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 asetripinfo@gmail.com 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.

Audubon Scientists: “Everglades Restoration Cannot Wait”

posted on February 17, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverNew South Florida Water Management District Report Highlights Steep Decline in Wading Bird Nesting

Each year the South Florida Water Management District releases its annual South Florida Wading Bird Report. Now in its 20th year, this report provides information on the status of wading bird nesting around the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are valuable ecological indicators that provide insights into the health of this unique ecosystem.

Twenty years of data show that while state and federal restoration managers are making progress, much work remains to save the River of Grass and its avian inhabitants.

The 2014 report shows that wading bird nesting was 28% lower than last year.

Contributors to the report (including Audubon Florida) recorded a total of 34,714 nests. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The decline in nesting of these and other wading birds species is due to the lack of suitable foraging habitat across South Florida, highlighting the urgency of Everglades restoration projects. The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Download Audubon’s Fact Sheet on this year’s wading bird nesting efforts and to see our recommendations for ensuring the recovery of populations in decline and to learn where restoration efforts are allowing bird populations to bounce back. Feel free to print and share this document at your next Audubon Chapter Meeting or community gathering.

For more information, please see the following news reports about this issue:

Extra Protection for Rooftop Least Terns

posted on February 13, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

Every spring, Least Terns return from the wintering grounds in South America to breed and raise their young on the flat, open beaches along Florida’s coasts. These threatened seabirds prefer to nest on beaches, but sometimes rely on buildings with gravel rooftops in developed areas. When natural beach habitat is unavailable or experiences too much disturbance to successfully raise chicks, the flat, gravel rooftops are the next best thing! Because these birds normally lay their eggs directly in scrapes in the sand, gravel rooftops provide a similar, but artificial, nesting habitat.

Gravel rooftops have provided a safe place for Least Terns, and other seabirds, to raise their young without human disturbance or predation by cats, coyotes, raccoons, and other nest predators. Although their overall nesting success on rooftops is higher, Least Tern chicks do struggle to stay ON the rooftop. Chicks can be flushed off the rooftop as a result of disturbance or bad weather. Those that survive the fall can easily dehydrate on the ground, get stepped on or run over, or eaten by predators.

One of the largest rooftop nesting sites in Northwest Florida is The Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach. This business has been working with Audubon Florida to protect their rooftop colony of Least Terns and return fallen chicks to the rooftop. In 2014, their staff safely returned over 50 Least Tern chicks! In addition to rescuing these stranded baby birds, the owners of this hotel provide guests with car wash tokens to thank them for understanding the mess that comes with staying beneath a colony of Least Terns.

On Monday, February 9, the Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach, FL became a much safer nest site for Least Terns. Staff from Audubon Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gulf Coast Tree Specialists and a group of brave volunteers installed “chick fencing” on the Motel’s rooftop. The day began in the parking lot of the Motel with the crew preparing the bricks with attachment points for the fencing.

roofchick_groupMike Wright used his bucket truck to lift the ton of bricks, along with anyone without a fear of heights, onto the rooftop to construct the fence. Thanks to Amy Raybuck, Justin Davis, Becca Hatchell, Christopher Nielens, Melissa Alverson, Bob Gilmore, Candis Harbison and Rebecca Metzger for all of your help. Without you this project would have taken days.

If you drive past the Chateau Motel this summer and see Least Terns flying overhead, be assured their chicks will be safe from falling off the roof.

Fact Sheet: 2014 Everglades Wading Bird Nesting Report

posted on January 29, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverThis month the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) released the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report, which showed a steep decline in wading bird nesting in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are important ecological indicators – their health reflects the heath of the broader ecosystem.

The data in this year’s report shows that Everglades restoration cannot wait. In their report, the SFWMD estimated wading bird nesting in 2014 to be 28% lower than last year. A total of 34,714 nests were recorded. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Click here to download Audubon Florida’s summary of this important report and learn more about the health of wading birds in the Greater Everglades.

Join Audubon for the 2015 Statewide Mid-Winter Shorebird Survey

Red Knots in flightThe annual mid-winter survey period is right around the corner – February 6 -12, 2015.

Team leaders are organizing volunteer survey crew members to walk miles of Florida’s beautiful coastline during this 7-day period, tallying numbers of shorebird and seabird species. If you can readily identify these species individually and in flocks of 50 or more birds, WE NEED YOU! 

Teams will be counting PipingSnowyWilson’s, Semipalmated, and Black-bellied Plovers, American Oystercatchers, a multitude 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 survey that could not be accomplished at a 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.

David Macri. Winter birds with BLSK in flight. Matanzas.120108_staug_DMM0216

No experience is necessary to join an experienced team in your area that will survey 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!

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

The Christmas Bird Count is Many Things to Many People

posted on January 13, 2015 in Birding,Wildlife

Georgia Shemitz captured this foggy scene on the Four Rivers Audubon Count.For many Floridians, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is as much a tradition over the holidays as the Christmas tree. Each Audubon chapter in Florida (44) either coordinates a count circle or has members who participate in one.  On Monday Jan. 5, the 115th 3-week CBC window closed.  Now compilers will be gathering checklists, checking on rare bird sightings and preparing to submit their data. While providing valuable data to the science community CBCs have different meaning for different individuals.

Bill Nolte of Santa Fe Audubon captured this photo of a Bald Eagle feeding on a freshly killed coyote.The average species of birds seen is well over 100 (as high as 150) with numbers of species such as Coots, Robins, Tree Swallows, gulls (at the dump) and others often in the thousands.   Some people participated in just one count while others like Alachua Audubon Society member Dottie Robbins did eight this year!

What is it that draws so many people to this annual event?

Some people use the “count” as an excuse to take a break from the rush and pressure of the holidays.  What a great way to justify spending a full day at your favorite pastime.

West Pasco Audubon counters were featured in the Tampa Tribune There is a social element in spending a whole day with a small group of people.  The “count” can result in new friendships or can give old friends a chance to catch up. Teams often bond and look forward to having an excuse to get together once a year.

For the “listers” (serious birders who love to keep lists for birds seen in lifetime, a year, a day, a county, etc.) assisting in areas other than your own can bump the numbers up quickly.   It is hard to beat local knowledge when exploring a new area with one who knows where to find the birds!

Ellen Westbrook from Florida Keys Audubon rescued this young Brown Pelican during their CBC.There is a job for everyone. Beginners will often be tasked with keeping the checklist.  This is a welcome relief to the spotters and the more experienced counters who have their hands free to focus their binoculars and scopes quickly and count as a bird or flock flies by.  Lucky for new birders the best way to learn is to get out into the field with the experts.

Whatever the reason people participate they deserve a huge thank you for making such a unique and valuable contribution to bird conservation.

Additional news:

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.

REKNFO[MX1]HMPnorthinletshore50514_compressed

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: fl.audubon.org/signup

EPA and Army Corps to Clarify Muddy Definitions of Wetlands and Water

posted on November 7, 2014 in Everglades,Water Issues,Wildlife

Audubon_WOTUS_FactSheet_CoverThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a new rule clarifying Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to Florida’s and the nation’s water resources, wildlife and economy.  Because of confusion created by two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 over what waters are protected or not, many have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade.  The sad result is wetland losses have been increasing nationwide for the first time since the 1980’s.  Just as sad is a torrent of misinformed objections to this very reasonable, science-based rule from development interests who want to keep this confused status quo.

Audubon Florida summarizes this important habitat and resource issue in a new “Clean Water Act Rule” Fact Sheet – click here to read itTo read a two-page EPA summary of the proposed rule’s clarifications of what water resources are protected by the Clean Water Act, click here.

Clean drinking water, flood protection, downstream fisheries, wildlife habitat and everyone’s local economy depend on clear standards and rules leading to healthier water and wetlands. Please send a letter of support for this proposed rule to EPA before the end of the public comment period on November 14, 2014.  If the rule is not approved, wetland losses and degradation of water will continue to accelerate in Florida and across the United States.

American Oystercatchers Return to Gulf Coast Via Detour Through NE Florida

posted on October 10, 2014 in Birding,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

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. This is the seventh blog in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Two American Oystercatchers from North Carolina on their way to the Gulf CoastEvery fall we look forward to resuming our annual surveys of American Oystercatchers wintering along the “Nature Coast” and each season finds new birds venturing south on their first migration along with veterans of many years returning to their favored locations from Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County to the power plant jetty just south of the Barge Canal spoils in Citrus County.

On rare occasions, we will encounter birds of that population in northeast Florida. Such an event occurred October 1st in lower Nassau Sound during a routine shorebird survey. Approaching a favored roost site for local Oystercatchers and other coastal species, I noted two birds resting near a flock of migrant Caspian Terns. Presuming these to be “resident” birds, my first binocular view brought quite a surprise: both birds carried dark green bands with alpha codes! With multiple Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons present in the sound I rushed to set up a tripod and mount my scope to read the bands. Experience has taught us that marked birds can flush and fly over the horizon in minutes taking all valuable data with them, and  a flying Peregrine Falcon at any distance can compel birds to flush without warning and abandon a site.  Fortunately, no raptors appeared and the resting birds provided ample time to study their bands and record the codes.

I immediately knew that both birds originated from North Carolina, but we have recorded far too many band codes to recognize a previously sighted bird and I would have to wait until I returned home to search our records before confirming any resights. Doing so, I learned that one bird (EO) was indeed a winter veteran recorded on the gulf every year since 2007. The second bird (UT) was more problematic. Banded at North Core Banks, Cape Lookout, NC in 2010 UT had been resighted there multiple times but nowhere else. However, Doris reminded me that each season we record a few “problem” codes that cannot be matched in the database. Typically, this is attributable to misread codes, data entry typos or incorrectly recorded codes. The original “wrap around” alpha codes have always presented a challenge to read and record correctly due to partial exposure of one or the other letter. Depending on distance, wind vibrating optics, ambient light, flock density, vantage point and other factors, Xs can resemble Ks, Fs with Rs, Ps with Rs, Os with Js, Js with Us and so on. Often, even photos cannot resolve a “suspect code” if only a partial letter is exposed. Such factors may have contributed to our lack of records for the UT bird on the gulf coast. It’s possible the bird was present for one or more years, but due to our failure to correctly read and report its bands, the sighting could not be entered into the database.

The fact that the two North Carolina birds were together certainly suggest they will eventually cross over to the gulf coast and join the wintering flocks there. Given the mystery of the UT bird, it will certainly be on our radar as we resume our gulf surveys and hopefully we can confirm its presence there soon. Some might recall that bird DG[CF6] with satellite transmitter was tracked from North Carolina to the vicinity of Amelia Island last fall before turning and crossing over to the gulf toward Horseshoe Beach. Later that winter, the bird shed its transmitter but was resighted prior to spring migration. Perhaps we’ll cross paths with that bird too sometime during the next several months.

Advocates Stand Up for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

posted on September 30, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

topsailhill_map_arrowCongratulations to all the advocates for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park who packed a special hearing of the Walton County Commission last night!

Despite the fact that Topsail Hill’s main entrance never runs at capacity, commissioners were considering sending a request to the Florida Park Service to provide a new, unstaffed boardwalk access into one of the most undisturbed parts of this important preserve. This boardwalk would have benefited a small number of neighborhood residents at the expense of public tax dollars and imperiled natural resources including federally endangered Choctawhatchee beach mice and state Threatened Snowy Plovers.

In a tremendous show of civic engagement, Walton County advocates packed the chamber and defenders of Topsail outnumbered boardwalk advocates more than 2 to 1 in testimony. Ultimately, the board voted not to file the request with the Florida Park Service, especially citing the fact that the proposed use of Tourist Development dollars to create a boardwalk to benefit a limited number of residents was inappropriate.

Congratulations to the dedicated advocates of Walton County whose time and dedication produced this terrific result for Topsail. The high, windswept dunes, beach mice and shorebirds thank you!

You can view the commission hearing and advocates’ impassioned testimony online by clicking here.

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