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File photo by Rick Greenspun
Siesta Key Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012 5 years ago

Sarasota Audubon Society makes careful effort to protect plovers

by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

It seems vacationers aren’t the only ones fond of Siesta Key’s pristine beaches. Something about the area also makes it especially attractive to Siesta Key’s beloved snowy plovers, the tiny, white, endangered birds that call the No. 1 beach home. As the birds enter their breeding season, the Sarasota Audubon Society is once again ready to help protect them.

The organization has been monitoring birds on the beach in some form for approximately 25 years, and in the past three years, it has ramped up its monitoring programs, placing a special emphasis on protecting the area’s snowy plovers.

Jeanne Dubi, president of the Sarasota Audubon Society reported at the Siesta Key Association meeting, Thursday, April 5, that of the approximately 225 snowy plover nesting places on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 8% to 10% of those are actually in Sarasota county, and thus we have a great responsibility to protect them.

“We’d prefer it if they went to a quieter beach, but they’re following Dr. Beach as well,” joked Dubi. “I was surprised to learn that the amount of birds on the beach is one of the criteria considered by Dr. Beach. So that played a part in being ranked No. 1 — it’s one of the 50 things that makes Siesta Key so special.”

With the help of volunteers and the assistance of the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and other interested individuals, Dubi says the Audubon Society has seen considerable success in the past few years in getting the snowy plovers to the fledgling stage, which is when the chicks are able to fly on their own.

Volunteers monitor the beach each morning during the birds’ breeding season, which spans from March to August, keeping track of numbers and taping off areas where eggs are laid.

With Siesta Fiesta and the Fourth of July approaching, the increase of people in the area is something the organization is taking into consideration.

“We all have to live together,” said Dubi. “When there are tons of people on the beach, and fireworks and so on, we have to ramp up our volunteers and get more help protecting those birds.”

Because of the snowy plovers’ small size and white color, Dubi emphasized how easy it can be to overlook the birds as they begin to walk around the beach. Accordingly, volunteers are putting forth even more extensive efforts to protect the endangered birds.

“When the little chicks are hatched, we actually follow them around on the beach and trail them to make sure there aren’t any disturbances,” said Dubi. “So, that’s how intense the effort is.”

Although some people are resistant at first to the efforts to protect the birds, Dubi says they are usually quick to come around.

“Some people don’t care for the sections of the beach being roped off,” she said. “But when we take the time to talk to them and explain why, 99% of the time, they are perfectly OK with it.”

Retired wildlife biologist and regular Audobon volunteer, Dr. Allan Worms, estimates six to eight pairs of plovers are currently mating, and that hopefully more chicks would soon be on their way. He encourages anyone interested to head to Siesta Key Beach between 7:30 and 8 a.m. to assist in volunteering.

“We always need more volunteers,” Worms said. “And it’s fun — you get to learn a lot.”

At the meeting, the Siesta Key Association board members unanimously agreed to continue donating funds to the Audubon Society, increasing its donation to $1,000.

Dubi expressed her gratitude to all the volunteers and donors who help the organization continue its monitoring programs and other efforts to protect the birds on Siesta Key, which she estimated costs about $10,000 per year.

“I think it’s a credit to all of us in this community that we can support this kind of effort for these tiny little birds,” said Dubi. “Once you see one of these little things, you fall madly in love.”

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