While you are out fishing, cruising or paddling in the next several months, you might stop to explore one of the many out island beaches of the Cedar Keys. But beware. You may be stepping into a shorebird maternity ward.
Boaters flock to Cedar Keys’ island-dotted waters because they know how special the area is. Shorebirds know this too, as it offers the isolation necessary for nesting. You can include at least four “threatened” shorebird species in that group. The American oystercatcher, for one, has a significant nesting concentration here, one of the largest in Florida.
If you are walking an isolated stretch of sand, shorebird nests can be very hard to spot. The average person does not expect to encounter eggs seemingly just lying exposed. And yet, that is where these imperiled shorebird species often lay their eggs. Not in trees or hidden away in the brush but out in the open and on the ground. No elaborate weaving of twigs or sandy mounds.
These birds rely on egg camouflage, pretending to be beach debris, to fool predators. It works sometimes to trick raccoons or avian opportunists. But that same blending-in-with-the-beach makes it easy for humans to unknowingly step on eggs.
The hatching season generally runs from March through April. After that you have to watch for hatchlings through August.
For most of the shorebird species that nest on beaches, there are 2 to 3 eggs, sometimes 4. It can take 20 to 30 days of parents sitting on their eggs to get them to hatch.
If a human somehow causes a bird to leave that nest, the eggs could be easily snatched. A watchful winged predator could make a grab in a matter of seconds. Just forcing a bird to leave its eggs exposed to the sun, even for a short time, can cause mortality.
Shorebird populations are declining yearly. It’s not just because of human intrusions but also the continuing loss of places where they can nest. Barrier islands are disappearing.
Every single nest is critical. So how can beach visitors help?
You don’t even have to set foot on the sand to disrupt nesting. Just coming too close to a nursery area in a watercraft can cause birds to take flight. Like on land, it is important to keep that 300 foot distance.
Should you witness deliberate shorebird harassment, please report such activities to FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922.
If you want to be actively involved with protecting shore or seabirds, check out flshorebirdalliance.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Board member Barbara Woodmansee tells the circumstances of her recent encounter with a butterfly and a cottonmouth snake. It’s best told in her words.
“I was hiking near Steinhatchee yesterday (March 17, 2021) on a trail that had been recently mowed allowing me more visibility of the ground in front of me. A perfect and very hard to photograph Southern Pearly-eye butterfly landed just in front of me on the trail, but at a terrible angle for a photo. Pearly-eyes are very alert and will disappear into the swamp quickly if spooked, so I got down on my knees and started inching very slowly sideways to get a nice broadside view.
While I was framing the picture, I noticed out of the corner of my eye something white waving back and forth just to the right of my elbow...
Seriously, I was ONE FOOT away from this fatso cottonmouth (see photo above) with absolutely no clue it was there. It could have bitten me in the stomach or on my hip if it had wanted to. I just scooted back the way I came and we all parted friends.”
Can you imagine how Barbara had the composure to photograph the snake after this harrowing experience? Leave it to a true naturalist to capture the amazing wildlife that surrounds us.
"Let me introduce you to Suwannee, the Kite..." Debbie Jordan began as she intrigued visitors with Friends' projects at Suwannee Art Festival on Saturday, March 13. Both folks new to the area and long-timers were interested in learning more about our refuges and Debbie encouraged them to visit our website. A beautiful spring day and one of the first in-person events since the start of the Covid situation brought a good turnout.
The 2021 Friends Annual Meeting was held on February 27 and drew participants from Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado, as well as from Florida cities including Jacksonville, Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Gainesville. That was an unexpected bonus, due to the pandemic, from having the meeting on Zoom!
Two polls were administered throughout the meeting. The first asked participants how many had visited the Refuge during the pandemic (~55% responded in the affirmative) - that fit with Andrew's report that visitation was way up as people really wanted to get out and about, and the Refuge was one of the go-to destinations for north Florida folks. The second poll asked participants to vote on the proposed slate of officers and directors (100% affirmative).
Welcome to the Meet and Greet Session. Click the arrow to watch the panel being drawn.
Let's get creative
Perhaps the most creative and divergent approach to this year's virtual meeting was the use of graphic recorder, Karina Branson of ConverSketch. The process involves drawing content-rich colorful illustrations highlighting the salient points of presentations and discussions. The end products, below, provide visually appealing documents for historical records of meetings.
Click on the arrows below each panel to watch a time-lapse video of Karina drawing it in real time, as the presentation was happening.