A Shared Passion For The Bay’s Birds

A Shared Passion For The Bay’s Birds

Protecting the vulnerable waterbirds that nest on coastal islands in the greater Tampa Bay region is a labor of love for Audubon Florida wardens Ann Paul and Mark Rachel. The pair is continuing an Audubon legacy in Tampa Bay that dates to 1934.

Together they safeguard rookeries that annually host 50,000 pairs of wading and shorebirds. The largest is the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay.

In all, 18 species nest here, from brown pelicans, American oystercatchers and roseate spoonbills to myriad species of herons, egrets and ibis.

Because nesting birds are easily disturbed and may abandon chicks and eggs, Paul and Rachel patrol and post the sanctuaries to keep boaters and their dogs at a safe distance. “We regularly check the pulse of colonies to ensure that nesting is on course and that there aren’t any problems,” said Paul.  Ongoing surveys help them estimate the number of nesting birds.

Discarded fishing line or lures entangles and kills birds. Last year, volunteers helped remove 13,000 feet of fishing line from 36 different coastal sites. “In many cases, birds bring back fishing line and use it to feather their nests,” where it can kill again, Rachel said.

Nature photographers that get too close to capture images of the stunning birds in breeding plumage are a growing concern.

“It’s important that we all respect these areas and leave them for the birds,” said Paul.

Did you know? Nesting season cranks up in Spring, when birds acquire intense courtship colors, and continues through August.

Photo By: Kathleen Finnerty

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