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07.12.2017 Shoreline Spotlight
July 12, 2017

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To me, it felt like opening a fizzy drink accompanied by the sounds of ahhh. It could have come when you walked out onto a relatively empty beach or just turning onto Estero Boulevard with ease. That time between the school's spring and summer vacation, we become a quiet, small island town again. Our hard working small business people get a well-earned break and the rest of us get to enjoy some calm island life. It was the spring, the beginning of the growing season, and island residents were getting our version of spring break. Even though we are always green, spring is still an explosion of natural fertility. Flowers seem to pop up everywhere and the sounds and sights of nesting birds were all around us. Now that the blanket of summer has settled down upon us, the frenzy continues. We have had northern cardinals, European starlings, mockingbirds and an adorable pair of red-bellied woodpeckers nesting in our yard. We watched them build their nests, call for mates, mind the eggs and chicks, and then enjoyed the excitement as chicks take their first chaotic flight from tree to tree.

Many of our shorebirds have taken off for nesting grounds north, although some remain for a variety of reasons including nesting. Now it's officially and dramatically summer, and summer is the growing season and is also the nesting season for some interesting and threatened birds. snowy plovers, Wilson's plovers and least terns have been nesting on our little island and are now joined by black skimmers. Snowy plovers are a threatened species, with only a couple of hundred mating pairs in the entire state. Plovers are small shorebirds with distinctive stop and start movements when they are feeding in the surf wash, like watching a teenage learn to drive a stick shift.They need open, natural beaches with gentle slopes as nesting areas; the same kind of beach that is popular with us as well. These nesting areas are vulnerable to storms, predation and human interference. There are few breeding areas in Florida for these rare shorebirds, and Fort Myers Beach is one of them.

Least terns are all about precision, diving into the water for a single small fish. They become protective of the nests and chicks in the colony when someone gets too close and will dive at you and even try to poop on you. They drive off their natural predators such as crows and gulls in the same way. I can tell you from personal experience that they poop with a precision similar to their hunting.

Black skimmers look like long billed gulls from a distance, but they are unique and interesting birds. Their lower mandible is razor thin from the front and thick from the side. They can comfortably fly over the surface of the water with their lower mandible skimming the water scanning for fish just below the surface. They become a common sight in the evening during nesting season as they head out to look for food. I know I shouldn't play favorites, but I love watching skimmers elegantly fly over the water while keeping their lower mandible just under the surface.

Shorebirds have been having a rough go of it. Weather, predation and human interference take a toll. It is a privileged and an honor to share our beach with these fascinating birds. It reminds us that our beach is not only a fun vacation spot, but a marvel of nature. Please treat the birds with care. Disturbing them can cause them to abandon their nests. Predation by gulls and crows can significantly reduce nesting success for the beach nesting birds. People feeding birds, or just leaving edible trash unattended, attract these predators to the nesting sites.

Dogs are seen by the nesting birds as a potential predator, so the Town of Fort Myers Beach does not allow dogs in the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area (LECWA). Where dogs are allowed, they must be kept on a non-retractable leash, 6 feet or shorter and must be under the owners control at all times. It is a precarious balancing act to host one of nature's great spectacles and remain dog friendly. Fewer people doesn't mean it is safe to let your dog run, and it is never legal. Penalties range from a simple ticket from the Town for having your dog off leash, a $1,000 minimum fine for harassing, and $3,500 - $13,000 fine if your dog kills an endangered shorebird. Protect our birds and help keep our beach dog friendly by making sure you keep your dog beach friendly. Talk to people who let their dogs run loose on the beach about keeping their dog(s) leashed so our beach is safer for everyone and everything.

Fortunately, our nesting shorebirds have help. Audubon stewards keep watch over the nesting birds and are available to answer questions. At the south end of the beach, private property owners cooperate with Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) to fence and mark nests and with Audubon to have stewards educate the beachgoers about the nesting birds. Audubon can use more volunteers and friends to keep a watchful eye on them. Our beach is a fabulous place, and our nesting shorebirds make it richer, more interesting, and more valuable.

The Marine Resources Task Force, or MRTF is an advisory committee for the Fort Myers Beach Town Council. MRTF's nest meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12th at 4:30 in the Town council chambers. The Agenda for July's meetings includes reviewing the fertilizer ordinance, discussing ways to reduce trash on the beach, using swales for adsorption of rain water and next month's "Murphy" award.

- Bill Veach, Marine Resources Task Force chair

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