Audubon Florida News

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.

Join Audubon for the 2015 Statewide Mid-Winter Shorebird Survey

Red Knots in flightThe annual mid-winter survey period is right around the corner – February 6 -12, 2015.

Team leaders are organizing volunteer survey crew members to walk miles of Florida’s beautiful coastline during this 7-day period, tallying numbers of shorebird and seabird species. If you can readily identify these species individually and in flocks of 50 or more birds, WE NEED YOU! 

Teams will be counting PipingSnowyWilson’s, Semipalmated, and Black-bellied Plovers, American Oystercatchers, a multitude of sandpiper species including Red Knots, several species of terns and gulls, Black Skimmers, and others. The data is reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as to state and local park managers. This is an annual survey that could not be accomplished at a statewide scale without the help of citizen scientists. Team leaders will enter the data in a Google spreadsheet so that anyone interested can see what other teams found across the state.

David Macri. Winter birds with BLSK in flight. Matanzas.120108_staug_DMM0216

No experience is necessary to join an experienced team in your area that will survey beaches accessible from the mainland. Most teams will walk a minimum of 1-2 miles. Come on out and join other citizen scientists for Florida’s one-time annual winter shorebird survey!

For information on how you can get involved with surveys in:

Osceola County Orders Ecological Review of Deseret Ranch Plan

posted on January 15, 2015 in Chapters,Land Conservation

Deseret Plan MapOsceola County has responded to efforts spearheaded by Audubon Florida and a coalition of Audubon chapters in Central Florida by ordering an independent ecological review of the vast Deseret North Ranch sector plan.

The 133,000 acre development proposal, involving a potential new population of over 500,000 people, and over 180,000 new housing units was headed on a fast track toward approval in October, when Audubon sounded the alert and filled the County Commission chamber with many concerned citizens and representatives from Audubon chapters in Osceola, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Lake Counties.

The Deseret development would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history.

The lands affected include important ecosystem components of the Econlockhatchee River Headwaters, the St. Johns River and tributaries, and highly important wildlife corridors and wildlife habitat. Components of the Sector Plan proposal include a proposed new bridge over the St. Johns River, and a new reservoir which would capture water now contributing to the base flow of the St. Johns River. In October, Osceola County Commissioners voted 4-1 against the transmittal of the plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the first step in the approval process. Instead, a commission majority asked the County Manger’s office to initiate a stakeholder process to further evaluate the proposal.

The county has now taken another important step to assure a proper and objective evaluation of this massive development project. Following recommendations made by Audubon Florida during stakeholder meetings, the county has retained some of Florida’s best known and most respected ecologists to perform a peer-review analysis of the sector plan and the land conservation plan presented by Deseret’s planners and biological consultants.  The team, consisting of Dr. Richard Hilsenbeck of the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Reed Noss of the University of Florida, and Dr. Jay Exum of Exum Associates Inc. will spend at least two months in the evaluation process.

Further action by Osceola County on the Deseret Sector Plan will now not take place until April 2015 at the earliest. The outcome of the process will likely be shaped by the recommendation of the county’s new ecological peer review team.

Audubon Florida extends heartfelt thanks to the Audubon leaders in Central Florida who stepped forward to state concerns about the Deseret plan. Audubon also thanks the County Commission, County Manager and staff at Osceola County for doing the right thing to assure a proper and thorough evaluation of the Deseret Sector Plan.

A letter stating Audubon Concerns about the Deseret Sector Plan, and other related materials can be viewed by clicking here.

Deseret Sector Plan Facts:

  • Projected Population – 500,000 +-
  • 182,600 Development (housing) units
  • 43,837,390 Square Feet of Commercial/Service Industry space
  • 23,969,010 Square Feet of Industrial space
  • 15,660,500 Square Feet of Institutional built space
  • 20,390 hotel rooms

The Christmas Bird Count is Many Things to Many People

posted on January 13, 2015 in Birding,Wildlife

Georgia Shemitz captured this foggy scene on the Four Rivers Audubon Count.For many Floridians, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is as much a tradition over the holidays as the Christmas tree. Each Audubon chapter in Florida (44) either coordinates a count circle or has members who participate in one.  On Monday Jan. 5, the 115th 3-week CBC window closed.  Now compilers will be gathering checklists, checking on rare bird sightings and preparing to submit their data. While providing valuable data to the science community CBCs have different meaning for different individuals.

Bill Nolte of Santa Fe Audubon captured this photo of a Bald Eagle feeding on a freshly killed coyote.The average species of birds seen is well over 100 (as high as 150) with numbers of species such as Coots, Robins, Tree Swallows, gulls (at the dump) and others often in the thousands.   Some people participated in just one count while others like Alachua Audubon Society member Dottie Robbins did eight this year!

What is it that draws so many people to this annual event?

Some people use the “count” as an excuse to take a break from the rush and pressure of the holidays.  What a great way to justify spending a full day at your favorite pastime.

West Pasco Audubon counters were featured in the Tampa Tribune There is a social element in spending a whole day with a small group of people.  The “count” can result in new friendships or can give old friends a chance to catch up. Teams often bond and look forward to having an excuse to get together once a year.

For the “listers” (serious birders who love to keep lists for birds seen in lifetime, a year, a day, a county, etc.) assisting in areas other than your own can bump the numbers up quickly.   It is hard to beat local knowledge when exploring a new area with one who knows where to find the birds!

Ellen Westbrook from Florida Keys Audubon rescued this young Brown Pelican during their CBC.There is a job for everyone. Beginners will often be tasked with keeping the checklist.  This is a welcome relief to the spotters and the more experienced counters who have their hands free to focus their binoculars and scopes quickly and count as a bird or flock flies by.  Lucky for new birders the best way to learn is to get out into the field with the experts.

Whatever the reason people participate they deserve a huge thank you for making such a unique and valuable contribution to bird conservation.

Additional news:

U.S. Representative Dan Webster Eagle Release

posted on January 12, 2015 in Birds of Prey Ctr.

Webster Release 1On December 23, U.S. Representative Dan Webster of Orlando joined the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in the release of the 495th Bald Eagle that has been rescued and rehabilitated by the Center. Congressman Webster was handed the Eagle by Diana Flynt of our Birds of Prey Center Staff and tossed the Eagle into the air for its return to freedom in the wild. Rep. Webster has been a strong supporter in Congress of Everglades Restoration projects recommended by Audubon.

The 495th Eagle was released by Rep. Webster at Hal Scott Preserve in eastern Orange County. Hal Scott Preserve is named for the late Hal Scott, former President and Executive Director of the Florida Audubon Society.

Conservation Efforts of Rancher Bud Adams Featured in Tampa Bay Times

posted on January 6, 2015 in Land Conservation

EAA crops irrigated with water pumped out of Lake Okeechobee in May, a time when Everglade Snail Kites had abandoned babies in the nests and fled the Lake due to low water.  The Hoover Dike is in the background. Photo by Dr. Paul Gray.Adams Ranch and the quest of rancher Bud Adams and his family to protect ranchland through conservation easements was featured by the Tampa Bay Times this past weekend in a major article. Click here to view.

Audubon Florida has been assisting Adams and other ranchers in building support for the purchase of ranchland easements, and Audubon’s participation in recent efforts at the December 2014 Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee are featured in the article.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of ranch land north of Lake Okeechobee are vulnerable to development pressures. Ranch conservation easements such as those purchased under the Rural and Family Lands program of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provide a practical and economically attractive mechanism for ranch families to remove development rights from the land. Ranch lands protected by easements in perpetuity provide important habitat for birds and wildlife.

Adams Ranch and Bud Adams received Audubon Florida’s “Sustainable Rancher of the Year” award for 2014.

Bittersweet Victory for the Rufa Red Knot

posted on December 17, 2014 in Birds in the News,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

REKN in flightThe Rufa Red Knot is a small shorebird, roughly the size of a robin, with a giant’s story. It is called a “perpetual summer” species because it travels the globe to keep up with warm weather. This bird spends its breeding months in the Canadian arctic and moves south to the southern tip of South America during non-breeding months. Essentially, a 7,000-9,000 mile journey twice a year, which it travels in roughly 10-14 days!

During its journey, it makes stops along the eastern seaboard to forage on horseshoe crab larvae, clams and other invertebrate species. These stops are perfectly timed with the explosion of invertebrate egg and larvae deposits in order for the bird to gain enough energy to make the long migration. If the timing isn’t right or the weather turns bad or the habitat has become altered, these birds can suffer tremendous losses to their population.

Between 2002 and 2008, Delaware Bay and Tierra Del Fuego reported a dramatic 75% reduction in Rufa Red Knot bird counts as compared to counts from the 1980’s. In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized this decline and designated the Rufa Red Knot as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, the USFWS declared the Rufa Red Knot as a Threatened species on the ESA. This is good news in that greater protections can be afforded to red knot nesting and wintering habitat throughout its US range. However, the fact that this action had to occur in order to protect this species demonstrates the fragile environmental balance this species needs in order to survive.

REKNFO[MX1]HMPnorthinletshore50514_compressed

This species needs our attention, support, and protection in order for long-term health and well-being. There are various threats these birds face during migration, some natural and some man-made. Climate change will threaten forage food and cause shoreline erosion on critical resting and foraging areas. Unregulated horseshoe crab harvesting in the northeast can cause reduction in their primary migratory food source. Increased nutrients in our land-to-ocean rivers can cause red tides and toxicity of forage food. Incompatible recreational uses on our beaches such as beach driving, dogs off leash and kite-surfing too close to resting birds create disturbance that prevent the birds from putting on the necessary weight to complete their journey.

As new rules and regulations may be proposed due to the recent Threatened status of the Rufa Red Knot, it is important that we support those actions that will protect resting and migratory habitat and forage for this species.

Audubon Florida will keep you informed as local protections begin to form, but we need you to join us in supporting the unique and magnificent Rufa Red Knot. Sign up to receive the Audubon Advocate eNewsletter to stay informed: fl.audubon.org/signup

Help Support Habitat Conservation in the Northern Everglades

posted on December 8, 2014 in North Everglades,Online Advocacy,State Government

Northern_Everglades_LandscapeGovernor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider two significant conservation easement purchases in the Headwaters of the Everglades on December 9.

A 1,536 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Adams Ranch, and a 322 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Camp Lonesome Ranch. Both of these ranch properties contain an assemblage of important and biologically diverse imperiled wildlife, rare native Florida prairie and range lands, and a landscape-sized wildlife corridor connecting other managed lands. These easement tracts contain wetlands and sloughs that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River System and intact dry prairie/pine flatwoods habitats.

The purchases are possible due to the Rural and Family Lands program in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Audubon originally proposed this program in 2001, and has been campaigning to increase funding for the program over the past three years. Rural and Family Lands easements contemplate allowing compatible ranching activities to continue on properties, while assuring wildlife habitat protection by removing rights for other kinds of development. An advantage of the easements is lower initial purchase cost, minimal ongoing public management expenses, and working ranches will remain on the property tax rolls while the natural assets of the easement areas are protected.

The easement areas are both inside the boundary of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, and established Florida Forever project boundaries for Adams Ranch and the Big Bend Swamp/Holopaw Ranch Florida Forever Project.

In addition to support for the easement purchases on the agenda, Audubon Florida is asking the Governor and Cabinet to support increased funding for the Rural and Family Lands Program and other programs that specifically benefit the Northern Everglades. See the letter from Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper here.

Please contact the Governor and Cabinet Members to support the easement purchases, and additional funding for the Rural and Family Lands program and related Northern Everglades efforts.

Good Water Management is Good for Northern Everglades Birds and Wildlife

Lake Okeechobee by Tabitha Cale

As the wet season is wrapping up, we are breathing a sigh of relief for the birds and wildlife in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary ecosystems. Due to thoughtful water level management amongst the state and federal agencies this season, (and just the right amount of rain), our ecosystems are in a solid place as we enter the winter months.

During the wet season between May and October, Lake Okeechobee received slightly more than average rain.  Thanks to new management approaches and patience from the agencies, there were minimal summer discharges from the Lake to the St. Lucie, and mostly beneficial releases to Caloosahatchee Estuaries, allowing these delicate ecosystems to continue to recover from the devastation from last summer. Lake Okeechobee’s levels reached 16 feet in October, which is the considered threshold for harm. But with levels now dropping, lake levels are within the ideal zone for the end of the rainy season.

Lake Okeechobee’s ideal water level range is between 12.5 to 15.5 feet over the course of the year.  If the Lake is over 16 feet for too long, damage to the marsh occurs. The 50,000‐acre submerged marsh community is in deep enough water that plants begin dying from wave action and from the loss of light in the deep, turbid, water. Prolonged deep water eliminates the wildlife rich wet prairie communities from the Lake, areas needed to support wading bird foraging. Rapidly rising water can drown alligator and bird nests (including Everglade Snail Kites) across the marsh. Click here to learn more about the effect of lake levels on the wildlife of Lake Okeechobee.

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.

Managing Lake Okeechobee’s water levels is not easy. One wet tropical storm can raise Lake levels several feet –  levels harmful to the marsh and perilous for Hoover Dike safety.  The Corps cannot lower the Lake as fast as it can rise so they must make proactive releases to avoid harmful levels.   The management plan for the Lake allowed Lake releases to the estuaries virtually all summer, but the Corps decided to minimize releases to the estuaries.  This approach prevented harmful Lake discharges.  Note that the estuaries did receive some water from polluted local basin runoff, but it was not nearly as harmful as the previous year.

Very importantly, the SFWMD experimented with new operations to flow over 200,000 acre feet of water (about 5 inches of Lake level) south to the Everglades- water that otherwise would have been released to the estuaries.

The Corps and SFWMD’s approach over the summer came with some risk, but Audubon supported it based on climate patterns and lake level trends during the summer.  Almost weekly, the Corps hosts “Periodic Scientist” calls to get input from scientists from myriad agencies and interests, including Audubon, on day-to-day system conditions from throughout the system.  This information is then used to guide weekly decisions on Lake management.

We commend the Corps and SFWMD for innovative lake management this season and look forward to a healthy spring drawdown.

Audubon Society of the Everglades Celebrates BIG Amendment 1 Victory

posted on November 10, 2014 in Land Conservation,Water Issues

Amendment1_YES_photo_smallThe Audubon Society of the Everglades members are taking great pride in the results of the vote on Amendment One because they were part of making it happen.  It began in early June when they met for their annual planning retreat.   They made “Vote YES on 1” their number one goal and devised a strategy focusing their efforts on the 3 months leading up to the November 4 vote.

August was a month for educating members and voters. For their August program they invited Audubon Florida’s Tabitha Cale to speak on the importance of passage of Amendment 1 for the future of Florida. Eighty members attended, had plenty of time for questions, and left really excited about Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Campaign.  The chapter bought several hundred “Vote YES on 1” buttons that were distributed that evening to members who agreed to wear them every day until the election.  70 went out that night and people were good to their word, they started appearing around town.

September was a month to get the word out.  The September KITE newsletter devoted one full page to the campaign which was reprinted by a number of other organizations.  They took advantage of local festivals to hand out literature and of course, buttons!  Even a casual conversation at the market or gas station often resulted in the exchange of information and the gift of a button.  The buttons prompted people to approach the wearers, and it was an easy sell.

In October, County Commissioner Paulette Burdick came to ASE general meeting and encouraged everyone to vote for the Amendment.  The group loved having their picture taken signaling “Vote Yes on 1” with the Commissioner and used it form their continued promotion of the Amendment.

During a congratulatory call to Audubon Society of the Everglades, President Paton White shared her excitement. “Our campaign was easy, fun and united our members in a common cause!”   While Audubon Society of the Everglades may not have been solely responsible for Palm Beach County’s astounding 85% support there is no doubt that their efforts paid off.

They have a great deal to be proud of.

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