Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Birds in the News,Corkscrew Swamp,FL Special Places

Have You Had a “Big Week” in Florida?

Florida’s unique natural environment and world-class birding sites are getting some additional attention this week as Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and our own Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary were featured in an article in the Miami Herald about the impact of the film The Big Year as well as the science behind what makes Florida such a premiere birding hotspot. Also included in this article is a birder’s dream week-long trip through some of Florida’s Special Places, including Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and St. George Island State Park.

From The Herald:

“We think the neo-tropical migrants crossing the Gulf of Mexico each year — things like warblers, orioles, flycatchers, cuckoos, shorebirds, etc. — may have only half the numbers they did 50 years ago,” said Paul N. Gray, science coordinator with Audubon of Florida.

“The Dusky [Seaside Sparrow] was a Florida specialty that was lost just in 1987. The last Carolina Parakeets were seen in Florida, with reports continuing until the 1930s. And the infamous Ivory-billed Woodpecker probably is extinct.

“But amongst the bad news, there still are many great birds that are doing fine, and Florida is a unique place to see specialties.”

Follow along as the Miami Herald describes some of the best-known birding spots across our beautiful and varied state. How many of them have you visited and which ones were your favorite and/or most productive? Tell us about your “Big Week” in Florida in the comments section below or on Facebook!

“Machi” the Hemispheric-Travelling Whimbrel’s Journey Comes to a Tragic End

posted on September 15, 2011 in Birds in the News,Lake Okeechobee,Wildlife

Audubon’s Lake Okeechobee Science Coordinator Dr. Paul Gray reports in with this sad news out of the Caribbean:

Machi was a Whimbrel that researchers at the College of William and Mary had affixed a satellite tracking radio upon.  I met her in April of 2010 when they sent her coordinates from her landing in Florida on her return flight from Brazil.  To my amazement, I found her in sugar cane fields by Lake Okeechobee and wrote a blog about it. See my photo above.

After that, she returned to the Chesapeake region where she was first captured, and then ventured to the Hudson Bay region for the breeding season.  She returned to New Jersey from the arctic on a single 161-hour flight, covering 1850 miles.  She fattened up and then took a 113-hour, 2,500 mile flight to Suriname in South America for the winter.

Whimbrel by Don MargeonThese unimaginable flying feats are probably even more difficult than they sound.  Birds must get very fat and heavy, to carry enough fuel.  They can’t sleep or drink water for days on end.  They encounter head winds, rain, even hurricanes at sea.

This spring, Machi flew back to the Hudson Bay region for breeding, and back to the Chesapeake this fall for staging.  She weathered Hurricane Irene there.  She flew south across the Atlantic through tropical storm Maria and ended up on the Island of Guadaloupe, an overseas region of French Republic. Unlike in the United States, Canada and Mexico, on Guadaloupe, hunting shorebirds remains legal. To my great sadness, she was shot by a hunter on September 12.

When we at Audubon work to protect birds in an area, we aren’t just protecting our own birds, we are taking care of someone else’s birds too.  The migrations of Machi was being followed on a daily basis not only by me, but by people from Canada to South America, who all shared her.  Migrating birds remind us we are linked.

You can learn more of Machi and three, still-living radioed Whimbrels by clicking here.

Audubon Leaders Rally to Protect Snail Kites

Snail Kite by Mike TracyHundreds of people responded last week to Audubon’s efforts to support managing the important Snail Kite habitat on Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho) by downloading our Factsheet and by testifying at a public hearing before management agencies on Friday, November 6. Thank you all for rallying to protect Snail Kites.

Nine Audubon volunteer leaders from Kissimmee Valley and Ocklawaha Audubon chapters joined Audubon of Florida staff scientist Paul Gray, Ph.D to support aquatic plant management actions that will protect enough exotic hydrilla and exotic apple snails that currently sustain the Snail Kite breeding efforts. The hearing was run jointly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

A local issue has taken on national importance because federally endangered Snail Kite numbers have dropped from more than 3,000 birds ten years ago to less than 700 today. If trends continue, the species could be extinct in a few decades. The Snail Kite is plagued by two problems. In the Kissimmee Valley region, its habitat has been invaded by exotic aquatic plant and snail species that when controlled, leave the Kites with virtually no habitat. In Okeechobee and the southern Everglades, development-driven water management and extreme weather have degraded the natural habitats and availability of food so dramatically that Kite nesting has failed in this area.

More than half the nesting Snail Kites now depend on the exotic apple snails that hydrilla supports in Lake Toho. Normally, the exotics would be removed, but due to the urgent need to foster successful Kite breeding, Audubon supports the agencies’ position that the exotics should be temporarily protected.

Concerns were raised at the meeting of losing boating access if the hydrilla gets too thick and the agencies agreed to maintain boating lanes and fishing holes to sustain the economic importance of the lake, while protecting as much potential habitat for Kites as possible.

The Audubon members who attended included Linda Bystrak from the Ocklawaha Audubon Chapter, and from the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Chapter:  Larry Rosen (President), Jenny Welch, Stacia Hetrick, Michael Johnson, Sandy Webb, Joseph Rogewitz, and Peggy and Denny Cholley.  Stacia Hetrick also is staff of the University of Florida’s “Hydrilla & Hygrophila demonstration project.

The Fascinating Journey of Machi, A World Traveling Whimbrel

posted on November 7, 2010 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades

Machi in the EAA by Paul Gray, Ph.D

Machi in the EAA by Paul Gray, Ph.D

Bird migration is fascinating. Take the story of Machi, the Whimbrel, for example. She is tracked by researchers from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and this year made an amazing stop over.

Audubon of Florida received an inquiry in April from Libby Mojica, a researcher at the College because they were tracking Machi via satellite transmitter.  The Whimbrel had been radioed in Virginia last fall on its southward migration, and while returning from Brazil on April 19, hit a low pressure system in the northern Caribbean that forced her to short-stop in Florida.  Of particular concern to Libby was that Machi had landed in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) near Lake Okeechobee.  What kind of habitat would she be using?  Was she alone?  Whimbrels fly in formation to save energy and being alone in an agricultural area could be an ominous sign.

Audubon’s Paul Gray, Ph.D, used a map of locations supplied by Libby and was able to find and photograph Machi on April 22 near the town of Pahokee.  He called Libby to report that Machi was indeed alone, walking along the side of a road in the fields, picking through the grass for food.  Although these conditions didn’t seem promising for Machi, she returned to Virginia on a non-stop overnight flight on April 29, thus completing a 9,400 mile roundtrip winter journey.  Machi fattened up in Virginia for the next leg of her travels, proceeded to the Hudson Bay area for the breeding season, and as of fall 2010, has migrated back to Brazil.

The research at William and Mary is revealing remarkable information about Whimbrel migrations.  One bird left Virginia and flew to Alaska, traveling 3,200 miles in about 6 days, on an apparent non-stop flight. It was previously unknown that Whimbrels on the east coast bred in Alaska.

See a map of Machi’s latest whereabouts and visit the Center for Conservation Biology at William and Mary.

American Robins Head to St. Petersburg

posted on November 5, 2010 in Birding,Birds in the News,Wildlife

Robins by Lorraine MargesonThe Robins are on their way to St. Petersburg!  In what has become the largest winter roost in North America, St. Petersburg is eagerly awaiting their American Robin winter visitors. Audubon of Florida friend and supporter Lorraine Margeson has been featured in an article by the St. Petersburg Times that highlights this special area of the world:

“There were 10 robins the next day, then 100, then 500,” said Margeson, 52, who owns a computer networking company with her husband. “By the end of the week, we were seeing 100,000 or more every day.”

They would fly out in the morning, just before dawn, heading south. In the evening they would come back, heading north. Eventually, it took more than two hours for the entire flock to pass overhead. “The whole sky just blanketed with red bellies, a wave rolling across the rooftops.”

By the end of February, when the National Audubon Society co-sponsors its annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Margeson and other Tampa Bay birders had recorded 1.45 million robins over a four-day weekend — the largest winter roost in all of North America. In the rest of the U.S., only 400,321 robins were tallied.

So if you live nearby, keep the look-out for these red-bellied visitors and take advantage of this unique opportunity to enjoy these wonderful birds.

Eagle-eyed Audubon Eaglewatch Volunteers Catch Illegal Nest Removal in Bradenton!

posted on September 22, 2010 in Birds in the News,Birds of Prey Ctr.

Audubon EagleWatch volunteers aren’t just Citizen Scientists, they are also important eyes and ears for enforcing protections for our national bird.  Thanks to EagleWatch in Bradenton, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proceeding with charges against a cell phone tower maintenance company which arbitrarily– and illegally– removed an eagle nest from a Bradenton tower.


A telecommunications repair company has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Bald Eagle Protection Act for destroying or removing a nest from atop a cell tower while performing repairs.

You can learn more about Audubon’s Center for Birds of Prey, the EagleWatch program and our Citizen Scientists by clicking here.

Rare Cuban pewee sighted at Everglades National Park

posted on September 12, 2010 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Media,Wildlife

A rare Cuban peewee was sighted near the Long Pine Key picnic area in Everglades National Park this week. Photos and recordings of the peewee’s distinctive song are  being reviewed by the Florida Ornithological Society to confirm that this tiny member of the flycatcher family is a Cuban peewee.  If so, it is the first confirmed sighting of this bird in the Park and the third in the country.

Read about it and see the picture taken by Larry Manfredi in the Naples Daily News and the Miami Herald.

Oiled Beach Clean up Crews Can Threaten Birds

Snowy Plover

As oil washes up onto Florida’s Gulf coast beaches, threatened snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers and other sensitive birds are threatened–not only by the oil but by clean up crews if they are not extremely careful.

Read about it in this National Geographic article that ran today.

Join Florida Audubon’s efforts to respond to the Gulf oil spill by signing up to become a bird steward here.

Oil Spill Alert: Bird Stewards Needed at a Beach Near You

Least terns feeding on a Florida beach

While Floridians hold their breath and wait, hoping the oil spill will spare our beaches, Audubon recognizes the urgent need to ensure our beach-dependent wildlife like nesting terns, plovers and other shorebirds have as successful a breeding year as possible in those areas that are not impacted by the spill. In this way, we hope their successes will help offset the dramatic losses of threatened wildlife that may occur elsewhere in the Gulf.

One way to help beach nesting birds is to provide bird stewards–chaperones who volunteer a few hours of their time in a shift on the beach to help ensure beachgoers and individuals preparing for the spill do not enter nesting areas, and help educate beach visitors about these remarkable species.

Increasing bird steward efforts in the following counties now can help us ensure birds in these locations have a better chance of survival: Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee, Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Nassau/Duval and St. Johns.

We are looking for two categories of volunteers. Click on your category of interest to sign up:

1) Bird Stewards will function as site ambassadors for a shift or shifts. We will train you on the bird protections and biology you will need to be successful. These individuals should like spending time on the beach and interacting with the public.

2) Site coordinators will be responsible for scheduling the bird steward volunteers at their sites, to ensure that all shifts are covered. These individuals do not necessarily have to perform beach steward functions as long as all shifts are covered, but should enjoy “organizing” tasks and have the time to dedicate to coordinating shift scheduling.

Oiled Bird Survivors Released Monday at Pelican Island

posted on May 11, 2010 in Birds in the News,Gulf Oil Spill

Brown Pelican spill survivor. Courtesy of Richard Baker, President, Pelican Island Audubon Society

Pelican Island Audubon Society President Richard Baker accompanied US Fish and Wildlife Service officials yesterday to release a Brown Pelican and Northern Gannet, the first birds oiled in the Gulf spill, rehabilitated and set free in Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The Brown Pelican was the first to be released. It took flight and flew directly over everyone’s heads as if to say thank you and goodbye. The Northern Gannet lifted off and then settled into a pond and splashed around, Baker said.

Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is the nation’s first federal wildlife refuge, created in 1903 with Audubon’s help. The salary of the first national wildlife refuge manager on the island was paid by Florida Audubon Society because Congress had not set aside funds for such.  More recently Pelican Island has been identified as one of Audubon’s Important Bird Areas, a global network of vital habitats for birds and other wildlife.


Dr. Sharon Taylor, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, releases the Northern Gannet. Photo courtesy of Richard Baker

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