For those stewards who are working on the Gulf site, there have been a few changes in the past couple weeks. If you’ve been out recently, you’ve seen them for yourself, but here’s the latest news for anyone who hasn’t made it out.
First, I think everyone got word when the condo posting was taken down in June. This was the posted area that was in front of the condos on the Marco beach. No birds were nesting in it, so it was removed by the FWC.
Second, more recently, the southermost posting within the Big Marco Pass CWA was also taken down by the FWC. This was the first posting that you came to if you walked south around the lagoon, past the South Seas condos, and north (right) up the beach. Conversely, it was the posting that you came to if you waded across the lagoon and turned south (left) when you came to the beach. That posting had hosted at least one pair of Wilson’s Plovers but was no longer being used. We had had a small sign titled “Shorebird Information” posted at the southwest corner of that posting where stewards had been setting up. The sign has been moved as of today.
Since the removal of the southernmost posting, there are now three remaining postings on Sand Dollar Island. This map shows very approximate locations for each of the posted areas (the ones that have been removed have a red X). All of the remaining postings have nesting birds in–and around–them.
The first, the “second” posting, is about a 15-minute walk from the lagoon, if you wade. It’s the best place for Gulf stewarding. The “Shorebird Information” sign is now located about 50 yards before the beginning of that colony. As you approach the second posting, you will see Least Terns first. Many have already successfully raised chicks to fledging, but some are still sitting on eggs or feeding chicks. Just past the terns, you will see over 200 Black Skimmers. This group of skimmers is the farthest along, most having hatched chicks and many having large chicks that look like frumpy brown softballs with legs. Many people have not noticed these conspicuous birds! Therefore, “Have you seen our skimmer chicks?” is a good opener for talking to beach-goers, as well as the standby “Have you been here before?”
One way to steward on the Gulf is to simply walk around in front of this colony. It’s the first colony people will come to, so if you just stay there, you’ll be able to talk to almost everyone who might encounter the birds. When you arrive, get a feel for how close the birds will let you come (this will vary somewhat depending on the conditions on that day), and walk back and forth, catching north-bound visitors to show them the chicks. Some chicks will be out of the posting. They will usually run away from people, but keep an eye out just to be careful. Sometimes they hunker down instead of running, and there is a chance a hunkered chick could be stepped on.
The “Shorebird Information” sign is not within easy sight of the birds. That’s by design, in the hopes that people will read the text before they encounter nesting birds. Don’t feel you have to set up your steward site at the sign. It’s mostly there for when stewards aren’t around.
The next two colonies are both mixed Least Tern and Black Skimmer, and the birds in them are generally not as far along as the birds in the second posting. Some of the skimmers are just now hatching chicks, and it looks like many still have eggs. The terns too also have eggs and a greater number of young chicks. You are welcome to walk up to these colonies as well, but you’re under no obligation to do so. If you have two Gulf stewards, it might be fun to take turns so one person stays at the second posting while the other tours the rest of Sand Dollar Island.