Audubon Florida News

Topic: Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

Florida Audubon Society Completes Acquisition of Newest Sanctuary in the Chassahowitzka Marsh

posted on December 16, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

John Emory Cason SanctuaryThe U.S. Family Foundation has completed a transaction deeding 80 acres of pristine coastal marsh and hammock habitat in Citrus County to the Florida Audubon Society.

Located just southwest of the community of Homosassa and immediately north of the boundary of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the new Audubon property will be known as the “John Emory Cason, Jr. Bird Sanctuary” in honor of its former owner.

John Emory Cason Jr, who passed away in 2012, was a lifelong resident of Inverness, Florida and an avid outdoorsman and well-known local farmer. Cason had a wish that his coastal property be preserved forever as a sanctuary in the hands of an owner who would guarantee its permanent protection.

The location of the property is far out in the marsh west of U.S. 19 and has no road access, not even walkable access from adjacent roads – the closest being S. Rooks Drive in Homosassa. Other than reaching the sanctuary via airboat or kayak, the only visitors this new sanctuary will see are the birds themselves, and there will be plenty of them.

Over 200 species of coastal birds have been documented by the staff at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. A copy of the bird checklist can be downloaded here.

Roseate SpoonbillsCharles Lee, who manages sanctuary properties for the Florida Audubon Society, Inc., commented, “This is one of the most diverse and compellingly beautiful tracts of coastal marsh and hammock I have seen. It has wide open marshes and some pockets of open water against a backdrop of towering sabal palms at the edge of the hardwood hammock. There are Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks in the marsh and a wide variety of birds of prey, such as Bald Eagles, Coopers Hawks, Red Shouldered Hawks, and several species of owls that patrol the edge of the forest and marsh looking for their next meal. It is truly an extraordinary place”.

The Florida Audubon Society, Inc accepts the donation of sanctuary properties that meet its standards for ecological value and fit within the organization’s management capabilities. As the government programs that purchase and conserve land have become less reliable, Audubon seeks wildlife sanctuary donations from individuals who want to preserve their land. The donation of land and the donation of cash and securities are tax deductible.

For more information, please contact Audubon’s Charles Lee at

Banded Snowy Plovers Tell Story of Conservation in Florida

posted on December 8, 2015 in Birding,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

SnowyPlover_1_2015Audubon Florida’s Coastal Conservation team operates throughout the state. They are – in many ways – the eyes and ears of our shores. Please take a moment to enjoy this interesting story from Audubon’s Marvin Friel in the Panhandle:

Yesterday evening, just before dusk, we rushed down to Windmark Beach (a mainland beach located in Gulf County near Port. St. Joe). What we were looking for as the sun was quickly setting was a uniquely banded Snowy Plover – a Snowy Plover whose haunts and habitat are known only to Audubon’s research team and a few locals like Barbara Eells, a longtime bird rehabilitator, volunteer and snowy plover enthusiast.

This prominent Snowy Plover’s “name” is his band color combination: WL:RS, or as it is stated out loud White, Lime : Red, Service. We first recognized this noteworthy male Snowy Plover in 2006 during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) state-wide Snowy Plover census.  Barbara, who had monitored WL:RS the two years prior, provided us with WL:RS’s history.

SnowyPlover_2_2015Today, WL:RS is only one of three known individuals remaining from a handful of Snowy Plovers adults originally banded in 2004 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Like him, these individual ‘Snowies’ were the first banded in Florida to study nest productivity and adult survival. Today, WL:RS is at least 12 years old!  His exact age is unknown because he was originally banded as an adult.

The reason we rushed down to Windmark yesterday evening was to check on WL:RS’s recovery. Just two weeks prior, the Florida Park Service – Audubon Florida partnership team captured him at the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (SJPSP). He had a persistent but subtle leg injury that Barbara and our team had noticed at the end of the nesting season, in late July of this year. Following the end of the nesting season, we continued to monitor him, albeit infrequently, and were hopeful that he might recover without needing recapture. However, after three months, our team decided to capture him due to his persistent limping.

SnowyPlover_3_2015On November 3, while conducting our scheduled winter shorebird surveys at SJPSP, WL:RS was observed at the park still coddling his right leg. After he was captured and in hand, we discovered that WL:RS had a small piece of shell debris lodged between his service band and leg. The shell debris was causing discomfort and inflammation.

With delicate and deliberate hands, we removed the service band and dislodged the shell debris. Almost immediately, WL:RS, appeared relieved. Because he was missing one of his color bands, we wanted to confirm his identity and upon scrutiny of his metal leg band, we were able to do so by confirming the 9 digit code engraved on his aluminum Federal Service band.

SnowyPlover_4_2015Recognizing that he would likely recover from his injury, we replaced his missing lime band with a green band and replaced his old faded service band (now difficult to read) with a new one. To allow the injured leg to heal without further harm, we changed the location of his bands to the upper right leg instead of the lower right leg. All this was to ensure recovery of the leg in the short-term, but in the long-term it would allow researchers and volunteers like Barbara to continue monitoring him in the years to come.

Running out to see WL:RS yesterday evening before the sunset was much more than a crazy birder’s bizarre compulsion and obsession. For over 10 years, the life of WL:RS paralleled our careers as researchers and how we evolved as scientists grappling with difficult questions in hopes of improving the Snowy Plover’s population in Florida. As our monitoring program grew at the Florida State Parks in the Panhandle, as more and more beachgoers visited the Florida Gulf Coast beaches, as the need for public awareness and participation in conservation increased, what we realized is that WL:RS has already persevered and transcended many of the aforementioned obstacles.

SnowyPlover_5_2015Despite weather events, tropical storms, increases in recreational pressures and the numerous native and non-native predators present on our beaches (such as coyotes, ghost crabs, raccoons, fish crows or gulls), WL:RS is still cruising the shoreline looking for that next mouthwatering amphipod. Of herculean note, the extensive data collected on WL:RS has demonstrated that he has produced at least four generations of Snowy Plovers that span the panhandle beaches from SJPSP to Tyndall Air Force Base (an FWC Critical Wildlife Area) to Dog Island (land managed by The Nature Conservancy). Remarkably, one of the chicks he fathered holds the winter migration record, for plovers banded in the Florida panhandle; wintering down at Marco Island, Florida.

SnowyPlover_6_2015So yesterday evening was a success story! Hopefully WL:RS, (now White Green: Red Service on upper leg) will continue to inspire all of the beach-nesting monitoring efforts. Snowy Plovers like WL:RS are the true Florida beach bum, they are here to be enjoyed and respected as a Florida native to our coastal beaches, like sea turtles and beach mice. Each individually banded plover has a unique story to share that ultimately shows their biological resilience in their native habitat.

We hope that birds like WL:RS will persist at coastal beaches in Florida such as Windmark Beach or St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for future generations to enjoy.

Baird’s Sandpiper Visits Panhandle Beach

posted on December 1, 2015 in Birding,Coastal Conservation

Baird's SandpiperCheck out this uncommon visitor on one of our Florida State Parks’ western beaches!

A Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidiris bairdii) (right) was sighted with two Sanderlings (Calidris alba) foraging along a lake outfall.

Baird’s Sandpipers breed in the arctic regions of Alaska and Canada and then travel a long migration route through the interior of North America to winter in South America. They are considerably uncommon on either coast but have been noted from time-to-time in Florida.

The Baird’s is a beautiful bird that can easily be mistaken for a more common long-winged peep, the White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis). (Below)

It certainly took some time, but with some wonderful photos (and a lot of analyzing) we were able to conclude that we, indeed, saw a Baird’s Sandpiper in the Florida Panhandle.

On the top is the Baird’s Sandpiper and on the bottom is the White-rumped Sandpiper.

Now let’s take a closer look…
White-rumped SandpiperCan you see on the white flanks on the Baird’s, whereas on the White-rumped you can see some dusky streaks?

Also, the Baird’s has a thinner, slightly straighter bill compared to the bulkier, drooping White-rumped bill.

Lastly, take a look at the Baird’s lifting its wing. Its tail is exposed just enough to show that its rump is indeed brown! If this were a White-rumped you would see a white patch of feathers across its rump.

FWC Establishes First New Critical Wildlife Area in Decades

posted on November 23, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,State Government,Wildlife

Photo by Dave Graff/Florida DEPLast Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted unanimously to establish a new Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at Second Chance Sandbar in southwest Florida. The new CWA will close the bar to vessel landings during the beach-nesting bird season.

Second Chance is part of a shoal system south of Collier County’s Cape Romano. It has supported the region’s largest Least Tern colony in past years, as well as nesting Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers. Least Terns and Black Skimmers are both state Threatened and Wilson’s Plovers are a declining species of growing conservation concern.

These ground-nesting birds are easily disturbed when beachgoers and their dogs approach too closely, flushing parents from eggs and chicks who can perish quickly in the hot sun, at the mercy of predators, or underfoot. Second Chance is so narrow that despite the best efforts of its manager, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), to post the nesting areas, there simply isn’t enough room on the upland to provide an adequate buffer for the birds.

Commissioner Liesa Priddy—a southwest Florida resident who has visited the site—was an impassioned advocate for passage. Commissioner Ron Bergeron also endorsed the protection, saying that he has fished this region since childhood and marveled at its bird wealth. Chairman Brian Yablonski told the Commissioners that there has only been one other CWA designation in the state in the last twenty years, but to look closely because “we’re going to be seeing more of these.”

Special thanks to Collier County Bird Steward and wildlife photographer Jean Hall for traveling 16 hours round-trip to the meeting in Panama City and to Bay County Audubon co-president Ron Houser for their testimonies on behalf of the designation.

But most of all, congratulations to the staff of Rookery Bay NERR, FWC, and Audubon, and the many volunteers who give their time to protect these special places. Because of your efforts, Second Chance CWA now has a real chance at success.

One Lucky Snowy Plover

posted on November 3, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

Before picA beautiful reminder of the importance of our coastal conservation work. This story was sent in by Paula Muellner, a field technician with the Audubon/Florida Park Service hybrid team in the Florida Panhandle:

On September 1, we went to Camp Helen State Park to conduct our weekly bird survey. Just like most days, we headed east on the beach and saw several different species of birds foraging at the Lake outfall. I set my scope up and scanned the area, and that’s when I saw it…that thing I don’t want to see but which I often encounter.

BeforeIt was an anomalous movement in my periphery, something clearly out of sorts. In this case, it was a Snowy Plover, hopping along the mudflat on one leg. Not just any Snowy Plover, but a recently fledged chick that we banded a few weeks prior.

When I zoomed in to get a closer look I saw a light colored monofilament tangled around its left foot. It didn’t look good and we were nervous he would potentially lose its leg.

IMG_3310bWith a bit of creativity and a lot of patience, we were able to trap the bird and assess its injury. To our amazement, the monofilament was not a fishing line, in fact, it was a human hair! The hair, as strong as a wire, was twisted around its ankle and acted like a tourniquet around its toes. The tiny bird’s foot was swollen and the skin was raw, but thankfully, nothing was broken.

Slowly but surely my colleagues and I we were able to remove the hair and clean the wounds. We released it back where we found it and crossed our fingers that we would see it again. Weeks and weeks passed without seeing the bird and I optimistically hoped that the bird migrated to a different wintering site.

IMG_3309aThis past Thursday, we were at Topsail Hill State Park and saw a young Snowy Plover foraging in a dune pocket. We snapped a quick picture and zoomed in on its legs and that is when I saw the unique set of color bands. It was indeed the resilient fledgling from Camp Helen!

A big THANK YOU to all of our coastal volunteers, partners, and donors – without you, stories like this would not be possible!

Ninth Season of Nature Coast Surveys Begins With High Shorebird Numbers

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 continues a blog series in which they share their experiences, sightings, and photographs as well as observe the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

American Oystercatcher flockTaking advantage of seasonal spring tides and a break in persistently inclement weather, we conducted our first Gulf surveys in mid September. Fortunately, persistent summer rains abated somewhat and allowed for productive outings. Beginning on the west side of Cedar Key, we noted much higher numbers of American Oystercatchers compared to a pre-season survey  three weeks earlier and, scoping the roosting flocks for markers, we noted migrants had arrived from several Atlantic coast states.

One favored, traditional, roost site was usurped by a stranded sailboat Sailboat stranded off Cedar Keycompelling the birds to seek refuge elsewhere. Fortunately, state officials were aware of the nuisance vessel for months and contractors were scheduled to remove the offending vessel. Florida FWC researchers documented the oystercatchers’ critical dependence on eroding roost sites in the region. Protecting the integrity of surviving sites is an ever-higher priority.

As frequently occurs on the Nature Coast, favored Oystercatcher roosts are often cohabited by multiple shorebird species. This was the case at one roost rake where ten federally Threatened Red Knots were present. Although none were marked, seven were hatch year juveniles – a good sign for this seriously declining species.

Due to brisk headwinds and chop we elected to avoid the Gulf and navigate through a protected, hazardous maze of salt marsh taking us to the east side of Cedar Key. Exiting the maze of marsh waters, a dense flock of American Avocet, Willet, and Marbled Godwits greeted us at the first shell rake on the edge of a wooded Key. We continued on to an Shorebird flock, Cedar Pointexpansive series of low rakes stretching into the open gulf. Approaching closer, we noted dark masses of birds clustered on several rakes and these soon proved to be densely-packed Oystercatcher flocks. We were now challenged to determine which flocks provided nearby vantage points where we could land our vessel and scan the birds for markers. During this process, we noted “clouds” of shorebirds swarming over the most distant shell rake and it soon became apparent that the flocks were being flushed by wading anglers hiking along the shorelines. Roosting shorebirds flushed by waders.

Disturbances to roosting shorebirds is a universal problem requiring considerable public education and outreach. Typically, disturbance is not intentional but the impacts can be significant where roost/rest sites are few as they are around Cedar Key or where disturbances are frequent and/or associated with pets.  Often impacts can be minimized with a little consideration for the birds, but the growing unfamiliarity with birds and associated conservation issues by today’s recreational public remains a challenge to declining bird populations. Doris and I plan to work more closely with the community and state agencies to raise awareness of these issues on the Nature Coast.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we carefully shifted from rake to rake, recording the diversity and numbers of birds and documenting unique markers.  In addition to the many marked Oystercatchers, we recorded several Red Knot bands among densely-massed flocks. One interesting observation was noting numbers of Western and Least Sandpipers perched in low vegetation on several rakes. This behavior is somewhat curious since adequate substrate is available for the normally ground-roosting birds. Least Sandpiper roosting in tall vegetation

In addition to the hordes of shorebirds, we also noted small numbers of larids, including migrant Caspian Terns but none were banded. One small flock of Blue-winged Teal passed low over the rakes as they continued south to unknown destinations. The next day, we traveled to Horseshoe Beach in northern Dixie County and visited a low shell rake south of that diminutive community. Over many seasons, we have learned where the flocks stage prior to shifting to the low jetties in the Gulf nearer the town. Initially, few birds were present, but as the tide slowly rose, many more birds arrived until ninety crowded the roost. At one point a small flock of Oystercatchers was spied passing far offshore suggesting they were actively migrating. Similarly, a lone Northern Harrier came in off the Gulf – our first sighting of the species since spring migration carried them off to northern breeding grounds.

Predictably, the oystercatchers eventually shifted north to the jetties where we found them flushing frequently and flying over open water. Oddly, no other shorebirds flushed off the rocks and we assumed that an unseen eagle must be cruising high aloft. For unknown reasons, Oystercatchers react more adversely to eagles than any Oystercatcher with coded leg markersother raptor on the wintering grounds.  Once the birds settled down, we slowly cruised along the rocks collecting digital images for later review to identify band codes that were missed or that we were unable to decipher at the distant rake.

During our recent travels along regional highways going to and from boat launch sites, we noted remarkable amounts of flooded forest, ditches and fields resulting from the deluge of summer rains.  Most ditches were saturated with water and lush Gulf Fritillary butterflyaquatic foliage in full bloom attracted numerous butterflies. How the rain waters impact the native flora and fauna we cannot know, but if the health and abundance of regional oysters is dependent on influxes of fresh water, their historic declines may soon be reversed to the benefit of American Oystercatchers and humans alike.


Audubon Florida Commends the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for Commitment to Cape Sable Restoration

posted on September 9, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Everglades,Gulf Oil Spill

EastCapePlug_MG_7647On August 27, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced a $2 million grant aimed toward protection and restoration of the coastal wetlands on Cape Sable, located in southwestern Everglades National Park.

The grant, awarded to the Everglades Foundation, is one of 29 announced as part of the Gulf Conservation Grants Program. The funding is meant to enhance coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast while bolstering fish and wildlife populations.

Audubon Florida commends NFWF for recognition of Cape Sable as a coastal wetland of significant importance. We also thank our partners at the Everglades Foundation for their continued commitment toward fulfillment of restoration of Cape Sable.

The interior wetlands of Cape Sable are one of the most ecologically productive environments left in Florida. The area serves as critical habitat and foraging grounds for Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, many other wading bird species, shorebirds, and important game fish. A number of endangered species including the American crocodile and smalltooth sawfish also live and breed in these waters.

Roseate spoonbills and other shorebirds hunt on the mud flats during low tidesDespite this areas importance to wildlife, the region has suffered over the decades from a network of historic canals dug into its interior. The canals have led to saltwater intrusion and breakdown of the once productive marsh.

Audubon Florida has long recognized the importance of Cape Sable to local wildlife. Decades of Audubon’s Everglades science work has shown that the increased flow from the Gulf of Mexico through the canal network was having cascading negative consequences for the ecosystem. Most importantly, our team has documented a loss of forage fish. These tiny preyfish are a crucial food for the myriad wading birds who depend on these wetlands for survival.

Audubon’s findings were influential in the National Park Service’s acquisition of $10 million in funding to construct the first set of dams to slow the flow of saltwater through the harmful canals. There has been early signs of success with this project and the recent NFWF grant is an integral step toward acquiring the approximately $8 million needed to complete the second phase of restoration on Cape Sable, which involves the building of four more impediments to flow.

We believe this restoration work is essential toward increasing the success of the bird life in the region and are continuing our research and working with our partners to achieve restoration success on Cape Sable.

West Pasco Audubon Advocates for Rocky Creek

West Pasco Audubon Society Members With about 25 West Pasco Audubon Society members in attendance, the Pasco Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to pay $3.1 million to buy the Rocky Creek property, which is located just south of the Florida Audubon Society’s Gibbons Sanctuary.

The new coastal preserve is a high quality wetland and coastal hammock habitat, which is valuable to wading and migratory birds. The unanimous vote comes about a month subsequent to a proposal by some Pasco Commissioners to divert environmental lands funds to drainage and stormwater uses.

The Rocky Creek parcel received the highest conservation scoring of any parcel reviewed by the land selection committee to date. The parcel is comprised of 30 acres of saltwater marsh, 1 acre of mangrove forest, and 22 acres of wetland forest, with the balance comprised of uplands that had been previously approved/slated for residential development.

Thanks to West Pasco Audubon chapter and their friends from the Florida Native Plant Society  for communicating with commissioners and turning out to testify in favor of the Rocky Creek purchase.

The photo shows just some of the chapter members on the courthouse steps after the vote.

New Restaurant Steps Up For Panhandle Wildlife

posted on August 11, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering

Culvers Crew volunteering at Navarre Causeway colonial nesting site.What does a colonial nesting seabird colony and a new restaurant have in common? In most cases, not much. But in Navarre Beach, it’s the same caring people.

Culver’s, a new chain restaurant based out of Wisconsin, has a new location opening up in Navarre beach. Prior to opening, the owner, Randy Smith, brought the staff he was training out to help at a volunteer opportunity hosted by Audubon Florida.

Volunteers installing chick fencing at Navarre causeway.Audubon Florida oversees the management of a nesting seabird colony with Black Skimmers and Least Terns. Currently 100 Black Skimmers and over 200 Least Terns have made this site their nesting spot for the summer. Part of the management for this site is to set up chick fencing along the shoulder of the road to prevent unflighted chicks from running into the road. This is quiet an effort and over 30 people showed up to help including the Culver’s crew.

One of the families being protected by volunteer efforts on the Navarre causeway.Thanks to all of those who came out including Randy and his staff and Kenny Wilder for calling on legion of dedicated Navarre citizens. Thank you to Kenny Wilder “Master Naturalist” for the photos.


Watchful Officer Takes the Lead to Protect Least Tern Colony

posted on June 10, 2015 in Coastal Conservation

1.	Mark Rivadeneyra (FWC), Chris Farrell (Audubon), and Chris Angel (FWC) posting the Least Tern Colony.A handful of flying seabirds caught the attention of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Lee Lawshe in early May while he was patrolling Matanzas Wildlife Management Area. He recognized the birds as Least Terns, a State-designated Threatened species, and quickly realized they were nesting nearby. The terns were using a flat, sandy, open area within a Florida Inland Navigation District “spoil” site for their nesting. Officer Lawshe informed Lieutenant Steve Zukowsky about the colony, who in turn reached out to FWC’s biologists in the region, Alex Kropp and Anna Deyle.

Within hours, people were working to protect the new colony. 

Sign alerting people to the presence of the colony.Late spring through summer is a busy time for biologists who work along the coast – it’s beach-nesting bird season. Unfortunately, many of our sea and shorebirds are facing tough times. Coastal habitats are increasingly lost to development or are transformed by dredging, beach renourishment, and other activities. To make matters worse, nesting birds are raising their families on the same beautiful beaches where people want to recreate with their families.  To help reverse population declines in coastal bird species like the Least Tern, Audubon staff and volunteers work through “shorebird partnerships” with FWC and other organizations to manage and protect the birds where they choose to nest each year.

5.	Chris Angel (FWC) installing sign along Matanzas River shoreline.Anna Deyle organized a team consisting of FWC staff (Mark Rivadeneyra, Chris Angel, and Heather Hillard) and Chris Farrell, Audubon’s Northeast Florida Policy Associate, to visit the site. The team installed symbolic fencing and signage (provided by St. Johns County) around the nesting tern colony and along a stretch of land leading to the colony from the sandy shores of the adjacent Matanzas River. It was a large area to post, but experience and teamwork helped the work go quickly. Fencing a buffered area around beach-nesting birds protects the eggs and chicks from accidental harm by unknowing beachgoers and also provides an opportunity for people to learn that some birds don’t nest in trees – they lay their eggs right on the bare sand!

Posting along the Matanzas River (southern end of site).The threat to sea and shorebirds is real and immediate, but dedication and collaboration through regional shorebird partnerships can produce meaningful results. Thanks to Officer Lawshe’s knowledge and observations, and the quick response of FWC and Audubon Florida, 34 Least Tern nests and two Wilson’s Plover nests were found, surveyed, and posted within just a few days.

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