Audubon Florida News

Topic: Citizen Science,Florida Scrub-Jay,Land Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

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.




Ninth Season of Nature Coast Surveys Begins With High Shorebird Numbers

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, sightings, and photographs as well as observe the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

American Oystercatcher flockTaking advantage of seasonal spring tides and a break in persistently inclement weather, we conducted our first Gulf surveys in mid September. Fortunately, persistent summer rains abated somewhat and allowed for productive outings. Beginning on the west side of Cedar Key, we noted much higher numbers of American Oystercatchers compared to a pre-season survey  three weeks earlier and, scoping the roosting flocks for markers, we noted migrants had arrived from several Atlantic coast states.

One favored, traditional, roost site was usurped by a stranded sailboat Sailboat stranded off Cedar Keycompelling the birds to seek refuge elsewhere. Fortunately, state officials were aware of the nuisance vessel for months and contractors were scheduled to remove the offending vessel. Florida FWC researchers documented the oystercatchers’ critical dependence on eroding roost sites in the region. Protecting the integrity of surviving sites is an ever-higher priority.

As frequently occurs on the Nature Coast, favored Oystercatcher roosts are often cohabited by multiple shorebird species. This was the case at one roost rake where ten federally Threatened Red Knots were present. Although none were marked, seven were hatch year juveniles – a good sign for this seriously declining species.

Due to brisk headwinds and chop we elected to avoid the Gulf and navigate through a protected, hazardous maze of salt marsh taking us to the east side of Cedar Key. Exiting the maze of marsh waters, a dense flock of American Avocet, Willet, and Marbled Godwits greeted us at the first shell rake on the edge of a wooded Key. We continued on to an Shorebird flock, Cedar Pointexpansive series of low rakes stretching into the open gulf. Approaching closer, we noted dark masses of birds clustered on several rakes and these soon proved to be densely-packed Oystercatcher flocks. We were now challenged to determine which flocks provided nearby vantage points where we could land our vessel and scan the birds for markers. During this process, we noted “clouds” of shorebirds swarming over the most distant shell rake and it soon became apparent that the flocks were being flushed by wading anglers hiking along the shorelines. Roosting shorebirds flushed by waders.

Disturbances to roosting shorebirds is a universal problem requiring considerable public education and outreach. Typically, disturbance is not intentional but the impacts can be significant where roost/rest sites are few as they are around Cedar Key or where disturbances are frequent and/or associated with pets.  Often impacts can be minimized with a little consideration for the birds, but the growing unfamiliarity with birds and associated conservation issues by today’s recreational public remains a challenge to declining bird populations. Doris and I plan to work more closely with the community and state agencies to raise awareness of these issues on the Nature Coast.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we carefully shifted from rake to rake, recording the diversity and numbers of birds and documenting unique markers.  In addition to the many marked Oystercatchers, we recorded several Red Knot bands among densely-massed flocks. One interesting observation was noting numbers of Western and Least Sandpipers perched in low vegetation on several rakes. This behavior is somewhat curious since adequate substrate is available for the normally ground-roosting birds. Least Sandpiper roosting in tall vegetation

In addition to the hordes of shorebirds, we also noted small numbers of larids, including migrant Caspian Terns but none were banded. One small flock of Blue-winged Teal passed low over the rakes as they continued south to unknown destinations. The next day, we traveled to Horseshoe Beach in northern Dixie County and visited a low shell rake south of that diminutive community. Over many seasons, we have learned where the flocks stage prior to shifting to the low jetties in the Gulf nearer the town. Initially, few birds were present, but as the tide slowly rose, many more birds arrived until ninety crowded the roost. At one point a small flock of Oystercatchers was spied passing far offshore suggesting they were actively migrating. Similarly, a lone Northern Harrier came in off the Gulf – our first sighting of the species since spring migration carried them off to northern breeding grounds.

Predictably, the oystercatchers eventually shifted north to the jetties where we found them flushing frequently and flying over open water. Oddly, no other shorebirds flushed off the rocks and we assumed that an unseen eagle must be cruising high aloft. For unknown reasons, Oystercatchers react more adversely to eagles than any Oystercatcher with coded leg markersother raptor on the wintering grounds.  Once the birds settled down, we slowly cruised along the rocks collecting digital images for later review to identify band codes that were missed or that we were unable to decipher at the distant rake.

During our recent travels along regional highways going to and from boat launch sites, we noted remarkable amounts of flooded forest, ditches and fields resulting from the deluge of summer rains.  Most ditches were saturated with water and lush Gulf Fritillary butterflyaquatic foliage in full bloom attracted numerous butterflies. How the rain waters impact the native flora and fauna we cannot know, but if the health and abundance of regional oysters is dependent on influxes of fresh water, their historic declines may soon be reversed to the benefit of American Oystercatchers and humans alike.


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.

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:

This Season’s Nature Coast Surveys Resume with a Stink!

posted on October 29, 2014 in Citizen Science,Coastal Conservation

Banded Piping Plover resighted in Cedar Key.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 eighth blog in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Our first seasonal surveys on the Nature Coast brought a rude and troubling surprise when we visited sites in the Horseshoe Beach area the first week of October. Departing the boat ramp, all appeared normal as we initially ran south to an oyster bar in the open gulf to scan flocks arriving to roost during the high tide period. Though many birds concentrated there, we also observed large numbers roosting on distant bars and, as the tide swelled, those birds flew north to the traditional jetty roost. Given the predicted height of the flood tide, we knew that all birds would eventually shift to the jetty rocks thus we too set off for the distant structure.

Conditions were pleasant as we raced over the shallow gulf waters passing frolicking porpoise, but as we drew near the rocks a pungent smell was evident and, upon landing, we noted numerous fish carcasses rotting in the bright sun. We had never previously encountered such an event on the gulf and speculated on its cause. Later, while scanning the roosting birds from our drifting vessel, we noted an enormous carcass stranded in the jumble of limerock . At distance, the bloated body with projecting pectoral fins resembled a manatee, but closer inspection revealed it to be a Goliath Grouper. This specimen deepened the mystery, for why would a deep water species wash up so close to shore?

Goliath Grouper carcass washed ashore due to red tide in Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to our departure from the jetty and, in a repetition of last season’s first survey, a Peregrine Falcon strafed through the panicked mass of birds but quickly vanished through a cloud of “avian confetti” spread across the sky. As we drove out of the tiny hamlet we stopped at a tackle store to seek more insight into the fish kill and learned that it was associated with a red tide impacting the entire region but the details were sketchy. The full extent of the event would not be known until we purchased a regional paper and learned that it covered multiple counties on the upper gulf and was impacting inshore and offshore waters – thus explaining the Goliath Grouper carcass. Upon our return home, an internet search provided even more insight and disclosed the event dated back to July and covered many thousands of square miles in the gulf.

Red tides are rare on Florida’s Atlantic coast, but even extreme northeast Florida was impacted several years past with large fish kills washing ashore and noxious vapors irritating beachgoers during periods of onshore winds. Fortunately, that event was restricted to offshore waters, but the impacts were felt on the beach for two weeks or more.

The following day, we surveyed sites on both sides of Cedar Key and found high numbers of American Oystercatchers and other shorebirds present but no signs of the red tide’s impact. For unknown reasons, the roosting flocks were unusually nervous, continuously flushing and shifting locations throughout the high tide period. Never previous had we been compelled to move and relocate so often during a day’s work. On some occasions soaring Bald Eagles explained the behavior, but at other times no clear threat was evident in the expansive gulf sky, but perhaps one clue was discovered later in the day when we visited one of the oyster reefs and the entire shorebird population exploded into the sky when yet another Peregrine Falcon materialized and casually passed amongst the panicked flocks before moving on.

Doris Leary surveying American Oystercatchers on an island near Cedar Key.

As often occurs on the gulf, the day began with sunny skies, unpredicted winds and choppy waters that later gave way to overcast skies and dead calm conditions enhancing the region’s often tranquil ambiance. By day’s end we had recorded dozens of American Oystercatcher band codes, two new Piping Plover flag codes, two Red Knot flag codes and two unusual Wilson’s Plovers banding codes. Subsequent to reporting the observation data, we learned that the two Piping Plovers were banded on adjoining alkali lakes near Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southwest South Dakota; one as an adult and the other a hatch year chick. Like so many other banded Red Knots recorded on the gulf coast, the two resighted near Cedar Key on this survey were of the population that winters in the southeast and passes through Delaware Bay each spring. One of the birds is now at least eleven years old.

The marked Wilson’s Plover is likely a bird resighted in the area last fall, but now wearing new bands replaced for the originals that faded. Such replacements are not unusual for many shorebirds if they are recaptured by researchers in subsequent seasons. For many years, young Piping Plovers returning to the Great Lakes have routinely been recaptured and fitted with new or different markers to identify them as breeding adults. Across their entire range, researchers have experienced problems with band fading and endeavor to recapture such birds to replace them with more durable color bands or coded flags. Because multi color bands are used to uniquely mark individual birds, faded bands defeat their function and make field identification highly problematic even with photographs. Recaptured Red Knots may receive new markers and/or tracking devices depending on location and circumstances.

Unfortunately, many Red Knots banded in Florida now carry flags with faded codes that are impossible to decipher under all but ideal conditions. Faded bands are now occurring amongst the growing research sample of marked Wilson’s Plover and are being replaced when possible per the aforementioned bird.

Given the unanticipated winds encountered during our first survey day, we abandoned our plans to travel south to survey the distant barge canal waters and returned to Cedar Key the following day. Not surprisingly, conditions were calmer and we ventured north to a nearby island. There we resighted one of the prior-recorded Piping Plovers and a growing concentration of American Oystercatchers and other species. From that vantage point, we could see another island lying low in the offshore waters and like many landforms along the Nature Coast, that island is now much reduced in dimension since our initial visits just eight years previous.

Formerly, the mangrove islet featured a raised sandy beach and projecting spit that hosted legions of American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants and shorebirds. All that remains today is an ever-shrinking cluster of mangroves. Sandy shores and other loose-sediment structures throughout the Nature Coast are rapidly diminishing and may have long term impacts on shorebird populations, especially their roosting behavior.

American Oystercatchers amassing on an island near Cedar Key.

Due to the astronomical spring tides impacting the region we visited many traditional roost sites that were submerged on high tide and thus hosted no birds. When recreationist occupy alternative roost sites, the birds are compelled to shift wherever adequate habitat exist to rest during the flood tide periods. Most shorebirds seek low, open and exposed sites away from uplands to roost and such sites are highly sensitive to disturbance and vulnerable to usurpation by recreationists. We often find kayakers, canoeist and motorized vessels landed in such habitats. Protection and conservation of such sites may soon become a management imperative in many coastal areas.

Near the end of the field work, we visited another island just offshore of downtown Cedar Key. On one visit last winter, that sandy habitat supported many hundreds of small shorebirds and one Piping Plover, but on this visit is was entirely underwater and not a single bird was present.

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.

Audubon’s Jay Watch Annual Report Now Available

posted on March 20, 2014 in Citizen Science,Wildlife

Jay WatchAudubon Florida coordinates the Jay Watch citizen science program statewide. Volunteers conduct scientific surveys that measure annual nesting success and count the total number of Florida Scrub-Jays at more than 50 sites in 19 counties. The success of the Jay Watch program, and the program’s contributions to the recovery of Florida Scrub-Jays, depends upon dedicated volunteercitizen scientists like you, your family, and your friends. 

Audubon is pleased to provide you with our photo-filled, year-end report about Florida Scrub-Jays and the Jay Watch citizen science program. Enjoy the articles and photos about our training programs, Scrub-Jay population trends, new opportunities for volunteers in habitat restoration, and what you can do to help Florida Scrub-Jays.

Remarkably, in just 2013 alone, over 250 volunteers invested nearly 2,050 hours sharpening their skills in onsite trainings and performing field surveys across the state. To join our growing volunteer base of Jay Watchers or gain more information about opportunities across the Florida peninsula, you’ll find our website and contact information on the last page of the report.

Click here to download.



Audubon Florida Presidents Consulted for Planning of Non-Native Species Awareness Program

Feb. 23-28, 2014 was National Invasive Species Awareness Week .

non-native snail eggsSadly, due to cuts in funding, many programs that have been documenting the spread of non-native plants and animals have had to look elsewhere manpower.   Audubon members are in a unique position to help.  They are observant, spend considerable time outdoors both close to home and away, and are generally knowledgeable about plants, wildlife and of course birds.  Who better to notice unwanted visitors,   expanding ranges of established species and new arrivals?  But then what?

There is a website dedicated to training and tracking non-natives that is complete with materials and certifications.  There is an app called “Ivegot1” available for both Android and I-phones that can be used in the field.  Snap a photo and send it to the data center along with some notes and voila! phone app to report invasive species locations

It seems simple enough but according to a recent survey Audubon members as a whole are not doing it.  Why? Awareness.

When over 50% of Florida’s Chapter Presidents completed a short survey developed by Audubon staff results were mixed.  Some did not understand the importance of tracking the movement of non-natives. Others felt they did not have the capacity (manpower and time) to take on additional projects.  But the most common response was they did not know about available online resources and tools that could be used in the field during the many outings they plan throughout the year.

As a result the Chapters Committee has planned to include a workshop at the upcoming Audubon Academy April 11-13  called Apps, apps and more apps.  Participants will be asked to bring their smart phones, download apps and practice using them.  In addition, all members will be encouraged to become REDDY certified online. (We might even launch a contest for the chapters with the most certified members.)

program logoAlthough The National Invasive Species Awareness Week highlights a week, the problems relating to non-native species exist throughout the year.  Audubon’s capacity through regular chapter activities is a natural fit with these important programs.  We look forward to sharing this fun technology with all while providing valuable data as citizen scientists.

Florida’s mid-winter survey: 39,000 shorebirds and counting!

Black Skimmer flock. Photo: Jacqui SulekThe February 7 – 16, 2014 time window for Florida’s annual mid-winter shorebird survey is at the half-way point. So far, team leaders reporting online have logged shorebird and seabird counts for 85 beach sections around the state – a total of 39,452 birds! This is Florida’s only synchronized, statewide winter survey and volunteer citizen scientists contribute mightily to the results.

Foot and boat surveys along the majority of the state’s coastal beaches within a narrow window of time provides a snapshot of the numbers and locations of imperiled bird species, “watch” species, and the opportunity to record band codes and combinations for researchers wanting to know where northern breeding birds spend their winters. Winter surveys help us locate foraging and roosting hotspots and develop strategies to protected those special places.

Bonaparte's Gull. Photo: Susan BergmanTallies of the five focal species in this year’s survey to date are: 588 Red Knots, 375 Snowy Plovers, 216 Piping Plovers, 144 Wilson’s Plovers, and 65 American Oystercatchers. Many of us think that Bonaparte’s Gulls are an unusual winter find on Florida’s coasts but volunteers have reported a whopping 1,926 birds so far. The count for Great Black-backed Gulls stands at 48 and the count of Lesser Black-backed Gulls is 52 at the survey half-way point.

Volunteers are also using their seawatching skills to tally near-shore pelagic seabirds and diving ducks, with 424 Northern Gannets, 326 Horned Grebes, and 11 Red-throated Loons!
Survey crew at Three Rooker Island. Photo: Dana KersteinAnd these are just a snapshot of the counts recorded online with many beach sections remaining to be surveyed on dates through the final weekend of February 15th and 16th. The count’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional coordinators are collecting data sheets that team leaders elected to send by snail mail or email. Help us help the birds by completing your surveys and reporting the data online, via email or snail mail. For more information consult the Florida Shorebird Alliance’s Winter Shorebird Survey protocol online.



Do you love birds? Then why not spend some time with them on Valentine’s Day?

Orange-crowned Warbler in a backyard bird bathClean those binoculars, grab your notebook and get ready to head outdoors because you are invited to join the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count!

WHAT:  The GBBC  – A four day window each year where people all over the world take time to count birds and report what they see.

DATE:  FEB 14-17, 2014

TIME:  Any time when you can spend a minimum of 15 minutes (hopefully more) at one location

Enjoying birds outdoors

WHEREYOUR BACKYARD or one of Florida’s Special places (outdoors of course)

WHY:  Because capturing a snapshot each year help scientists understand the impacts of a changing planet on bird populations.  Your observations make that possible.

In its 17th year, the Great Backyard Bird Count known affectionately as the GBBC will once again bring birding enthusiasts from around the world together to create a snapshot of the birds that live with us. This citizen science project is the perfect way to bring together birders of all experience levels.  Go it alone or join a group of friends.

Chipping Sparrows at a backyard feederAnd for those of you who are camera buffs, THERE IS EVEN A PHOTO CONTEST!

To find out how to get started and much more, please click here and watch the instructional video about GBBC’s history, how to contribute your data via the ebird program and the scientific and conservation value of your participation.

You might just have a sweetheart of a time!

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