, a longtime bird rehabilitator, volunteer and snowy plover enthusiast.

This prominent Snowy Plover’s “name” is his band color combination: WL:RS, or as it is stated out loud White, Lime : Red, Service. We first recognized this noteworthy male Snowy Plover in 2006 during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) state-wide Snowy Plover census.  Barbara, who had monitored WL:RS the two years prior, provided us with WL:RS’s history.

SnowyPlover_2_2015Today, WL:RS is only one of three known individuals remaining from a handful of Snowy Plovers adults originally banded in 2004 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Like him, these individual ‘Snowies’ were the first banded in Florida to study nest productivity and adult survival. Today, WL:RS is at least 12 years old!  His exact age is unknown because he was originally banded as an adult.

The reason we rushed down to Windmark yesterday evening was to check on WL:RS’s recovery. Just two weeks prior, the Florida Park Service – Audubon Florida partnership team captured him at the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (SJPSP). He had a persistent but subtle leg injury that Barbara and our team had noticed at the end of the nesting season, in late July of this year. Following the end of the nesting season, we continued to monitor him, albeit infrequently, and were hopeful that he might recover without needing recapture. However, after three months, our team decided to capture him due to his persistent limping.

SnowyPlover_3_2015On November 3, while conducting our scheduled winter shorebird surveys at SJPSP, WL:RS was observed at the park still coddling his right leg. After he was captured and in hand, we discovered that WL:RS had a small piece of shell debris lodged between his service band and leg. The shell debris was causing discomfort and inflammation.

With delicate and deliberate hands, we removed the service band and dislodged the shell debris. Almost immediately, WL:RS, appeared relieved. Because he was missing one of his color bands, we wanted to confirm his identity and upon scrutiny of his metal leg band, we were able to do so by confirming the 9 digit code engraved on his aluminum Federal Service band.

SnowyPlover_4_2015Recognizing that he would likely recover from his injury, we replaced his missing lime band with a green band and replaced his old faded service band (now difficult to read) with a new one. To allow the injured leg to heal without further harm, we changed the location of his bands to the upper right leg instead of the lower right leg. All this was to ensure recovery of the leg in the short-term, but in the long-term it would allow researchers and volunteers like Barbara to continue monitoring him in the years to come.

Running out to see WL:RS yesterday evening before the sunset was much more than a crazy birder’s bizarre compulsion and obsession. For over 10 years, the life of WL:RS paralleled our careers as researchers and how we evolved as scientists grappling with difficult questions in hopes of improving the Snowy Plover’s population in Florida. As our monitoring program grew at the Florida State Parks in the Panhandle, as more and more beachgoers visited the Florida Gulf Coast beaches, as the need for public awareness and participation in conservation increased, what we realized is that WL:RS has already persevered and transcended many of the aforementioned obstacles.

SnowyPlover_5_2015Despite weather events, tropical storms, increases in recreational pressures and the numerous native and non-native predators present on our beaches (such as coyotes, ghost crabs, raccoons, fish crows or gulls), WL:RS is still cruising the shoreline looking for that next mouthwatering amphipod. Of herculean note, the extensive data collected on WL:RS has demonstrated that he has produced at least four generations of Snowy Plovers that span the panhandle beaches from SJPSP to Tyndall Air Force Base (an FWC Critical Wildlife Area) to Dog Island (land managed by The Nature Conservancy). Remarkably, one of the chicks he fathered holds the winter migration record, for plovers banded in the Florida panhandle; wintering down at Marco Island, Florida.

SnowyPlover_6_2015So yesterday evening was a success story! Hopefully WL:RS, (now White Green: Red Service on upper leg) will continue to inspire all of the beach-nesting monitoring efforts. Snowy Plovers like WL:RS are the true Florida beach bum, they are here to be enjoyed and respected as a Florida native to our coastal beaches, like sea turtles and beach mice. Each individually banded plover has a unique story to share that ultimately shows their biological resilience in their native habitat.

We hope that birds like WL:RS will persist at coastal beaches in Florida such as Windmark Beach or St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for future generations to enjoy.

Baird’s Sandpiper Visits Panhandle Beach

posted on December 1, 2015 in Birding,Coastal Conservation

Baird's SandpiperCheck out this uncommon visitor on one of our Florida State Parks’ western beaches!

A Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidiris bairdii) (right) was sighted with two Sanderlings (Calidris alba) foraging along a lake outfall.

Baird’s Sandpipers breed in the arctic regions of Alaska and Canada and then travel a long migration route through the interior of North America to winter in South America. They are considerably uncommon on either coast but have been noted from time-to-time in Florida.

The Baird’s is a beautiful bird that can easily be mistaken for a more common long-winged peep, the White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis). (Below)

It certainly took some time, but with some wonderful photos (and a lot of analyzing) we were able to conclude that we, indeed, saw a Baird’s Sandpiper in the Florida Panhandle.

On the top is the Baird’s Sandpiper and on the bottom is the White-rumped Sandpiper.

Now let’s take a closer look…
White-rumped SandpiperCan you see on the white flanks on the Baird’s, whereas on the White-rumped you can see some dusky streaks?

Also, the Baird’s has a thinner, slightly straighter bill compared to the bulkier, drooping White-rumped bill.

Lastly, take a look at the Baird’s lifting its wing. Its tail is exposed just enough to show that its rump is indeed brown! If this were a White-rumped you would see a white patch of feathers across its rump.

FWC Establishes First New Critical Wildlife Area in Decades

posted on November 23, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,State Government,Wildlife

Photo by Dave Graff/Florida DEPLast Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted unanimously to establish a new Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at Second Chance Sandbar in southwest Florida. The new CWA will close the bar to vessel landings during the beach-nesting bird season.

Second Chance is part of a shoal system south of Collier County’s Cape Romano. It has supported the region’s largest Least Tern colony in past years, as well as nesting Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers. Least Terns and Black Skimmers are both state Threatened and Wilson’s Plovers are a declining species of growing conservation concern.

These ground-nesting birds are easily disturbed when beachgoers and their dogs approach too closely, flushing parents from eggs and chicks who can perish quickly in the hot sun, at the mercy of predators, or underfoot. Second Chance is so narrow that despite the best efforts of its manager, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), to post the nesting areas, there simply isn’t enough room on the upland to provide an adequate buffer for the birds.

Commissioner Liesa Priddy—a southwest Florida resident who has visited the site—was an impassioned advocate for passage. Commissioner Ron Bergeron also endorsed the protection, saying that he has fished this region since childhood and marveled at its bird wealth. Chairman Brian Yablonski told the Commissioners that there has only been one other CWA designation in the state in the last twenty years, but to look closely because “we’re going to be seeing more of these.”

Special thanks to Collier County Bird Steward and wildlife photographer Jean Hall for traveling 16 hours round-trip to the meeting in Panama City and to Bay County Audubon co-president Ron Houser for their testimonies on behalf of the designation.

But most of all, congratulations to the staff of Rookery Bay NERR, FWC, and Audubon, and the many volunteers who give their time to protect these special places. Because of your efforts, Second Chance CWA now has a real chance at success.

Attorney General Pam Bondi Releases Audubon’s 525th Rehabilitated Bald Eagle

posted on November 18, 2015 in Birds of Prey Ctr.,State Government,Wildlife

Bondi Release_webAudubon Florida chose to honor Attorney General Pam Bondi with a Bald Eagle release due to her consistent action as a member of the Cabinet to assure purchase of conservation easements on ranchland in the Kissimmee River Watershed.

The Kissimmee watershed is the stronghold of Florida’s Bald Eagle populations. The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program operated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services purchases conservation easements over ranchlands, preventing them from ever being developed. Attorney General Bondi has consistently acted to vote favorably on these conservation easement purchases.

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey treats more than 700 patients annually with 12% being Bald Eagles.

Read Audubon Florida’s 2016 Conservation Action Agenda

posted on in Assembly,Chapters

Audubon_ConservationPriorities_2016_CoverImage_approvedEach year, Audubon members come together at the Audubon Assembly to approve our annual conservation agenda. Our conservation priorities are expressed in twelve state and regional resolutions.

The conservation priorities are approved by the Audubon Florida Board of Directors and guide our positions and work. Thank you to everyone who helped draft this important document.

Click here to download.

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