2019 Annual Appeal
Dear St. Petersburg Audubon Member and Friend,
The mission of St. Petersburg Audubon Society is to advocate for ecosystems important to birds and other wildlife through education and conservation. We support our mission by meeting with elected officials, regulatory personnel, landowners, and people who are concerned with supporting the natural resources of Pinellas County – the most densely populated county in Florida. We educate and enlighten, invigorate and excite, and communicate and coordinate. All to help resident and migratory bird populations in and around St. Petersburg.
Recently I was at an Audubon meeting and listened to a presentation about how the northern range of the endangered Everglades snail kite is beginning to move northward into the Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. From 2008 to 2013 the population of the snail kite has increased from about 800 individuals to 1,300. At the same time, the population of their main food the apple snail is slowly declining due to shrinking Everglades habitat as well as floods, droughts, and man-made manipulations of water levels killing off apple snails. Come to find out, the South American apple snail, a popular snail with aquarium hobbyists, is living in Florida’s waters and grows faster and bigger than our native apple snail. And the snail kite is eating them!
While we don’t want to get too excited about the benefits of an aggressive non-native species set loose in our waterways, we also see that the numbers of a rare species, the Everglades snail kite, are increasing. But, what about their expansion north? We know the non-native snail lives north of us too and we know of a nesting pair of snail kites up in Paynes Prairie, south of Gainesville. Are the snail kites following the non-native snails north or are they expanding their range northward in response to climate change? The thing is we don’t know. But, the folks at Audubon, including several members of St. Petersburg Audubon are interested in answering that question.
One of the many programs St. Petersburg Audubon is actively supporting is the Gabe Vargo Raptors on the Move program. St.Pete Audubon has sponsored two GSM (GSM – Global System for Mobile communications – a snappy term for cell towers) transmitters, which are attached to a swallow-tailed kite and a short-tailed hawk. Kites migrate to South America whereas the short-tailed hawk, if it migrates at all, will stay within the Southeastern U.S. This program will be used in area schools for not only tracking migration, but will show distances, areas traveled, weather conditions, and as the program grows we are finding more data that will be useful in schools. The hope is to tag another bird this year to add to the data collection education program. Could you imagine if we could track one of the snail kites up in Paynes Prairie? We could watch where they fly – are they coming down to our area, are they able to get enough food nearby, or are they heading north to eat? Also, just think what we would learn about the daily movement patterns of this rare but charismatic bird!
Another of our programs is the Dr. Harold Albers Teacher Ecology Camp. This year we marked the 10th year of this award-winning program designed to train and to inspire educators as they instill an understanding, knowledge, and awareness of wildlife, environments, and habitat conservation in their students. Providing environmental education, as well as field experiences, resources and activities that participants can use in the classroom, continues to be the emphasis. The successful two-day workshops include vital topics such as “Coastal Estuaries”; “Ecosystems of Florida”; “Climate Change /Sea Level Rise”; and “Avian Adaptations.” Field experiences at Weedon Island Preserve, Lettuce Lake Park, Fort De Soto Park, Brooker Creek Preserve, and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve enrich and reinforce the training.
And speaking of training, we are getting back into the Shorebird Stewarding business! Many years ago, the program originated with St. Petersburg Audubon Society and was adopted by other local Audubon chapters in Florida and by Audubon Florida, and we hear it has made its way all the way over to the other west coast (California!) and is being used in the San Francisco Bay area to protect important shorebird nesting areas. Back here in St. Pete, one of our most valuable bird habitats is our flat beaches. Each summer our beaches attract thousands of shorebirds looking for a place to nest. They want to be close to food – small fish found throughout Tampa Bay and our coastal waters. They want to be safe from predators – because it’s hard to keep 2 or 6 fuzzy young’uns from getting too far from the nest. And they like larger flat areas – enough room for a hundred or a thousand of your closest migration mates! Our plan is to work with Audubon Florida to train and provide shorebird stewards for the key nesting areas around St. Petersburg. And, we can take the nesting information we record from the black skimmers, least terns, snowy plovers, American oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers, and other shorebirds and apply that to our Project Shorebird education program. Getting people interested in the shorebirds we see flying around as we enjoy our time outside!
Here's the rub, another transmitter for our Raptors on the Move project costs money. Organizing and producing Teacher Ecology Camp costs money. And although our volunteers, who are trained and experienced educators, are helping us, putting this information into a program that is understood by our children and grandchildren costs money. But, the reward when we see the movement of the birds on our computer screen is indescribable. Getting the participants in Teacher Ecology Camp to wade into belly-button deep water to pull a beach seine for the first time provides them with passionate stories they can take back to their students. And who can’t love seeing a couple of little fuzzball least terns grow their feathers and take flight?
Can we count on your support to help us help the birds? Think of it as an investment – an investment in the birds and for the birds!
Daniel M. Savercool, CSE
St. Petersburg Audubon Society