Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Flamingos Return to Palm Beach County

posted on March 23, 2015 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Flamingos in STA 2Many tourists travel to Florida each year and mistake the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill for another iconic pink bird – the American Flamingo. Savvy Florida birders and big year listers know that the only place in the state you have a chance of seeing real, wild Flamingos is in extreme south Florida. Only occasional reports pop up on rare bird alerts or on ebird in isolated places like Snake Bight or Cape Sable in Everglades National Park. That may be changing. Last year a group of over 100 Flamingos showed up in Palm Beach County. This year, some have returned to the same spot.

So where is this mysterious location that has been attracting this sought after Florida icon? A place called STA 2. STA stands for Stormwater Treatment Area. These areas are large treatment wetlands that are critical pieces in the puzzle of Everglades restoration efforts. STAs help filter out phosphorus and nitrogen from water on its way south to the River of Grass. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) operates these areas and – luckily for birders – has established a great partnership with Audubon chapters to allow birding at several STAs.

Audubon Society of the Everglades (ASE) is now organizing field trips to see the Flamingos and other birds at STA 2. This is thanks to the efforts of ASE board member Linda Humphries who coordinated with SFWMD staff member Dr. Bijaya Kattel to organize the chapter-run trips.

On March 22, Dr. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate, attended the most recent trip to see these rare and iconic birds. The Flamingos did not disappoint. Eight birds were seen close enough for visitors to get some great looks at the birds through spotting scopes, binoculars, and camera lenses. ASE board member Susan McKemy lead the trip and SFWMD staff members Dr. Bijaya Kattel and Dr. Mark Cook were also in attendance helping answering questions about the STA and its birdlife.

The next field trips to see the Flamingos are scheduled for March 22 and 28, and April 4, 12, 18, and 25. Reservations are required. Birders interested in attending one of the upcoming trips can email to request a spot. More information is available on the ASE website.

Audubon Florida commends the partnership between its local chapters and the SFWMD. Along with trips to STA 2 and STA 1-East run by ASE, birders can also visit STA 5 with Hendry-Glades Audubon, and Lakeside STA with Audubon of Martin County.

Click here for more information about all STA field trips.

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.


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:

Tragic Whimbrel Shootings Inspire Increased Shorebird Protections

posted on October 8, 2013 in Birds in the News,Wildlife

MachiAudubon previously reported on a satellite-tagged Whimbrel named Machi who had stopped in Florida during her migrations, and our own Dr. Paul Gray was able to locate and photograph her.

Sadly, after breeding in Canada and wintering in Brazil, she later was shot by hunters on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe, along with another tagged Whimbrel named Goshen.

The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary (Center), the people who were conducting the research, now report that Guadeloupe and nearby islands have agreed to increase protections for migratory birds, and the Barbados Wildfowlers Association has adopted other voluntary restrictions.

Out of a sad event, the Center reports:

“Machi and Goshen have proven to be a catalyst for change. Following their widely publicized loss, the conservation community, government agencies, environmental ministers, and responsible hunting groups have come together to move toward sustaining vulnerable shorebird populations.”



The Spirit of Machi the Whimbrel Flies On

posted on August 15, 2012 in Birds in the News,Wildlife

Machi, a Whimbrel, was a world-travelling bird that was being tracked between Canada and Brazil by satellite transmitter.  Audubon first reported on Machi when Dr. Paul Gray located her in the EAA during on of her migration flights.

A couple years later, we were sad to report she was shot by hunters in the Caribbean.

Her radio was retrieved by researchers at the College of William and Mary and put on another Whimbrel, and is one of three who have just flown from the arctic tundra to Brazil in an epic non-stop flight 6 days, more than 4000 miles.

Whimbrel by Don MargeonAs of Tuesday, August 14, MacKenzie (the new bird) has traveled a total of more than 6000 miles and is now over the Atlantic, still 800 miles out from Brazil.  Click here to see her daily tracking map.

Bird migrations remind us that taking care of our local environment is a responsibility that affects humans, animals, and creatures around the globe. And, MacKenzie and Whimbrels like her, make their marathon trek twice a year!

**UPDATE: MacKenzie flew all night and is now 100 miles from the coast as of this morning!

Florida Grasshopper Sparrows vs. Grasshopper Sparrows – What’s the Difference?

posted on August 3, 2012 in Birds in the News,Land Conservation,Wildlife

This blog covers some questions we have received about Grasshopper Sparrows in general, and how the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow relates to them.

Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) occur across the US and there are populations in Central America and the West Indies. There are different opinions on how many distinct subspecies exist, but the distinctiveness of the Florida race, A. s. floridanus, is agreed upon.  Another subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrows (A. s. pratensis) breeds in the northern US and spends the winter here, but does not breed here like the Florida subspecies does.  In general, Florida’s subspecies is smaller, darker on top and paler underneath.

Paul Miller, biologist at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park furnished this photo of pratensis (GRSP) and floridanus (FGSP) together, and describes them as:

“The obvious and simple distinction is that FGSP (on left) is much darker overall. More specifically, the feathers of the coverts, tertiaries, scapulars, and back are much blacker with whiter edging. The same feathers on the GRSP are lighter with buffy edging. The feathers of the nape on the FGSP are darker. The FGSP’s median crown stripe is also whiter while that of the GRSP is buffier.  Not so obvious is the fact that the FGSP’s bill is heavier/larger.”

Most importantly, the Florida subspecies lives here all the time, and is “ours.”  It is wonderful for Florida to have this unique bird, but that blessing also means that responsibility for managing this bird’s landscape ends up being entirely our own.

And by the way, this photo was taken while banding sparrows on the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.  During winter, the Prairie hosts “sparrow drives” to catch and band sparrows in mist nets, giving a great opportunity for volunteers to help with sparrow research and monitoring, and to see sparrows and other prairie birds in the hand.  Stay tuned to our web page for dates of these events.

If you have not yet signed our petition to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, please click here and then share it with your friends and family.


Controversial Wind Farm Closer to Reality in Palm Beach County

Yesterday, the proposed Sugarland wind farm moved one step closer to approval.

In a 5-1 vote, the Palm Beach County Zoning Commission approved zoning plans for the project which would place 114 turbines in the ecologically sensitive area between Lake Okeechobee, the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and numerous Everglades restoration projects.

This area is known for endangered birds such as the Wood Stork and Everglade Snail Kite, federally protected Bald Eagles, as well as migratory birds and wading birds. The Zoning Commission decided to add a condition to the resolution to demand adequate and continued radar collection on the impact of birds.

Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate Jane Graham along with representatives from the Audubon of the Evergades Chapter urged caution and advocated for increased site-specific research to better determine the impacts to birds – before the project proceeds.

Although Audubon Florida strongly supports alternative energy, all projects must be properly sited and undergo a comprehensive scientific evaluation to know the potential impacts to wildlife.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted Jane Graham as saying:

“It has to be in the right place,” said Jane Graham of Audubon. Building the wind farm without more study of the effect on Everglades birds “equates to gambling with the future of this world-class treasure.”

Check out CBS 12 news coverage as well, with footage of Jane Graham’s testimony:

Palm Beach County Commission will be hearing this proposal at the end of March.  More details to come.


SWFWMD Says No Hunting on Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve

posted on February 29, 2012 in Birds in the News,FL Special Places,Land Conservation

The Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) voted today to retain longstanding land management policies and not open Halpata Tastanaki Preserves 8,146 acres to public hunting and the use of motor vehicles. See Audubon’s alert on this issue here.

Over 40 people appeared at the district governing board meeting, most of whom were opposed to changing the management of land on all 4 SWFWMD tracts where management changes were being considered.  The board also decided to retain current management policies and declined to allow hunting in the 5,677-acre Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps Preserve.

Two other tracts, part of the Weekiwachee Preserve, and the Lake Panasofkee tract were approved for limited public hunting activities.

Audubon Florida had objected to opening parts of Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve to hunting and vehicles which might interfere with the healthy Florida Scrub-jay population there, one of the few places on state land in Florida where endangered jay populations are on the increase.  Previously, SWFWMD district staff responded to Audubon’s concerns by recommending that hunting be excluded from the scrub jay habitat areas.  The SWFWMD board, however, after listening to persuasive arguments from birdwatchers, hikers, equestrian enthusiasts and property owners neighboring the Halpata and Chassahowitzka tracts, decided not to allow hunting on the properties.

Audubon Florida does not oppose hunting, but in the case of Halpata, we believe that the health of the scrub jay population is too important to take any risks.

Of significant concern, the proposal for hunting on Halpata included first-time allowance of private vehicles on the narrow unpaved internal road network. Additional intense recreational use on the property at a time when SWFWMD budgets have been slashed could mean impacts to the resources could not be mitigated or even monitored. Even before the final vote, SWFWMD board members immediately agreed with Audubon that those roads must remain closed.

Charles Lee, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy stated:

“The SWFWMD board put good management first and pressures for more recreational use second, and that is a very good thing”.

Thanks to all of the Audubon chapters and members who responded to our request for attendance at the SWFWMD meeting  or who sent emails and comments to the district and its board members.  

Audubon Researcher Defends Everglades Wood Storks

posted on January 30, 2012 in Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Jason Lauritsen, Assistant Director at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and lead Wood Stork researcher, recently sent a letter signed by twenty conservation groups to Dan Ashe, Director of US Fish & Wildlife Service concerning overlooked threats to Wood Storks in the Everglades.

As reported on the Audubon of Florida News Blog on January 12, the Service is considering downlisting this endangered species to “threatened” based on population gains outside Florida.  This iconic species historic habitat has always been the Greater Everglades.

The letter urges the Service to answer important questions about sustainability of new nesting sites outside of the Everglades, and to assure any Wood Stork recovery is evidenced by recovery of the Everglades and return of the historic stork rookeries there.  Please check back to this site often for news of the Service’s downlisting decision and next steps Wood Stork recovery plans sometime this spring.

Audubon will continue its proactive Wood Stork recovery work – stay tuned for ways you can help.

Wood Storks – Mission Accomplished?

posted on January 12, 2012 in Birds in the News,Corkscrew Swamp,Everglades,Wildlife

In response to the recent threats to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to downlist the endangered Wood Stork to threatened status, the Audubon Wood Stork Research Team are calling attention to stark omissions in the media’s coverage and public dialogue on this important issue.

Wood Storks are a system-wide indicator species for the multi-billion dollar Everglades Restoration effort and its nesting remains decimated there due to wetland destruction. Thus, Wood Storks have moved in big numbers to many smaller colonies in Georgia and South Carolina, which Audubon scientists agree may meet the numeric prescription for downlisting.

Wood Stork Chicks by RJ Wiley

However, nesting totals in the stork’s historic home in the Everglades tells a far more troubling story. There has been no new nesting in four of the past five years at the nation’s largest Wood Stork colony at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located in the Western Everglades.   

This raises serious questions about whether the Wood Stork can recover as a species without longterm restoration of its historic Everglades home. This and other questions about long term sustainability of the new small northern colonies must be answered before any claim of “mission accomplished”, which has been the tone of many recent news accounts.

Stay connected as Audubon works to protect this iconic Florida species – become a friend to the Wood Stork on Facebook.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Releases Injured Merlin

posted on October 24, 2011 in Birds in the News,Birds of Prey Ctr.

Last Friday, a first-year male Merlin was returned to the wild by the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey after a remarkable recovery at the Center’s Flight Barn. The young Merlin was transferred to the Center on September 26 with a dislocated shoulder along with other serious ailments. Audubon’s animal care “wizards” monitored and helped the young Merlin regain strength until its release on Daytona Beach.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal was on hand to witness the inspiring release:

“The merlin immediately launched into flight soaring almost to the top of the 16-floor Hilton Daytona Beach Resort. Eventually, it circled over the Boardwalk’s Ferris wheel and disappeared from view, flying south.

‘That was awesome,’ said [Daytona Beach City Commissioner Edith] Shelley.'”

Thanks to all of our supporters and volunteers who make these kinds of special moments possible.  

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