Audubon Florida News

Topic: Coastal Conservation,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Audubon Advocates Make a Difference for Fort Matanzas’ Coastal Wildlife

posted on September 14, 2012 in Coastal Conservation,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Thanks to your voices, the wildlife of Fort Matanzas is a step closer to be better protected. Courageously, local Audubon advocates spoke for the birds at public meetings in front of National Park staff and the board of county commissioners. Nearly 2,000 people from around the country sent in written comments to help protect the nesting sea turtlesLeast TernsWilson’s Plovers, and a variety of shorebirdsseabirds, and wading birds that call this National Monument home.

Audubon Advocates supported keeping the one mile long park’s beach car-free and encouraged increased natural resources protection and interpretation. Now, thanks to you, a majority of people have expressed their support of Fort Matanazas’ stated purpose to “conserve … resources … for the benefit of future generations …” and “to permit recreational opportunities … which do not impair park resources.

Audubon Florida and our valued supporters have been working on this issue for four years, but it will still take a little while longer for the management plan to be finalized. Conservation achievements take patience and endurance – thank you for staying the course for our magnificent coastal wildlife!

Let’s hope that soon this beach will get the protection it deserves forever, giving Wilson’s Plovers and sea turtle babies the safe habitat they need to survive.

Wilson’s Plovers: Plovers With an Attitude

posted on September 13, 2012 in Coastal Conservation,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Our coastal conservation staff call them the “plovers with an attitude” – even the chicks, from the full height of their 2 ½ inches, will stare down beach walkers standing in their way.

So little is known about them…researchers think that we have about 500 pairs in Florida, but it is a guestimate. Their fledging age has been reported as being three weeks but newer studies show it could be closer to 30 days! In August, the dozen or so WIPL we see at nesting sites on inlets will swell to 50 -60 birds, but where are these newcomers from?

Help Audubon Florida untangle some of the mysteries about Wilson’s Plovers, keep an eye out for banded birds as some studies are underway to improve our understanding of this beautiful species.

Also, please consider volunteering to monitor one of their nesting sites next season. It’s impossible not to enjoy your face to face moment with the daring (and darling) chicks!

Advocates Speak-Up for Ft. Matanzas National Monument’s Birds

posted on July 30, 2012 in Chapters,Northeast Florida

Speaking in public can be difficult. Addressing a subject as controversial as public beach driving is even more so...

Nevertheless, close to 20 courageous Audubon advocates, from five Northeast Florida chapters, stood up to the task and spoke for the birds at a public meeting to comment on the Fort Matanzas National Monument draft management plan.

Joined by the South Anastasia Community Association, the Environmental Youth Council, Friends of the Guano Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Sierra Club, turtle patrol volunteers, surfers, and many private citizens, our wildlife advocates opposed reinstating beach driving in the park. They also encouraged increased natural resources protection and interpretation at this important natural area.

Between the two public meetings, a solid majority of people spoke against driving at the Monument’s beach. Audubon staff is confident that this is representative of the vast majority of citizens and tourists who want to use National Parks to recreate in a quiet, serene, safe, and natural setting…with an understand of the importance of conservation lands for wildlife survival.

Thank you to our advocates! We hope that Fort Matanzas National Monument visitors will never see again a Least Tern trying to find her chick among tire ruts. Instead, we hope they will be able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery the park’s remarkable orange and white beach offers.

Please stay tuned to this blog in the coming days for your opportunity to send written comments on the Fort Matanzas National Monument draft management plan.


Species Spotlight: Red Knots in Northeast Florida

posted on April 12, 2012 in Coastal Conservation,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Do you love Red Knots? What was it like the first time you saw one in person? Where were you? Let us know in the comment section below or on Facebook. In the following post, Audubon Florida’s Northeast Florida Policy Associate Monique Borboen submits a report about our work with this special species. Enjoy:

Fort George Inlet is located between Huguenot Memorial Park and Little Talbot State Park (both Important Bird Areas) in Northeast Florida, is a known stopover site for migrating Red Knots. Here they feed on Donax, a small clam commonly known as coquina shell. Audubon bird stewards are helping the City of Jacksonville – who manages the park – to protect the Red Knots who rely on this critical feeding ground. I did my first steward shift on Easter Sunday.

Over 600 Red Knots were feeding assiduously on the shoals exposed at low tide. Our duty as stewards is to prevent disturbances by asking beach visitors to walk around the feeding knots at a safe distance. Not a small task as the shoals are very expansive and the knots’ flock is spread out.

I noticed that one disturbance affecting a small group of knots often sends the whole flock of birds into the air. During my shift, we managed to prevent most disturbances and the knots were able to enjoy some valuable feeding time.

It was very encouraging to speak with several visitors who had already heard about the birds, their long migration, and how important it was not to make them fly up.

All the marked birds had lime green flags, meaning they belong to the North American wintering population. Starting the second week of May, we are expecting orange-flagged birds, coming from their wintering grounds in Argentina. Will our star be among them? Our star is H3H (pictured). In 2010, H3H flew from San Antonio Oeste, Argentina to Fort George inlet in nine days! We have recorded his arrival at the inlet every spring since 2009. It was spotted in Argentina this winter, and we sure hope to see it in the inlet again this May!

One way, his migration is over 9000 miles; add up all the miles H3H has already traveled and you get one remarkable species!

Stay tuned to the Audubon Florida News Blog for updates on Red Knots, H3H, and the other amazing birds of Florida’s beautiful Northeast Coast.


Spring has Arrived in Northeast Florida

posted on March 30, 2012 in Chapters,Northeast Florida

Teddy Shuler, Shorebird Coordinator for St. Johns Audubon Society submits this report on the abundant springtime activity in Northeast Florida. Enjoy:

Twip-twipping Wilson’s Plovers (WIPLs) are showing prenesting behavior, raucous Laughing Gulls have molted into summer black heads, sun bathers, walkers, and fishermen are prolific at Matanzas Inlet. The roar of happy sunburned motor bikers fills the air. They slow down to appreciate the orange sands and turquoise ocean.

Who’ll see the first Least Tern?? I love Spring!

Yesterday our Audubon Regional Conservation Committee (RCC) group took a refreshing “Bird, walk, talk” around the point at Matanzas Inlet before sitting down to do business. It took great strength of character to go inside. Maybe next time we should walk after the meeting.

Best birds included a lingering Bonaparte’s Gull, Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common LoonRoyal Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, and about a dozen Wilson’s Plovers. We also watched a mature Bald Eagle come down to check on Junior Eagle resting on the sand over on Rattlesnake Island. He was still mostly brown but still very big compared to a nearby Osprey. The young Great Horned Owls are still being seen up the road at park headquarters.

Today I accompanied regional state park biologist Jason DePue and a volunteer on a scouting trip down the beach at Anastasia State Park. Their morning had been spent trapping and measuring endangered Anastasia Beach Mice which are doing quite well, thank you. They really are cute little guys… not the biologists, the beach mice. A lady in the parking lot seemed unconvinced after the usual “Yuck, mice!’ response to the research.

We found the renourishment activities in full swing on the south end of the park. The foreman told Jason they hope to finish that section quickly and move up the beach toward the pier. If that happens before the LETE’s show up, the birds might find that wide expanse of white sands to their liking. About 4 years ago, ASP had the largest Least Tern colony in the county. Since then, Matanzas and Summerhaven have taken the honors.

Finally, I learned that there’s an addition to the park’s lengthy list of predators. Last year a coyote showed up. This morning a long, wide, drag was discovered running along the  high dune line about halfway down the beach toward the north end. Now I appreciate the role of snakes in nature. I’ve actually enjoyed introducing classroom snakes to people who  responded like the “Yuck!” lady. But this kind of snake you can have. It appears to be  too big for anything but an exotic species. Not good. I might add, “Yuck“!

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Audubon’s Position on Wetlands Mitigation Case

posted on November 4, 2011 in Northeast Florida,State Government

The Supreme Court of Florida Thursday ruled in favor of the position advocated by Audubon of Florida that continues to support state agencies’ ability to negotiate terms of development permits to ensure they protect the environment.

Coy A. Koontz applied for a permit with the St. Johns Water Management District (District) to develop 3.7 acres of his property that was comprised mostly of wetlands. The District offered to grant the permit to Mr. Koontz only if he complied with certain conditions to conserve property and mitigate the loss of wetlands by improving other wetlands off site.

Wetlands by Chad Johnson

Mr. Koontz refused to comply with the District’s conditions and his permit was not granted.  Subsequently, he sued the District, claiming the District had “taken” his property during the time the negotiations continued without a resolution. The Supreme Court reversed a previous decision that ordered the District to pay Mr. Koontz over $300,000.

Audubon filed a brief supporting the District and requiring that the fine be reversed- this reversal was unanimously supported by the Supreme Court Justices (although they reached the same conclusion for a number of different reasons.)  Audubon’s support for the District’s case stemmed from recognizing the importance of allowing water management districts and other state agencies to negotiate terms before issuing a permit without fear that they could face financial repercussions if an agreement is not reached quickly enough.

Audubon applauds the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that gives agencies greater power to require specific protections when wetlands are developed, as they did with Mr. Koontz.  This decision will prevent the agencies from being pressured into issuing permits hastily that could harm Florida’s wetlands and environment.

Audubon’s intervention in this case was facilitated by the late Thom Rumberger, and the firm of Rumberger Kirk and Caldwell, who have done much very important legal work for Audubon. Tallahassee attorney Anna Upton also was instrumental in the preparation of Audubon’s brief before the Supreme Court.


Duval Audubon Society Salutes Dedicated Bird Stewards

posted on September 28, 2011 in Chapters,Northeast Florida

At their first program meeting of the season, Duval Audubon Society thanked the wonderful volunteers who helped the birds this past nesting season.

These volunteers helped as bird stewards at Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville, posted nesting signs at Nassau Sound Bird Island, conducted species surveys at Huguenot and at Little Talbot State Park and helped locate and survey rooftop colonies all over the region.

And they were a voice for the birds, testifying in front of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at their June meeting in St. Augustine.

Duval Audubon President Pete Johnson, its board of directors, and Audubon of Florida staff-member Monique Borboen thanked the volunteers for their incredible dedication. The volunteers received a well deserved round of applause from the audience!

The evening program was continued with a presentation by Tera Meeks, City of Jacksonville Division Chief for the Waterfront Management & Programming, who oversees the county’s preserves and parks. Her talk, Jacksonville’s Preservation Project: The State of our Nature Preserves and Parks, introduced the audience to the Preservation Project’s vision of surrounding the City of Jacksonville by a green belt of parks and preserves. Ms. Meek’s program introduced the numerous preserves already acquired by the City, the efforts to make them accessible to the public while preserving the wildlife and the hopes to finish the acquisition of the conservation lands needed to complete the belt.

One of Jacksonville’s assets is one of the largest urban park systems in the country, and the audience left eager to go explore the Special Places they just heard about.

Thanks to Duval Audubon, President Pete Johnson, and Division Chief Tera Meeks for making this night one to remember!


John James Audubon in St. Augustine by Dr. Paul Gray

posted on July 8, 2011 in Northeast Florida

Re-enactors fire a cannon over the Matanzas River from the old fort. (Paul Gray)Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray writes this article about John James Audubon’s trip to the St. Augustine area in 1831-1832. Enjoy:

In May I visited St. Augustine with the Friends of the Okeechobee Battlefield Historic Site to collect background information on the final internment for many of the US soldiers from the battle, and to visit Fort Marion where one of the chiefs, Coacoochee (Wildcat), escaped imprisonment in November to participate in the Okeechobee battle in December.  Although this trip was for personal interests, there is much entwined with my work with Audubon.

Audubon’s GreenshankJohn James Audubon visited St. Augustine in 1831-32, shortly before the Second Seminole War started (in 1835).  This painting of a Greenshank has been of much interest because it was the only record of this European bird from Florida for more than a century.  Audubon says he shot this specimen from a group of three in the Florida Keys, but that account has been widely questioned by modern ornithologists.  Bill Pranty informed me that a Greenshank recently was found in an Ohio collection that was labeled from Florida and now is accepted as the first verified Florida record (Kratter 2010, Florida Field Naturalist page 156).

What ever the case, Audubon painted the bird, and the background of Fort Marion (also named the Castillo de San Marcos) was probably painted by George Lehman, a Swiss landscape artist who accompanied Audubon in Florida and did many of the backgrounds for his birds here. Audubon commonly had others paint backgrounds for him and perhaps having different people work on the pieces contributed to the mixed depth perspectives of some pieces that have drawn a humorous critique of “giant bird attacks Fort.”

Audubon was collecting birds for his Birds of America, and wrote, “At St. Augustine, in Florida, I shot a young bird of this species [Ruddy Duck] immediately under the walls of the fort.  Although wounded severely and with one of its legs broken close to the body, it dived at once.  My Newfoundland Dog leaped into the water, and on reaching the spot were the bird had disappeared, dived also, and in a few moments came up with the poor thing in his mouth.

Audubon’s Crested CaracaraAudubon also collected a Caracara near St. Augustine, a part of their range they no longer inhabit.  He snuck up on a group of vultures and the Caracara feeding on a carcass and, “I got up suddenly, when the whole of the birds took flight.  The eagle…passed over me.  I shot, but to my great mortification missed it….The following day the bird returned…when once more I shot, but without effect.”  A few days later Audubon, “dispatched my assistant, who returned with it in little more than half an hour.  I immediately began my drawing of it.

During Christmas week of 1831, Audubon reported, “Mr. J.J. Bulow, a rich planter, at whose home myself and party have been for a whole week under the most hospitable and welcome treatment is now erecting some extensive buildings for a sugar house.”  Bulow reportedly had the largest sugar plantation in the region, cultivating 800 acres and having as many as 300 slaves.

Bulow Plantation Ruins by Clay HendersonSoon after Audubon continued his travels, Seminole tensions erupted.  In late 1835 the plantations in the region were sacked by Native Americans lead primarily by “King Phillip” (Coacoochee father). Bulow’s plantation was taken over as a military command post but abandoned on January 13, 1836 due to lack of military success.  Bulow was taken from the plantation by the army and it was promptly sacked and burned by the Natives. Bulow returned to Europe and died soon after, still in his 20s.  The remnant buildings now are a State Historic Park.

Our group visited Fort Marion where King Phillip, Coacoochee, and Osceola were notoriously interred after being taken prisoner “under a flag of truce” in 1837.  Coacoochee and a band of about 20 Native Americans escaped on November 29.  King Phillip was too old to join them and Osceola too sick, neither survived their imprisonment.  Coacoochee was able to travel south to the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas day, 1837 (26 days after escaping St. Augustine; see my previous blog on that).  It was perhaps his report of Native American treatment that resulted in such a vigorous battle.

For more information see:  “Audubon in Florida” by Kathryn Hall Proby and “The Seminole waters:  America’s longest Indian conflict” by John Missall and Mary Lou Missall.

Protecting Birds on Jacksonville’s Huguenot Memorial Park Beach

posted on July 1, 2011 in Birding,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

The amazing spectacle of the Royal Tern and Laughing Gull chicks coming onto the beach at Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville has started! Audubon of Florida staff and volunteers are actively assisting the City by providing Bird Stewards seven days a week.

The volunteers are posted at the entrance to the protected area, keeping vehicles from entering and potentially damaging these critical nesting sites, and educating the public about the birds. Throughout the day, citizens and beach-goers are delighted to witness our amazing natural world and often wait in lines twenty deep for a chance to observe these charismatic birds through one of our high-powered scopes.

Audubon of Florida staff works with the City of Jacksonville year-round to promote increased bird conservation at the site, ranked the most important site for beach-nesting birds on the whole east coast of Florida. Patrons of this special place should thank city officials for protecting our region’s natural heritage by keeping cars out of these critical habitat areas.



Nest In Peace at Nassau Sound Bird Island

posted on May 6, 2011 in Chapters,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Jacqui Sulek, Audubon of Florida’s Chapter Conservation Manager, was recently asked to help section off a critical shorebird nesting area in Northeast Florida to warn humans to stay away from the delicate beach habitat that exists there. Thanks Jacqui for this excellent report of your important work!

Last week I was invited by Audubon’s NE Florida Policy Associate Monique Borboen to help with the “posting” of Nassau Sound Bird Island. This small island off the coast of NE Florida offers nesting habitat for Least Terns, Black Skimmers, Gull-billed Terns, American Oystercatchers and Wilson’s Plovers.

Posting of informational and warning signs on the island helps protect the birds and their nests during this critical time. The group, led by Terry Doonan, North Central Regional Biologist from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was made up of FWC staff, Audubon staff and some dedicated volunteers. Blair Hayman and Eric Dennis (FWC), father and son team (Phil and Adam Graham), Terry Doonan (FWC), Doris Leary, Monique Borboen, Pat LearyIt was a truly cooperative effort and the combined energy made light work of a heavy task. It was a treat to get out to this special place and to be able to do something to help assure that these birds will be able to nest in peace.

Thanks for the invite!

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