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Nature Calls
home : features : nature calls
September 22, 2021

9/2/2021 2:33:00 PM
A Booming Year for Shore Birds
Least terns do battle with black skimmers over beach territory where terns had nests.
Least terns do battle with black skimmers over beach territory where terns had nests.
By Mary Lundeberg

As the article title suggests, 2021 was an exceptionally successful year for beach-nesting birds at Stump Pass Beach State Park. More beach-nesting birds have rested, nested, and fledged young this season than in the past ten years at Stump Pass Beach State Park – a refreshing positive note amid the sad melody of bird, wildlife, and marine population decline.
The southern end of Stump Pass Beach State Park is a desirable nesting location for both seabirds, such as least terns and black skimmers, and shorebirds like Wilson’s plovers and snowy plovers.  The females scrape a cup in the sand and lay 2-3 eggs directly on the beach; however, their camouflaged eggs and chicks are vulnerable to storms, predators, and human disturbance.
Did you know that least terns migrate from South America to nest here? Amazing! This year 250 least terns laid 72 nests and fledged 52 chicks. That’s more than twice as many least tern chicks fledged this year at Stump Pass than in any year since the Florida Shorebird Database started keeping records in 2011! Another positive note is that two Wilson’s plovers also fledged one chick this year.
Even more exciting was the successful nesting of black skimmers, who are named for skimming the surface of water with their lower candy-corn colored bill. Black skimmers only nested twice in the past ten years at Stump Pass and had abandoned their nests. This year, 202 black skimmers laid 39 nests and fledged 31 chicks!
Part of the 2021 beach-nesting bird record-breaking success can be attributed to the committed Barrier Island Parks Society (BIPS) bird stewards, the park rangers, Charlotte County, and contributions by students at Englewood Elementary School.
• Bird Stewards educated over a thousand beachgoers from April 4-July 30. On Saturdays and Sundays, as well as long holiday weekends, 24 BIPS bird stewards educated 1,158 beachgoers about the threatened least terns, Wilson’s plovers, and black skimmers who nest on the beach at Stump Pass Beach State Park. Stewards protected the birds from human disturbances and dogs by showing beachgoers and boaters the nearly invisible eggs, helping them to understand the purpose for the roped-off areas, and the reasons for nest abandonment and why birds “dive-bomb” humans.
• Englewood Elementary youth created art to save wildlife. In May, science lab teacher Rachel Baker and I educated 300 third, fourth and fifth graders about beach-nesting birds. These students created colorful signs to educate beachgoers about the challenges faced by birds nesting on the beach. Local artist Linda Soderquist assisted with the selection of ten youth signs to print on metal, and these signs were posted at the protected bird areas. Both Elsie Quirk Library and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum also displayed youth signs in exhibits about beach-nesting birds.
• Fourth of July fireworks and Tropical Storm Elsa. On July 4, stewards noticed the birds flushed 4 times when winds carried the sound of firecrackers. Debris showed evidence of fireworks at night as well. Yes, fireworks are enjoyable and fun for humans but very detrimental to nesting birds, causing them to abandon their nests from fear. The storm surge from Tropical Storm Elsa on July 6 washed over some least tern and black skimmers nests near the shoreline. Both the fireworks and storm surge decreased the population.
• Rare birds visited the roped-off pond. Especially thrilling to birders and nature lovers were the appearances of a rare Arctic tern, sooty shearwater, bridled tern, marbled godwit, American avocet, whimbrel, piping plover, Caspian tern and American oystercatchers this season as well. If you want to do your part to help protect these graceful creatures, please walk around birds on the beach - migrating birds need to rest and eat. We can all share the shore. If you would like to learn more about becoming a bird steward monitor for next year, please contact me at marylundeberg@gmail.com.
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