Island Chatter: October

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Dismal season for snowy plover on Siesta Key

The snowy plover, for a variety of reasons, had a tough time this year on Siesta Key. Kylie Wilson, shorebird coordinator for Audubon Florida, gives the following report:

“This past nesting season, snowy plovers laid only two nests on Siesta. That is the fewest number of nests recorded on Siesta for many years. Unfortunately, continued predation and disturbance has led nesting to be unsuccessful since 2016 and the snowy plovers are starting to move away to other beaches. We noticed more nesting on Lido Key this past season (at least five nests). Ms. Sanibel, a female plover who hatched on Sanibel and was banded in 2017, had attempted to nest on Siesta each year since but this year she went to nest at Honeymoon Island in Pinellas County and successfully hatched two chicks.

“It is sad that Siesta has not been a suitable nesting location for the past several years, as historically it had hosted the majority of our local snowy plover population. In 2017 there were 30 recorded nests on Siesta, but no chicks successfully fledged. No chicks have even hatched on Siesta since 2018.

“Nesting season starts around the beginning of March and in our area many plovers are beginning to nest around spring break. The past several years, there have been repeated instances of vandalism to the pre-nesting enclosure at the Conservation Foundation property (near Beach Access 11). This year, through using a game camera, we discovered the vandalism was caused by people walking through the enclosure at night. We had some video footage of young adults that seemed intoxicated walking through the area. FWC and local law enforcement were notified about the problem. I added reflective tape to the posting to hopefully prevent the issues but it was not effective. In some instances, the stakes were broken, pulled out and dragged down the beach. There were no active nests at the time, rather this is an area that gets posted at the beginning of the season to reserve some space for the plovers.

“Dogs are another issue. With virtually every survey on Siesta I noted dog tracks. The snowy plovers tend to nest on the upper beach near the vegetation. People walking dogs on the beach may not realize that the dog can appear as a predator to the plovers and cause them to fly off their nests. This then leaves the eggs vulnerable to real predators, like crows.

“Again, through the use of game cameras, we have determined crows are the main predators of snowy plover nests on Siesta. They are intelligent and have learned how to detect the very cryptic nests. It takes four weeks for the snowy plover’s eggs to hatch and now we have seen that crows often find the eggs within a couple weeks, sometimes even as quickly as a few days.

“The habitat has also changed on Siesta. The grasses on the north end of the key have expanded and become very dense. Snowy plovers need sparse vegetation or open beach to nest. With less habitat on the upper beach, the plovers are forced to attempt to nest closer to where people set up and walk. The first of two nests found this past season. was on a small sandy patch near Beach Access 5. When I found the nest, a couple of beach-goers had set up their chairs just a few feet away. They had no idea there was a bird nesting.

“The snowy plovers are still using Siesta as a non-breeding site. During the winter, snowy plovers will migrate south from the panhandle and stay together in larger groups. I counted 16 snowy plovers along Siesta on my survey this past week. I expect to continue to see snowy plover nesting on Siesta decline in the coming years unless more can be done to manage predation, habitat, and disturbance. I hope that things can turn around as these birds have very few places left along our Gulf shoreline where they can be successful.”

County drops red tide warnings

On Sept. 9, the beach condition signs on all 16 beaches in Sarasota County were changed to “Enjoy the Beach” from “Red Tide Present,” according to Sarasota County. This comes after all beach water samples taken Sept. 7 by the Florida Department of Health-Sarasota came back showing zero cells of Karenia brevis present. 

The signage at the lifeguard stations on Siesta Beach indicated a presence of red tide beginning July 13. During the nearly two months of the warning being displayed, the county has collected about 70 tons of debris from its shorelines. Substantial fish kills on Aug. 4 and 17 contributed greatly to that total.

Turtle Beach was one of 11 county beaches to receive a no-swim advisory, in its case starting Aug. 7 and ending Aug. 12. Siesta Beach managed to avoid such an advisory.

New trees planted at Siesta Beach

Siesta Beach’s grounds is home to 143 new trees, featuring six types. They were planted by county workers in late August and include gumbo limbo, black olive, sea grape, green buttonwood, silver buttonweed, and Geiger tree.

David Rainey is all smiles as he plants one of 143 new trees at Siesta Beach. (submitted photo)

The process required transporting the trees, hand-digging every hole, establishing irrigation, staking and supporting, and then watering the trees when in place.

Sponsors, vendors, volunteers sought for Crystal Classic

Sponsorship opportunities are available for the annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, set for Nov. 12 through 15 at Siesta Beach.

Vendor slots are also available.

Meanwhile, as many as 200 volunteers are needed. Duties include set-up, hanging banners, displaying signage, artist hospitality, operations and entertainment support, admissions, beer and merchandise sales, and event break-down.

Event hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 12, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 13, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15.

For details on all of these opportunities, visit siestakeycrystalclassic.com.

Siesta Sand
Author: Siesta Sand

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