Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Citizen Science,Coastal Conservation,Volunteering

Join Audubon for the 2014 Statewide Mid-Winter Shorebird Survey

Fort Matanzas winter bird survey. Photo Monique Borboen .The annual winter survey period is right around the corner – February 7-16, 2014.

Team leaders are organizing volunteer survey crew members to walk miles of Florida’s beautiful coastline during this 9-day period, tallying numbers of shorebird and seabird species. If you can readily identify these species, WE NEED YOU! If you want to learn to identify Florida’s wintering shorebirds and seabirds or if you want to improve your skills, WE NEED YOU! 

Teams will be counting Piping, Snowy, Wilson’s, Semipalmated, and Black-bellied Plovers, American Oystercatchers, a Federally Endangered Piping Plover in winter plumagemultitude 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 statewide survey that could not be accomplished at this 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.

No experience is necessary to join an experienced team in your area. Some teams may be transported by boat to barrier islands for the surveys but most will be surveying 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!

American Oystercatchers roosting at high tide. Photo: Pat Leary

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

“Oreo” the American Oystercatcher Arrives from North Carolina

posted on November 27, 2013 in Birding,Citizen Science,Wildlife

Credit, Pat Leary. This American Oystercatcher was dubbed "Oreo" by Audubon NC biologists when she was banded and given a satellite transmitter earlier this year in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Pat and Doris Leary resighted her on her wintering grounds on the coast of Florida's Dixie County in late September.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. As they have done each winter since 2006, the Learys are conducting surveys in Florida’s Big Bend this year.  Their skill at censusing wintering shorebirds—one of the most challenging groups of birds—resighting bands, and navigating  this wild coastal region places them among Florida’s leading field experts on the habitat usage of shorebirds in North Florida.  This is the second of several blogs in which they share their experiences and sightings, as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face. Enjoy:

On September 28 and 29, we returned to the Big Bend to conduct another series of shorebird surveys. Although the predicted tides were favorable, the gusty NE winds actually suppressed the flood tides by blowing the shallow Gulf waters away from land. Ordinarily we avoid such adverse conditions, but scheduling conflicts restricted our opportunities to travel to the Gulf during the migratory period.

Winds were predicted to decrease on the 29th, so we elected to survey more sheltered waters in Dixie County on the 28th. Upon our arrival, it was evident the tide was suppressed and only 35 oystercatchers occupied one traditional roost. After photographing a lone banded bird from our vessel, we next ran south in the bumpy Gulf to an alternate roost rake.  Here too we found reduced numbers of birds, but we landed and collected six band codes amongst 52 birds. Sighting additional flocks roosting on low rakes throughout the area, we systematically approached and surveyed each for marked birds. At one point, a Peregrine appeared and coursed low over the trees of an adjoining island before harassing an eagle and disappearing from sight. Motoring to one exposed rake inside a creek mouth, we ran directly across an undetected oyster bed–a rude reminder of the inherent hazards of conducting Gulf surveys in unfavorable conditions.

Turning back toward our landing, we surveyed a few more rakes, recorded several more band codes, tallied a variety of shorebird species and sighted our first migrant Northern Harrier. With the tide still high, we decided to haul out and drive south to search for more oystercatchers. Arriving there, we immediately noted flocks roosting on rakes and bars in Shired Creek’s mouth. Amongst 54 birds, we recorded 8 band codes.  Upon our return inland we noted an abundance of wildflowers blooming in the roadside ditches that attracted numerous butterflies.

Credit, Pat Leary. A flock of wintering oystercatchers near Cedar Key. Can you spot any bands? Early Sunday morning, we drove to Cedar Key and found the winds marginally reduced, but we successfully motored through the open waters east of town to access the traditional roost sites. 150 oystercatchers were massed with smaller numbers of Marbled Godwit and Willet near Cedar Point. With the wind again suppressing the tide, we were able to land on a flooded rake east of the massed bird placing the sun behind us. Such a vantage point is highly advantageous to detect and read band codes in harsh low light. Shortly after setting up, we immediately detected a bird with a projecting antennae and confirmed it to be Oreo or DG[CF6], a bird satellite tagged by Audubon North Carolina in Wrightsville Beach, NC! After scanning the flock and collecting more codes, we noted additional flocks on low rakes to our east. As at Horseshoe Beach the day before, we motored from one flock to another, landing in shallow water adjoining each roost to scan and record band codes. Several eagles were active on Corrigan Reef’s outermost rakes, so there was no need to search there as oystercatchers habitually avoid eagles.

The day’s flood tide was at least one foot below its predicted height; consequently oystercatcher flocks were broadly dispersed across the inshore shallows. The largest of these was on a narrow rake east of Live Oak Key, but we were able to land on a flooded section of the same rake and scan for bands. Despite our close proximity, the mass of crowded birds limited our view into the flock and we likely missed some bands. While engaged with this flock, we noted nearby flocks flushing and flying toward Cedar Pt.  Motoring through the maze of bars and submerged rakes we struck bottom several times attempting to return to the marked channel.

Approaching Corrigan’s Reef, we noted more oystercatchers roosting amongst American Avocet, Black Skimmer and smaller shorebirds.  As before, we landed in shallow water, set up near the birds and collected more data before returning to Cedar Point.  Arriving there we found more birds present, but on this occasion, we shifted to the reverse side of the rake due to screening vegetation.  While scanning the many oystercatchers, we noted two banded Wilson’s Plovers roosting on the far left side of the long rake. These were the first banded WIPL we had encountered on the Gulf Coast.

With the tide now ebbing and the wind remaining brisk, we returned to the ramp and abandoned our plans to motor around to the city’s west side to survey flocks favoring that area.  (Our route to and from the west side crosses a broad, shallow, expanse of the gulf fully exposed to the NE winds)

Despite the abbreviated survey and unfavorable conditions, we collected 49 band codes, photographed and documented the arrival of Oreo and collected two Wilson’s plover band codes. Additional oystercatchers will continue to arrive and we will return to document and monitor the population through the winter.

Christmas Bird Count – Coming soon to a Circle Near You!

birding at alligator lake 2Ask a birder what some of their favorite thing about the holidays are and you might be surprised by their answer, “the Christmas Bird Count.”

For those who have never seized the opportunity the CBC involves heading out early with a small team to a specifically selected area (the same each year) on a designated date (between Dec. 14 and January 5) to count all the birds, that’s right, every single bird seen!  This provides a snapshot of how and what our feathered brethren are doing. Using data reaching back to 1900, scientists continue to identify trends in avian populations.

citrus which way did it goEach count circle is 15 miles in diameter and the teams cover as much of the area as possible within a 24 hour period.  It stands to reason that many pairs of eyes and binoculars are needed to get the job done.  Teams travel on foot or by boat, bicycle, horse or whatever else suits the terrain. The more variety of habitats explored the great number of species are likely to be seen.  Birds can be found in woods, pine plantations, agricultural areas, urban and suburban neighborhoods, on or near rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, islands, public and private lands and even the dump.

Audubon_bootsontheground_logoThe consistency of being with the same team each year has its benefits. If you are a repeat counter you will delight in seeing some the same “snowbirds” returning each year.  And if you are new you can learn from those who already know what to anticipate.  On the personal side, there is a special bond that develops within the team during the experience that is rekindled each year on the same date, an annual reunion.

For all the information you need to know (and more) about this extraordinary citizen science program you can visit the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count website. If you are considering joining a Christmas Bird Count, the Florida Ornithological website has posted a list of locations and dates.

Hooded Warbler c anderbergMost (though not all) counts welcome newcomers. If you don’t feel that you know enough about bird identification there is always need for a “recorder.” So, if you have the time and enthusiasm, why not add a CBC to your holiday calendar. There is no better way to learn more about birds, experience a new area and enjoy the camaraderie of a knowledgeable team.

And at the end of the day one counter wrote:  “The Christmas Bird Count had left us all tired, yet once again oddly energized having spent all day long doing one of our very favorite things.” With over 70 counts scheduled in Florida alone there are more than enough to fill the 12 days of Christmas!


Audubon Celebrates Jay Watch Volunteers in Lake Wales

posted on November 13, 2013 in Citizen Science,Florida Scrub-Jay,Volunteering

Safari Minnie helped Audubon's Jacqui Sulek greet volunteers at the registration table.Now in the second year under Audubon Florida’s umbrella the Jay Watch program is thriving as evidenced by the big turnout this past weekend.  On Saturday, Nov. 9, 75 Jay Watch volunteers from around the state came together at Bok Tower Gardens to celebrate their efforts in 2013.

Special guest, Disney’s Safari Minnie, and Audubon’s Jacqui Sulek shared registration duties and distributed the gorgeous new Jay Watch hats.  The program was kicked off by Marianne Korosy, Audubon’s Jay Watch Coordinator, with an overview of the status of the program and the birds and recognition of volunteers from each site.  In 2013, 258 volunteers invested 2,044 hours in Florida Scrub-Jay surveys and training sessions!

Marianne thanked the Jay Watch program sponsors, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Wells Fargo, the Batchelor Foundation, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

We had our cake!Michelle Dent, Research Biologist from Archbold Biological Station, provided a comprehensive history of the Station’s 44 years of research on Florida Scrub-Jays.  The note-taking audience was full of questions on jay behavior and ecology.  After a delicious lunch catered by the Blue Palmetto Café, Jess Rodriguez, Northeast Florida Volunteer Coordinator for FWC, unveiled a masterpiece of a cake decorated with a Florida Scrub-Jay and the Jay Watch logo.

Jay Watch volunteer hatEven habitual afternoon nappers perked up to listen to St. Johns River Water Management District Biologist and land manager, Maria Zondervan.  Although probably not too amusing at the time, Maria’s “lessons learned” had the crowd howling with laughter as she shared stories on Scrub-Jay translocation efforts around the state.

There were representatives from various agencies, US Fish and Wildlife Service, FWC, and the Water Management Districts, but most of the attendees were Jay Watch volunteers. Without whom the Jay Watch program would not exist.

Maria Zondervan, SJRWMD Biologist, kept the audience laughing with tales of trials and tribulations of Scrub-Jay translocation projects.When asked what motivated them to do Jay Watch volunteers exclaimed, “it’s fun”, “it’s something the whole family can do together”, and “it’s a way to see special places that you would not otherwise visit”. 

“Coming together makes you realize that you are part of something greater than yourself and it really lifts your spirits and level of enthusiasm,” shared another.

The camaraderie, laughter, informative presentations, Jay Watch logo hats, and tasty lunch were shared in a celebration the provided an opportunity to thank these dedicated volunteers.  And then there was the cake.  We got to eat it too!


Researching American Oystercatchers on the Nature Coast

posted on October 30, 2013 in Citizen Science,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

AMOYroostflockCorrigan'sReef111409 WEB LARGE

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. As they have done each winter since 2006, the Learys are conducting surveys in Florida’s Big Bend this year.  Their skill at censusing wintering shorebirds—one of the most challenging groups of birds—resighting bands, and navigating  this wild coastal region places  them among Florida’s leading field experts on the habitat usage of shorebirds in North Florida.  This is the first of several blogs in which they share their experiences and sightings, as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Researching American Oystercatchers on the Nature Coast

Pat and Doris Leary

Summer’s end might be referenced as the season of return. Multitudes of students return to classes, families return to workaday routines and millions of migrating birds return to wintering grounds. Amongst these are American Oystercatchers which breed all along the Atlantic coast and shift south around the autumnal equinox. Not all oystercatchers migrate, but large numbers do return to wintering areas in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Of Florida’s “snowbirds,” fewer than two hundred winter on northeast Florida’s oyster-rich coast. The greater majority cross the peninsula to winter from the Big Bend “Nature Coast” to the 10,000 Islands area of Southwest Florida.

Each winter, some 1,500 oystercatchers concentrate along the Gulf coast of Florida’s Dixie, Levy and Citrus counties. Since the winter of 2006, we have engaged in our own migration by periodically crossing the state from late summer to spring to survey and monitor this large winter population. On our first survey, it quickly became evident that the birds originated from states all along the Atlantic coast. This insight was made possible by the detection of uniquely color-coded and engraved bands applied to the birds’ upper legs (tibia) by researchers on the birds’ breeding grounds. The color of an oystercatcher’s band is unique to the state where it was banded, and most flocks we encountered at traditional roost sites on our Nature Coast surveys contained a spectrum of color bands.

AMOYBK[NN]andYE[77]CKFL21911 WEB LARGEThis clever marking scheme was devised by members of the American Oystercatcher Working Group, a working group composed of biologists, researchers, managers and other like-minded interests focused on the research and conservation of the species. Because American Oystercatchers are entirely coastal-dependent along the Atlantic and Gulf they are considered a “keystone species”. Their status and well-being are indicators of the health and viability of all coastal ecosystems.

To learn more about the routes and timing of oystercatcher migration, researchers have marked a few birds with satellite transmitters. One of these birds satellite-tagged in North Carolina was recently tracked to Cedar Key. Other satellite-tagged birds from Massachusetts may yet arrive on the Gulf Coast. Awareness of the importance of this region to wintering shorebirds is growing, and over the last two winters, researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and University of Florida conducted an intensive winter study to investigate the species use and dependence on foraging habitats around Cedar Key.  Part of that project involved the on-going restoration of eroding oyster reefs in the region.

AMOYK[4Y]forPPpresentation WEB LARGE

Our on-going surveys are an essential complement to this banding, satellite tagging, and habitat use research. By collecting important band resighting and winter observations we help to build on the knowledge and insight gained from prior seasons, document the continued dependence of the migrant population on the upper Gulf region, and track the movements of individual birds, some of which have returned for seven years running.  Incidental to oystercatcher studies, we also collect data on a host of other shorebirds sharing the wintering habitat of the Nature Coast region—some of the last, best remaining habitat for this declining suite of species.

Florida Keys Hawkwatch Update

posted on October 22, 2013 in Birding,Citizen Science,Volunteering

Northern Harrier Kevan Sunderland

Every Fall Rafael Galvez, the Director of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and several committed volunteers descend upon Curry Hammock State Park to conduct important research on migrating birds of prey. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate, joined Rafael and his team of volunteers October 14th. Birds spotted during just a few hours of monitoring included Merlin, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Kestrels, Short-tailed Hawks, and many non-raptors such as Magnolia Warblers, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Prairie Warblers, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Curry Hammock is located on Little Crawl Key in the Middle Keys – A strategic spot for watching migration since the Keys act as a funnel, guiding birds south as they try to minimize the time they spend flying over open water. Each year thousands of birds fly over the Keys on their way to destinations as far as southern Chile.

The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is especially important because it is the southern-most monitoring point for migrants in the continental United States and is one of the only sites where Swallow-tailed Kites, Mississippi Kites, and Short-tailed Hawks are recorded. The Hawkwatch also boasts the highest daily, and highest seasonal, count of Peregrine Falcons in the world. So far this year over 3,000 Peregrines have been recorded flying over Curry Hammock, and the count will continue until mid-November.

Since they are at the top of many food chains, raptors play an important role as indicators of ecological health. Up to 18 species of raptors are seen annually by the Hawkwatch, and the data collected is shared with the Florida State Park Service, the Hawk Migration Association of North America, and the Raptor Population Index Project.

The Florida Keys Hawkwach is a citizen science program and visitors and volunteers can stop by and learn more or participate in monitoring these important species. Free housing is available for volunteers, and the White Sands Inn also provides discounted rates to participants. Volunteers of any skill level are welcome and can contact the program Director, Rafael Galvez at, (305) 804-6003. More information can be found on their website at

Citizen Scientists Needed to Help Florida Grasshopper Sparrows

Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.  Photo by Christina Evans.The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is a federally Endangered bird found nowhere else in the world. Despite efforts to recover the bird its population continues to decline steeply on the very conservation lands where it should be thriving. Without immediate intervention­ the outlook is dire for this diminutive Florida prairie specialist. Suspected reasons for the decline include suboptimal habitat management, fire ants killing flightless chicks, diseases, and genetic problems.

YOU can help! In the next few months Audubon is partnering with Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (KPPSP) land managers and the Friends of KPPSP to recruit and train citizen scientists in a new sparrow habitat improvement project.

Fire ant mound at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State ParkWHAT: Within 2-3 weeks following a prescribed burn, before vegetation grows back, volunteers will walk through the burned prairies along pre-determined routes, or transects, recording GPS locations of every visible fire ant mound within 25 meters of the transect line and treating the mound with a fire ant pesticide (see photo with visible fire ant mound). A variety of transect lengths can be selected by volunteers to accommodate those who prefer walking shorter or longer distances, nearer or farther from the road and vehicles. The work will be done early in the morning or late in the afternoon when cooler temperatures prevail.

PROVIDED: Volunteers will receive free overnight camping at beautiful Kissimmee Prairie Preserve on a first-come, first-serve basis. Transportation will be provided to and from each work site in 4WD vehicles (volunteers owning same may be able to drive their own vehicle into the Preserve exclusively for this project work). Volunteers will be provided with GPS units or may choose to use their own. The fire ant pesticide and applicator will be provided on site together with instructions on proper use.

WHO: Up to 10 teams of 2 people per team can be deployed at one time. Volunteers must provide their own water, food, and sun protection for the duration of field work. Volunteers must be physically capable of walking over uneven terrain for a minimum distance of 1500 feet carrying personal supplies and some equipment such as a clipboard, hand-held GPS, or a pesticide applicator. Biting insects may be present particularly in warmer months. Walking through recently burned areas will leave soot marks on clothing so old or easily washable clothing is desirable. Closed-toed shoes are required; long pants are recommended for leg protection.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve at Dusk by Charles Lillo.WHEN: Interested volunteers must RSVP to be placed on a contact list. A notice will be distributed to the list of prospective volunteers each time a new prairie area burn is completed in the spring and summer months of 2013. If successful the project may continue into the fall and winter months. When a notice is distributed to the list, the work must be completed within 2-3 weeks before vegetation growth reduces visibility of the fire ant mounds and the project loses its most effective time window.

Note: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts have carefully reviewed the planned use of pesticides and believe it presents negligible if any increased risk to Florda Grasshopper Sparrows, while helping eliminate a suspected threat to the species’ existence.

Please join us at one of Florida’s most remote and beautiful preserves and home to a sparrow found nowhere else in the world! While you’re out there working you might just hear a Florida Grasshopper Sparrow singing or see one of the many other residents – Bachman’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, White-tailed Kite, Burrowing Owl, Crested Caracara, and many others!

Contact Marianne Korosy at <> for more information and to sign up for this limited time opportunity.

Audubon Thanks the Great Backyard Bird Count Citizen Scientists!

During the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), people all over the country – and all over the world now that the GBBC has teamed up with eBird – become citizen scientists and count birds, in their yard, their neighborhood or their favorite park.

GBBC. Vilano Beach. Black Skimmers and Forster's Tern. Feb. 2013. Photo Monique BorboenA partnership between Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, the GBBC is held annually in February. People are asked to count birds for at least 15 minutes, record their effort and enter their data into a centralized database. The data can be used to track year-to-year changes in the abundance and distribution of birds, to learn about the complex patterns of winter bird movements, and to look for trends that indicate how well birds are faring in the face of environmental changes such as urbanization, global climate change, and disease.

In St. Johns County, thanks to the Anastasia Island library, the GBBC reached far and wide into the community.  People fabricated and decorated bird houses; kids and adults wrote bird-themed haiku poems. Library visitors judged bird houses and poems that were entered into a contest. Library volunteers provided an afternoon of kids’ crafts focused on birds. Audubon staff gave a lecture for people interested in becoming citizen scientists. The St. Augustine Record provided welcome press coverage on the weekend’s events.One of the Haiku poems entered in the competition at the Anastasia Island Library. Feb 2013.

On the GBBC weekend of February 15-18, courageous participants braved an Arctic front to count birds on their own or with teams led by birding guides from St. Johns County Audubon Society. For some people, it was their first experience surveying birds!

Nine year old John Brice, who was recognized as Junior Volunteer of the Year at the Audubon Assembly, led a beach walk at Fort Matanzas with his grandma, a beach where they volunteer as bird stewards. At Vilano Beach, a Peregrine Falcon was seen causing quite a stir in a flock of over 100 Black Skimmers.

Fort Matanzas beach walk led by Audubon volunteers John and Peggy - orange caps. GBBC Feb 16 2013. Photo Monique Borboen .The GBBC events sponsored by the Anastasia Island Library introduced many new people to bird surveys. And surveys are an important first step in bird conservation. Audubon wishes to thank the library for its leadership and to thank all of you new citizen scientists for your collaboration: the birds we are protecting need you!

We encourage all first-time and returning participants to keep up the good work by entering bird sightings into eBird and by helping us with other bird surveys throughout the year. To find out if regular bird surveys are being held in your region, contact:

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