Tag Archives: Florida Wildllife Commission

Bird Island/Indian River Lagoon, One of Florida’s Most Important Avian Breeding Grounds

Bird Island is one of the most productive breeding grounds for more than 15 species of birds and a rookery/visiting grounds to even more species. The island is owned by the state of Florida and managed by Martin County. It is located 400 feet from the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Most photos by Greg Braun, Sustainable Ecosystems International, story below.)

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Wood stork w nestling at MC-2 - GBraun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Wood Stork w nesting material near MC-2 Braun

Just over three years ago, I was going through I guess a kind of mid-life crisis where I really was questioning what I was doing with my life. When I couldn’t seem to get it together, I decided to spend some time going back to “my roots,” to the things that made me happy as a kid. I called up family friend Nancy Beaver of Sunshine Wildlife Tours in Port Salerno, and asked her if I could volunteer on her boat a couple of times a week. She obliged, and slowly, I felt my passion for life return while being surrounded by the animals and birds in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The highlight of every tour was “Bird Island,” located off my “very own” Sewall’s Point, as I was mayor of the town at the time.

I had seen the birds from far away, but to see the beautifully colored birds, especially their babies, through binoculars up close was incredible.

Bird Island, located in the Indian River Lagoon, just 400 feet off of the Sewall’s Point’s Archipelago is one of the most valuable nesting bird habitats along Florida’s east coast, really in all of Florida. Rarely are so many different kinds of birds in one location, breeding…

A wonder of nature, birds of all kinds fill the island, over 40 types visiting or roosting and at least 15 species of birds simultaneouly raising young.  At any time of late fall through spring hundreds of birds sometimes over a thousand, some say more, fill the island.

Greg Braun, of Sustainable Ecosystems International, was hired by Martin County for avian monitoring September 2011 thorough August 2012 and he documented observing 240  pairs of birds of 15 species nesting including the Wood Stork; Brown Pelican; Double-crested  Cormorant; Great Egret; Cattle Egret; Anhinga; Tri-colored Heron; Snowy Egret; Great Blue Heron; Litle Blue Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron; Great White Heron; Roseate Spoonbill; Black Vulture; Oystercatcher; and suspected White Ibis and a couple of  invasive Egyptian Geese.

So why this island? There are plenty of others to choose from in the area. Maybe it is for protection? Maybe its the eastern sandbar that keeps boaters at bay and gives the chicks a place to practice swimming and flying and the older birds can just hang out? Maybe its the nearby western seagrasses with its rich production of fish.

Nobody really knows but obviously the birds like it. Originally Bird Island, more scientifically known as “MC-2” was created in the 1940s as a by-product of dredging the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, (Braun, Avian Monitoring). My mother, historian, Sandra Thurlow, says there are verbal accounts of birds nesting on the island since the 60s and 70s, but again nobody is really sure when it began…

Man’s involvement remains controversial with the removal of tall Australian Pines a few years  back that the amazing Frigate Birds sat on, and then the building of a $600,000, 400 foot long rip-rap on the island’s northern side by Martin County to offset documented erosion. Now in the process is the Florida Wildlife Commission’s (FWC) possible creation of a  CWA or Critical Wildlife Area so that trespassing onto or very near the island would be a crime.

Personally, I think the  bird’s habitat should be very protected as the importance of the island is obvious and it is a rare thing. As far as the CRA status, the County is working through issues with local fishermen who use the area for bait catching, and other users of the area surrounding the island. I do hope some higher level of protection can be met.

Right now, signs surround the island in hopes of giving the birds the privacy they need to  raise their chicks, but curious kayakers and others often go very close flushing the birds off their nest, with masses of crows waiting  close by, putting the chicks at risk.  Sun exposure can also kill the young chicks. People don’t mean to but they often do disturb the island.

Another common problem is fishing line. Nancy Beaver and the FWC when in the area often see birds entangled in monofilament caught in the mangroves. Many birds are taken to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center and saved; but many more are euthanized due to emaciation.

Bird Island was definitely affected by last year’s putrid release water from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals as is visible in an aerial photograph included in this blog.  During the releases, 85 percent of seagrasses died last summer according  to Florida Oceanographic Society. The bird’s feeding was/is certainly affected by such loss.

In the end, I do believe everyone agrees that Bird Island is an amazing place. Let’s get along like the many birds do and protect it! And if you have not seen it, maybe put it on your list of things to do!

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Sunshine Wildlife Tours: (http://sunshinewildlifetours.com)

Audubon Martin County: (http://audubonmartincounty.org/index.php/home/item/51-bird-island-martin-countys-special-place)

Sustainable Ecosystems International: (http://sustainableecosystemsinternational.com)bird island releases

Bird Island, Greg Braun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA MC-2 GBraun Oystercatcher on beach - GBraun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Green heron -GBraun Little Blue Heron - GBraun Frigatebirds at MC-2 GBraun greg, mike and pelican OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1092 IMG_1166 susan Bird Island DSC_9203e OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA MC2 CWA Revised Boundary 5-20-13

 

Non-Native Species Along the Indian River Lagoon

Common orange rat snake and Knight Anole in a life or death struggle, Sewall's Point. (Photo by Nina B, 2014.)
Common red rat snake and knight anole fight to the death on the back porch, Sewall’s Point. (Photo by Nina Barsik, 2014.)

I believe that all animals are God’s creatures and I try to be kind to every single one, even snakes, lizards and ants. I drive my husband crazy, and he rolls his eyes if I scold him for killing a fly,  but I have been this way since I was a kid. All of the animals are my friends. I always wanted to be Snow White and have the birds land on my shoulder and talk to me. So far, the cardinals in my yard sometimes come close when I put out their sunflower seeds, but that’s about it.

Upon seeing this photograph yesterday, I wanted to share because if nothing else it reminded me that we are not the only ones fighting for our lives here along the Indian River Lagoon!

This photo, taken in Sewall’s Point, is of an red rat snake, a native, and a knight anole, a non-native, that according to the Florida Wildlife Commission has lived and bred in our area for around ten years. I have had  both species  in my aquarium at one point or another if they were injured to rehabilitate;  from what I was told, these two in the photograph were in a very healthy death grip, until one “won” of course….

By the way, in case this photo  freaks you out, snakes are great natural pest control of especially rodents; they will not attack a well cared for “Fido,” so please don’t kill them.

As afar as the knight anole, non-native species are not a problem unless they start to take over native  species to the point that the entire eco-system radically changes. For instance, many of you may be familiar with lion-fish which are now invading the lagoon and according to Harbor Branch Oceanographic kill/consume about 67 % of all life around them; or pythons in the everglades eating, deer, panthers, and alligators and now becoming the top predator. This is a problem… At the end of the day, it is usually humans that bring the animal into the non native area by releasing pets.

The Florida Wildlife Commission defines non-native animals as “exotic” saying:
“Exotic species are animals living outside captivity that did not historically occur in Florida. Most are introduced species, meaning they have been brought to Florida by humans. A few of Florida’s exotics arrived by natural range expansions, like cattle egrets which are native to Africa and Asia but flew across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Florida in the 1950s. Several common nonnative species, like coyotes, armadillos and red foxes, were not only introduced by humans but also spread into Florida by natural range expansions.”

So let’s know our environment, please be kind to all animals,  and let’s all help nature’s balance by not releasing exotic pets into the wild along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Who won? I knew you were wondering about that…the snake!

Florida Wildlife Commission/FWC: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/exotic-information/)

FWC Knight Anole: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/reptiles/knight-anole/)

FWC Red/(Orange) Rat/AKA “corn snake” Snake:http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/imperiled/profiles/reptiles/red-rat-snake/)

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2-11-15:  Just to follow up and note how small the world is– as well as how much can happen through social media… a Harvard Professor and Curator of Herpetology, at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard University, Johathan Losos, saw this IRL blog post above on the invasive Knight Anole and native Rat Snake fight in Sewall’s Point. He then got in touch with me, spoke to the woman at whose home this occurred, and  published his own blog post for his Herpetology community. Read his blog here! Thank you Dr Losos! (http://www.anoleannals.org/2015/02/09/knight-anole-vs-red-rat-snake-who-will-win/)