Volunteering for the Birds…and the Sea Turtles

The Sarasota Audubon needs your help to protect the nesting birds on Siesta Key and Lido Key.    Come learn about this critical beach nesting program at “Beach University”.   Meet in the concession area on Siesta Key (public beach) on March 10 at 9 am.   All are welcome.

In addition, Sarasota Audubon is leading three Chick Check walks on Lido Key: March 20, April 17 and May 21. These walks are designed to look for courtship and nesting activities and to monitor the progress of Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers as they go through their breeding cycles. Meeting place is the parking area at the corner of Ben Franklin and Ringling on Lido Key at 8 am.

Become a Chick Checker.  Each year, dedicated volunteers jump through hoops trying to help our beach nesting birds survive. The picture is grim. Last year on Siesta Key beach, 36 eggs hatched from 8 Snowy Plover nests; two chicks survived one night, and the rest did not due to predation from crows, dogs, cats, raccoons, and human disturbance of nest sites. The more volunteers out there, the greater the chances of chick survival. You may have noticed the buffered zones on Siesta and North and South Lido . This year, we have a new strategy: we are going to have pre-posting parties—everyone invited. This means we will buffer historical nesting sites in order to create a “safe zone” for birds to set up their nests. Come help us or just watch and learn.

There are two places to meet:  Siesta Key on Friday, March 12 at 10 am at Access 7;  Lido on Friday March, 26, meet at the corner of Ben Franklin and Ringling at 10 am.

We’ll install stakes every 20 feet or so around a designated site, attach string, colored tape and information signs.   For more information, call 941-355-1709.

Alabama’s Share the Beach Sea Turtle Volunteer Program is kicking off the season on April 8 at 6pm at the First Baptist Church of Gulf Shores. If you are interested in helping out with sea turtle protection, or just learning about Share the Beach, then please come.   For more information go to http://www.alabamaseaturtles.com/

Bird Banding at Fort Morgan: we’ll I don’t know that they’re looking for volunteers but the Hummer Bird Study group will be there from March 27 to April 8.  Come out and watch the banding and learn some great stuff about the bird migration south this spring.  For more information http://www.hummingbirdsplus.org/CalendarOfEvents.html

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The Majestic Egret

I’ve always tried to live near a body of water.  I think Meridian, MS and Fort Worth, TX were the only places of note where I didn’t get to watch water birds.  I’ve always noticed the egrets hanging around the water’s edge.  They’re royal in stature, sleek in design, graceful in motion, perfectly proportioned for beauty.  They’re majestic!  I have set these egrets, and herons as well, on a pedestal since my youth.  Everything about them, including the way they quickly jab at their prey, is just an example of elegance.  They are a wonderful creature to watch and to try to imitate.  Any young girl could learn poise and grace by watching these feathered beauties.

I’ve never noticed them anywhere except near water. 

I was in shock one day, shortly after moving to Florida, when a sat at a traffic light in Sarasota.  To my right in a parking lot was an egret poking at a discarded piece of food in a torn, fast food container.  My jaw dropped with disappointment.  I sat, staring at this white hunk of feathers wrestling on a black top with something other than a fish.  I think I started crying.  The car behind me honked when the light turned green.  Momentarily dazed, I drove off wondering if I was in some weird dream.

It  wasn’t until some later date, I saw this kind of thing again.  This time I took it a little better.  But still, my majestic egret was reduced, in my mind, to nothing more than a sea gull picking at french fries in a parking lot. 

I finally chilled out about the issue, in fact, laughed at the situation while telling a friend my story.  We were at her house on Lido Key.  She had her own story to tell me, but wanted to show me something first.  We walked up the beach to the public beach area and the snack shop.  Standing by the back door to the kitchen, as usual, was a great heron and some snowy egrets begging for food.  The kitchen manager came out and said the birds were always there, every day waiting for a snack…junk food.  heron

I will always love these birds and when they are in their place, at water’s edge, they are majestic.  When they are begging for food in parking lots, I have to turn away, and chuckle.

I’m getting older

Yesterday I officially became a year closer to 50.  It was my birthday and I had a nice time. 

Gary and the boys took me to lunch at the Columbia Restaurant at St Armand’s Circle on Lido Key.  I actually requested it.  The Columbia is a fantastic place and I especially enjoy the 1905 Salad.  So now you know what I ordered.  Also good there is the Cuban sandwich but I’m not big on eating meat so I seldom eat it, but its a must to try if you’re planning lunch there.

Gary had to go back to work (no they didn’t give him the day off for my birthday) so the boys and I took off to Long Boat Key and stopped at one of the public accesses just past the fire station.  It was unbelieveable.  The surf was a little rough, the wind was kicking up loose sand (Hurricane Ike’s in town) but it was beautiful.  The surf line was filled with shells.  Mostly kitten paws so we decided to rename Long Boat Key as Kitten Paw Beach.  We’ve spotted many areas along that Key with multitudes of kitten paws so it was fitting.  Along the upper shell hash were tons, and I literally mean tons, of sea urchins as far as the eye could see.  Wow!  I hustled back to the car and pulled out our 3 sand buckets.  We filled them all to overflowing and also carried some in our hands.  There were tiny ones, huge ones and a lot of broken ones we just left.  They must have been there for a few days because they were dead as dead could be.  Most with deteriorated innerds so it’ll be easy to clean them.   The beach was lined by a vacated condo building (all the units had their hurricane blinds on) and a few small homes and a vacant lot so no one had been in the area, except a few folks on their daily walks.  I should go back once Ike leaves our neck of the Gulf, and get some more.  Sea urchin tests are so cool.  Sometimes you can find one with the spine well preserved and if you handle it ultra carefully and soak in tap water until clean the spines may stay on.  I have a few like that…thankfully unstinky. 

So what am I going to do with all of these sea urchins?  What am I going to do with all the shells and sand dollars I’ve been collecting?  Who knows.  But I’m open to suggestions.  Want to buy them?

So we were heading back and crossing over the north bridge to Siesta Key when a common thought of mine popped in my head…it would be so cool to have a sail boat.  I used to sail competitively on other people’s boats on the Chesapeake Bay before I met Gary and began my adventure across the country.  I saw a boat in the bay and it was beautiful.

The boys presented me with my gift.  A bouquet of flowers and a small wooden sail boat…for the coffee table or book shelf.   I got my sailboat!  I was amazed.  What a really cool coincidence.  I’ve always admired the wooden sailboats people display in their homes and always wanted one.  Somehow, though, shoes and haircuts and groceries always trumped any purchase of a wood decorator sailboat.  I guess my family thought it was about time I deserved it.

After a delivery of flowers from my in-laws (oh, so pretty) we finished the day at Bonefish Grill for dinner.  I ordered the grilled shrimp and scallops.  Yum!