Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Calendar,Citizen Science,Events,FL Special Places,Volunteering

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!

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:

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!


Fall Fishing Line Cleanups Protect Florida’s Pelicans

Dead BRPE with fishing line Cortez Key

Brown Pelicans are especially vulnerable to fishing line because of their foraging behavior – tracking and picking out the injured fish in a school.  Sometimes, that injured fish is the bait on a fisherman’s hook.  If the fisherman does not reel the bird in and release it, but cuts the line with a long strand, the pelican flies back to its roost, often a bird colony island.  There, the line becomes tangled in trees, and the pelican, hopelessly caught, dies of dehydration.  Once the line is on the bird island trees, like spiderweb stretching between branches, it can catch and kill more birds.

That is why Audubon and our volunteers in coordination with Tampa Bay Watch and Sarasota Bay Watch go to the bird islands and remove any fishing line or other debris that might catch birds.  But we do this only in the fall when most birds are not nesting on these islands. Rescuing snared birds or removing line in a colony full of adult birds can cause a lot of disturbance. It can cause baby birds to jump out of their nests, or adult birds to fly and leave their eggs and young exposed to predation by crows or death from temperature stress.  Baby birds which can not fly might not be able to make it back into their own nests and will die of starvation.

To participate in the Fall Fishing Line Cleanup, contact Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries (813/623-6826)  or Tampa Bay Watch or Sarasota Bay Watch

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

Volunteers Join Audubon to Clean-Up Tampa Bay

posted on October 8, 2013 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

Tampa Bay Cleanup 2013 Pam Deneve with line and bone by Sandy ReedAudubon Florida, Tampa Bay Watch and many concerned volunteers joined forces to conduct the 20th Annual Tampa Bay Fishing Gear Cleanup on Saturday September 28.

The cleanup targets bird nesting habitat and places where birds may become entangled in discarded fishing gear. Volunteers and staff clean during the fall, outside of the bird nesting season, to avoid impacts to nesting birds and chicks.

Tampa Bay Cleanup 2013 freed pelican by Sandy ReedThis year, Audubon staff was joined by volunteers from the Tampa Audubon Society and had a great time on the water while getting a lot of work done.  While we were saddened by the sight of several first year juvenile Brown Pelicans hanging dead in the mangroves, our team was able to free one entangled bird and transport another to a rehabber for treatment.  We know that through our efforts and the efforts of all who participated over the weekend, we have spared many of our iconic wading birds from a similar fate.

Tampa Bay Cleanup 2013 staff and volunteer by Ann PaulWhile at the islands, we couldn’t resist sprucing up some of our signs and do a little bird watching, spotting juveniles hatched from the colonies this year including Black Vulture, Little Blue Heron, Reddish Egret (always a treat to see) and Great Egret.  We also found some of our winter visitors including Belted Kingfisher and Spotted Sandpiper.



Clearing the Way for a Black Skimmer Colony in 2014

posted on September 19, 2013 in Chapters,Coastal Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

St. Petersburg Audubon volunteers and FWC biologists clearing exotic crowsfoot grass where Black Skimmers nested successfully this summer at Indian Shores, Pinellas County.

Phone call received:

“All of the Black Skimmer chicks have fledged from the colony site behind Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary so I removed the signs and posts. Not much vegetation grew inside the posted area this year but the private condo owners will want it cleared back to the white, sandy beach it was at the beginning of the nesting season. The roots of this exotic crowsfoot grass gets stuck in the beach groomer’s raking blades so he won’t clear it for us. I don’t think it will take more than an hour for 4-5 people to clear the vegetation by hand.”

It took almost 4 hours for 7 of us to clear the area by hand! Hard work – but so it goes – whatever is needed to ensure the private homeowners are willing to allow posting, signage and bird stewards on duty again next year, we were willing! Thank you to St. Pete Audubon President Judi Hopkins for quickly organizing four hard-working volunteers to help Audubon staff and FWC biologists clear the way for the birds to nest again in 2014!Black Skimmers and chicks at the successful Indian Shores colony. Photo by Kevin  Christman.

Black Skimmers have nested at this Pinellas County location for a number of years and the colony is almost always successful, except last year when Tropical Storm Debby washed out the nests and chicks too late for nesting to restart. In 2013 Tropical Storm Andrea came by and sent waves crashing over part of the colony for a few hours before she was on her way. Nesting resumed and 99 chicks fledged this year.

Early in the season Black Skimmers incubate eggs in the shadow of privately-owned condos. Photo by Kevin  Christman.St. Pete and Clearwater Audubon chapters posted bird stewards on weekends at this and several other colony sites in the county this summer and did triple-duty on Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays. They spoke with hundreds of beach visitors about beach-nesting birds and helped minimize all kinds of disturbances to the adults and chicks. And then, at the end of the season there was still more work to do, long after the birds were gone, clearing the way for next year.

Dedication to conserving and protecting birds isn’t a passing moment for Audubon, it’s a commitment – whether a couple hours a week or a couple hours per month, or more, for more than a hundred years running.


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:

Piping Plovers: An International Focus

posted on February 5, 2013 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

I love PIPLs decalPIPL is the common abbreviation used for the Piping Plover. This small shorebird is recognizable by its bright yellow legs and known for its favorite cuisine – marine worms – that it pulls out of the sand like spaghetti. Piping Plover populations were in sharp decline in the 1980s when it was federally listed. The Great Plains and Atlantic Coast breeding populations were listed as threatened while the Great Lakes population warranted endangered designation with only 16 pairs remaining in 1986.

Listing a species is just a first step in the efforts to save it from extinction. Next the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) develops and implements a recovery plan, a process that is successful only with the help and involvement of many partners. And, as stated at the non-breeding Piping Plover meeting recently held in Beaufort SC, PIPLs are lucky to have so many people caring for them and working hard on their recovery. Wildlife agencies, land managers, academia, involved citizens, corporations and NGOs from the US but also from Mexico, the Bahamas and Canada -places where the PIPL winters – all came to discuss ways to improve the species’ recovery by protecting the birds better on their wintering and migrating grounds.

Great Lakes PIPL wintering in Little Talbot Is State Park. 12.25.12. Photo Monique BorboenIntense efforts on the breeding grounds have been successful at increasing the number of nesting pairs and nesting success but not yet to the level necessary to sustain the populations. Survival on the non-breeding grounds is vitally important to the species’ recovery. Identified threats include beach and inlet modifications – expected to increase with sea level rise – and disturbances by recreating beach-goers and their pets. The just-published Comprehensive Conservation Strategy includes recommendations to help minimize impacts to the birds on non-breeding grounds. Recommended protections include the development of site stewardship plans and measures such as symbolic fencing of the roosting grounds, no dogs, vehicles or wrack removal within 1.5 km of unstabilized inlets, ongoing monitoring, and outreach including site stewards.

Sleep is important! Wintering PIPL roosting with Wilson's Plovers at Fort Matanzas beach. Photo Monique BorboenWith our well-developed bird steward program, Audubon Florida (both staff and chapter members) is well positioned to help our partners, land managers, and agencies improve PIPL conservation in the state.  Many PIPLs winter in Florida, including a large number of Great Lakes birds – marked with an orange leg flag. Because PIPLs use the same habitat as some of our nesting species, protecting their habitat from destruction and disturbance will benefit our nesting birds, as well as other migratory shorebirds and seabirds.

So let’s get to work. Familiarize yourself with the Comprehensive Conservation Strategy (look for links to it here) and help us implement its recommendations on a beach in your area.

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