Florida Shorebird Surveys Underway Thanks to Creative Staffing

Snowy plover nesting on Florida beach habitat.

Post-predator control shorebird surveys are underway on St. Vincent Island, Florida and will continue through September. The information gathered will be compared against data gathered as part of an Early Restoration Phase II avian habitat enhancement project, when predator numbers were high. This comparison will enable biologists to see a “before and after picture” to determine the success of their predator control activities.

St. Vincent Island is a barrier island with white sandy beaches surrounded by clear waters, designated as Outstanding Florida Waters, in the northwestern portion of the Florida Gulf coast. The entire island, and two tracts on the mainland, all comprise the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, which provides a safe haven for at-risk species including Gopher Tortoise, Florida Red-bellied Turtles, and Black Rail birds. The Refuge is also an important stop-over point for neotropical migratory birds, which are birds that breed in North America but spend winters in Mexico, Central America, South America or the Caribbean islands.

The St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge Predator Control project was approved as part of the 2019 Florida Trustee Implementation Group Restoration Plan I, which included the restoration type habitat projects on federally managed lands. The project aims to mitigate the negative impacts of feral hogs and raccoons on shorebirds, and other wildlife habitat that are managed by the Refuge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program has been implementing the control project on the island for the past few months, and will continue for the next year and a half.

Guided by the Monitoring and Adaptive Management framework, shorebird surveys are conducted to assess the efficacy of the St. Vincent Island project. Results showing an increase in nest productivity resulting from decreased nest predation on shorebirds would indicate an effective project. Thankfully, due to the work of Refuge staff and USDA’s Wildlife Services, along with significantly reduced visitation to the island, the project has been able to continue during these times of social distancing.

Due to the social distancing requirements, the Refuge was unable to hire seasonal technicians to conduct the needed surveys. But, through creativity and teamwork, the Refuge was able to utilize existing staff to get the survey work done during the first shorebird breeding season following treatment. The Refuge Manager asked a current technician on staff to add the survey to an already full workload.

“The kind of can-do attitude and flexibility that our staff has shown during this trying time is what makes me proud to work for the Service,” said John Stark, Refuge Manager at St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. “Our staff has enabled our work to continue ensuring that critical survey data is not lost, which could have negative impacts on the overall project.”