The Swallow-tailed Kites are Back

The Swallow-tailed Kites are Back

I was having dinner with my family on a cool March evening when one said “I have not seen any Swallow-tailed Kites yet.  We usually see them this time of year”.  To which I replied, “I saw one today!” – and I had.  It was March 23, a very windy afternoon, and I saw it briefly zip over our backyard.  The Swallow-tailed Kites were back.

 

Back in the sense they were back from their long migration from South America.  The Swallow-tailed Kite resides there and ventures north to Central and North America during the summer for the breeding season.

The Swallow-tailed Kite.
Photo: Cornell University

It is a magnificent bird, described as “one of the most awesome birds in the U.S.”.  Their long slender bodies are sharp in contrast with a brilliant white head and a deep black body.  They have long pointed wings which they use to soar with grace, rarely flapping their wings, and their key feature of the scissor-looking forked tail.  They are a relatively large bird somewhere between the size of a crow and a large goose.  Swallow-tailed kites are often seen soaring just above the treetops searching for food but can also be seen at higher elevations gliding along with the wind.  It is a bird that many get excited about when they see it.

 

Arriving in the United States in late February and March, they seek out opportunities for nesting habitat.  Their preference are tall trees, usually 60 feet or taller, and most often select pine trees, though have been known to nest in cypress and other large trees.  They usually select trees close to water or open fields.  These locations provide an abundance of their favorite prey – insects.  They can be seen zooming close to the trees to grab unwary prey and will, at times, take larger creatures like treefrogs, lizards, and small snakes.  Their beaks are small however, and so prey selection is limited.

 

Both the males and females participate in nest building.  Swallow-tailed kites are monogamous and mate pairing often occurs during the migration.  They usually build a new nest each season but often is the same location.  Males are territorial of these nest locations and defend them with local vocalizations.  Despite this, many swallow-tailed kite nests can be found near each other.

The Swallow-tailed Kite.
Photo: Rodney Cammauf – National Park Photo.

Once the young hatch, the female remains with them while the male forages for food.  He typically brings it back to the nest in his talons, perches and transfers the food to his beak, and the provides it to the female who in turn feeds the chicks.  After fledging, around August or September, it is time to head back to South America and they leave our area until next spring.

 

Swallow-tailed kites were once common all along the Mississippi River drainage as far north as Minnesota.  However, the numbers declined significantly, primarily due to humans shooting them, and today they are only found in the lower coastal regions of the southeastern U.S.  Today they can be found, but are uncommon, in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Caroline.  In Florida they are considered uncommon in the panhandle but common in the peninsula part of the state.  Their numbers seem to be increasing but the loss of tall nesting trees is a major issue today.  The clearing of these tall trees due to agriculture and urban development have kept them from reestablishing their original range.  But for now – the swallow-tailed kites are back.

 

For more information on this amazing bird read the following.

 

Swallow-tailed Kite.  All About Birds.  Cornell Lab.  Cornell University.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swallow-tailed_Kite/id.

 

Swallow-tailed Kite. Bird Guide – Hawks and Eagles.  Audubon Society.  https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/swallow-tailed-kite.

Stem to Stern (Northwest Florida November 2, 2023)

Stem to Stern (Northwest Florida November 2, 2023)

Organized and sponsored by Florida Sea Grant, the “Stem to Stern” workshop in November 2023 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center marked a significant gathering in marine conservation and management. This event drew together legal experts, representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), local marine resource coordinators, law enforcement, and industry stakeholders to tackle critical issues facing Florida’s marine environments. Through discussions that ranged from legal frameworks for boating and waterway access to environmental conservation strategies, the workshop facilitated a deep dive into the complexities of marine policy and stewardship. Discover new programs, insights, and collective expertise shared at “Stem to Stern.”

Florida Sea Grant Boating and Waterways Workshop

November 2, 2023 Emerald Coast Convention Center

1250 Miracle Strip Parkway SE – Ft. Walton Beach FL

9:00 – 9:25 WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS

Welcome

Rick O’Connor (Florida Sea Grant UF IFAS Extension)

Moderators –Mike Norberg and Jessica Valek (Okaloosa County)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99jwUil1tzY?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Panel Discussion

Ryan Hinely (Northwest Florida Marine Industry)

Capt. Keith Clark (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Cecilia James (Panhandle Association of Code Enforcement – PAOCE)

Robert Turpin (Escambia County Division of Marine Resources)

Glenn Conrad (U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary)

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Pebbles Simmons (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

9:25 – 10:10 BOATING AND WATERWAY ACCESS

Resources:

Boating, Waterways, and the Rights of Navigation in Florida (2019, 5th Edition)

Moderator – Tom Ankersen (Florida Sea Grant/UF IFAS Extension, Prof Emeritus)

Anchoring and Mooring

Brendan Mackesey (Pinellas County)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmbz2gO2Cpc?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Boating Restricted Areas

Byron Flagg (Gray Robinson Law Firm)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzbSVqn36WY?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

10:10 – 10:15 Break

10:15 – 11:15 REGULATION AND ENFORCEMENT

Moderator – Robert Turpin (Escambia County Division of Marine Resources)

Marine Enforcement of Derelict and At-Risk Vessels

Resources: FWC Derelict and A-Risk Vessels

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Capt. Keith Clark (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Lt. Jarrod Molnar (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Lt. Shelton Bartlett (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn9d1ljeZNw?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

At Risk Vessels

Resources: FWC Derelict and A-Risk Vessels

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8OotG12tR4?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Florida Vessel Turn-in Program (VTIP)

Resources:FWC Florida Vessel Turn-in Program (VTIP)

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVbTH9bt0O0?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Partnering with FWC to Remove Derelict Vessels

Resources: FWC Derelict Vessel Removal Grant Program

Chantille Weber (UF IFAS Extension) and Scott Jackson (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1R3-qxY184?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

11:15 – 12:15 Lunch

Post Lunch Q&A Derelict Vessel Discussion

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dX4i9XOhmHQ?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

12:15 – 12:55 WATERWAY ENVIRONMENTS

Moderator – Dr. Laura Tiu (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

Update on Giant Salvinia

Resources: FWC Giant Salvinia

Derek Fussell (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrMDSbAz7vE?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Boating and Seagrass protection

Resources: Florida Sea Grant, Be Seagrass Smart – “Scars Hurt”

Savanna Barry (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCTWF7xBgdo?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

12:55 – 1:20 BOATING SAFETY

Moderator – Chantille Weber (UF IFAS Extension)

Pontoon Boating Safety (Law Enforcement’s Perspective)

Kyle Corbitt (Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flm4DrUXk5Y?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Pontoon Boating Safety (Operator’s Perspective)

Resources: Okaloosa County Watersport Operators Coalition

John Stephens (Okaloosa County Watersport Operators Coalition)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXRiP0SOZZ0?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

1:20 – 1:25          Break

1:25 – 2:10 PUBLIC EDUCATION

Moderator – Rick O’Connor  (Okaloosa County)

Communicating with the Public

Resources: Florida Sea Grant Communications

Donielle Nardi (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVA2vVt11xQ?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Florida Friendly Visitor Program (Working with Recreational Boaters)

Resources: Florida Sea Grant – About Us!

Anna Braswell (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca0Bt3jlYrg?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

2:10 – 3:00 POLLUTION AND MARINE DEBRIS

Moderator – Thomas Derbes (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

Clean Vessel Program

Resources:

Clean Vessel Program and help for Marinas

Clean Vessel Program and how Boaters can Help Keep Florida’s Waters Clean!

Vicki Gambale (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYzESZAYYgc?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

Preparing for Storms

Resources:

UF/IFAS Disaster Preparations and Recovery

UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant – Hurricane Prep: Securing Your Boat

Scott Jackson (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension) and Chantille Weber (UF IFAS Extension)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbCiYS-E1UA?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1]

3:00 – 3:15          EVALUATIONS – Rick O’Connor (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

3:15 – 3:45          WRAP UP – Robert Turpin (Escambia County Marine Resources)

PROGRAM SPONSORS

FWC Logo Destin Fort Walton Beach Logo

 

Acknowledgement

We extend our deepest gratitude to all who contributed to the success of the “Stem to Stern” workshop. To our esteemed speakers, whose expertise and insights into marine conservation and management have been invaluable, we offer our sincere thanks. Your presentations were not only informative but also inspirational, guiding us toward a more sustainable future for our waterways.

A special acknowledgment goes to the members of the planning and program committee. Your dedication and hard work in organizing this event did not go unnoticed. From the initial planning stages to the execution of the workshop, your efforts have been the backbone of this successful gathering.

We also want to thank the authors of the surveys that have provided us with essential data and perspectives. Your research and analysis contribute significantly to our understanding of the challenges and opportunities within Florida boating and waterways.

Lastly, we are incredibly grateful for the support from our sponsors. Your generosity and commitment to Florida Sea Grant and marine conservation have been crucial in bringing this workshop to life. Your support not only made this event possible but also highlights your dedication to safeguarding our marine ecosystems.

Together, we have taken an important step towards protecting and enhancing Florida’s waterways. Thank you for your contributions, commitment, and shared vision for a sustainable future.

Information edited and compiled by: L. Scott Jackson, Chantille Weber, and Amon Philyaw, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Andra Johnson, Dean. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.

 
Beach Wildlife Walk – Late Winter

Beach Wildlife Walk – Late Winter

Though this is titled late winter, it did not feel like winter on this walk.  The air temperature was 75°F.  There was a blanket of fog over the beach, and it felt slightly humid and sticky, but with a cooler feel than we have in summer.  It is true that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this year – signaling an early spring, and the weather today supported this, but spring does not officially begin until the equinox on March 21.  So, this is a late winter walk. 

This walk was near Big Sabine on Pensacola Beach.  As I crossed the road at Park East and headed into the dunes there was a breeze from the south creating surf that could be heard across the island.  The fog made things damp and chilled.  And there was no sign of wildlife anywhere.  The numerous songbirds I had encountered during early and mid-winter were gone.  There were flowers in bloom but no insects pollinating them.  Literally no wildlife was to be seen. 

A foggy day on Pensacola Beach. Photo: Rick O’Connor

So, I turned my focus to the environment, noticing plants and the stages they were in.  As you move from the primary dunes of the Gulf side into the more shrub covered secondary dunes, you cross through low areas in the dune field called swales.  Here water collects during rain events forming ephemeral ponds and the plants associated with this habitat are more wetland than upland.  In the boggy portions of the swale, I found sundews large and in a brilliant red color.  These carnivorous plants produce tiny droplets of sugar water on threads at the tips of their leaves that attract the pollinators of the beach.  Though sweet and delicious, they are also sticky and trap unaware insects which become a meal for them.  Along with the sundew were numerous strands of ground pine, another carnivorous plant of the swale. 

Swales are low areas of the dune field where water stands for periods of time and the more wetland plants can exist. Photo: Rick O’Connor
The carnivorous sundew inhabits more wetland locations. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Beyond the swale, the secondary dunes were a blanket of lavender.  The false rosemary, also called beach heather (Conradina), was in full bloom everywhere.  As I walked through the dunes of flowers I came across the signs of wildlife.  Armadillo dens were quite common.  There were tracks of animals, including the raccoon, and scat was found.  The scat contained seeds and, unlike the long-tapered shape of most carnivore scat, was blunt and rectangular shaped – suggesting a herbivore or omnivore.  I did encounter a couple of ephemeral ponds with very little water, but there were no animals, or animal sign, to be found there. 

The false rosemary was in bloom and the dunes were full of this lavender color. Photo: Rick O’Connor
Armadillo burrows like this one can be found all over our barrier islands. Photo: Rick O’Connor
The blunt ended and rectangular shape of this scat suggests it was from a herbivore or omnivore. It was full of seeds. Photo: Rick O’Connor

As you move from the secondary dunes into the maritime forest you pick up a section of the Florida Trail.  This 1,500-mile trail begins at Ft. Pickens on the western end of Santa Rosa Island and ends near the Everglades.  It was obvious that many of the animals who live in these dunes use this trail as well, there were numerous tracks covering it.  Over the ridge into the maritime forest, you encounter marshes.  The plants you find growing there help indicate whether the marsh is fresh or salt water.  Pausing here to see if something stirred or moved, I saw and heard nothing and continued on. 

The orange blaze indicates this is part of the Florida Trail. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The maritime forest was full of healthy pine and oak trees, creating a completely different habitat for the wildlife out here.  You get the feeling when you enter the forest that this is where the creatures prefer to be.  Raccoons, skunks, coyote, snakes, birds, lizards, exist here and I was hoping to find something.  And then it happened.  Glancing up into one of the pine trees I saw a great horned owl – bingo!  These are amazing birds and there have been a few reports of nesting great horned owls around the area.  I did not see the nest but was happy to see the owl. 

The maritime forests of our barrier islands is a completely different environment than the open dune fields. Photo: Rick O’Connor
Using the nests of other raptors, great horned owls raise their young this time of year. This one is in the “extended” position suggesting it is alarmed. Photo: Rick O’Connor

I eventually reached the shore of Santa Rosa Sound and walked along for half a mile or so.  I did see a great blue heron in the marsh, and some wharf crabs under a plank of wood – but there was nothing visible in the clear water of the Sound.  There was evidence of armadillos digging.  One section of the beach they had basically destroyed digging for grubs and other invertebrates to eat. 

All in all, it was a quiet day.  I am guessing that the foggy conditions moved the animals into their hiding places waiting for the sun to come out.  Our next walk will be in early spring, and we are hoping to see more wildlife.

You should get out and take a hike on our beaches, there are plenty of cool things to see and it’s great for your mind. 

The Florida Master Naturalist Program

The Florida Master Naturalist Program

Kayaking over seagrass beds and stingrays, hiking among pitcher plants, boating past diving ospreys, and meeting hundreds of fascinating, like-minded people—these are just some of the great experiences I’ve had while teaching the Florida Master Naturalist Program. More than 20 years since its inception, the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) has inspired the creation of dozens of similar courses in other states and proven itself to be one of the most popular outreach programs to come out of UF IFAS Extension.

Kayaking Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre is one of the highlights of our Coastal Systems FMNP class. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The mission of the FMNP is simple—to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. I have always felt strongly that if you want people to care about something, they need to understand it. And to really understand something, you need to experience it. I know my own passion for science and ecology was ignited early on by teachers who took us outside and helped us encounter the many wondrous surprises in the natural world. With the FMNP, we seek to do just that.

Master Naturalist students conduct field work in small groups. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Over a span of 40 hours in 6-7 weeks, we spend about half our time with classroom presentations and the other half in the field, seeing the plants, animals, and ecosystems we discuss in class. In addition to classes and field trips, students produce a final project and present it to the class. These can range from labeled collections and slide presentations to building bird houses and new trails. The program is composed of three 40-hour core courses; Coastal, Upland, and Freshwater Systems. Seven “short courses” with 24 hours of class/field time include the Land Steward series (Conservation Science, Habitat Evaluation, Wildlife Monitoring, and Environmental Interpretation) and the Restoration courses (Coastal Restoration, Marine Habitat Restoration, and Invasive Plants). Locally, we try to rotate the core modules every couple of years and incorporate the short courses periodically. Registration includes a detailed course manual and, upon completion, FMNP patch, certificate, and pin denoting area of expertise. There are a handful of scholarships available for those interested in applying to offset costs.

Master Naturalist students walk “The Way” boardwalk in Perdido Key. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

The classes do not count towards university credit but are an excellent certification and professional development opportunity that many will list on a resume. While we’ve had ecotour operators, park rangers, environmental consultants, teachers, and archaeologists participate, most of our FMNP students are not professionals in the field. They come from every background imaginable but share an interest in the outdoors. Because we meet weekly, class members often form long-lasting friendships during the courses.

Information on upcoming classes in northwest Florida and all around the state is available online. Classes range from fully in-person to hybrid and online options. FMNP classes are restricted to adults 18 and over, but a new “Florida Youth Naturalist” curriculum has been designed through our 4-H program for young people. For more information on that, check out their website.

Tagging Wildlife Part 2 – Leatherback Sea Turtles

Tagging Wildlife Part 2 – Leatherback Sea Turtles

The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of the five species that have been found in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  With a carapace (top shell) length between 6-7 feet and weighing between 800-1000 pounds it is truly a magnificent creature.  Any encounter with them is amazing. 

Most encounters occur with fishermen or divers who are out searching for artificial reefs to fish or dive.  Though very rare, they have been known to nest in this area.  They feed exclusively on jellyfish and will follow them close to shore if need be.  But what do leatherbacks do with most of their time?  Do they hang offshore and follow jellyfish in?  Do they circle the entire Gulf of Mexico and we see them as they pass?  Based on past studies, many encounters with this turtle occur in the warmer months.  They often become entangled in commercial fishing longlines set in the central Gulf of Mexico.  But what do they do during the fall and winter?  One of the tagging projects presented at a recent workshop tried to answer that question. 

The project was led by Dr. Christopher Sasso of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The tag chosen for this was a satellite tag.  Since the leatherback must surface to breath air, and often is found near the surface following jellyfish, orbiting satellites would be able to follow them.  As we mentioned in Part 1, catching the creature is step 1, and catching a six-foot 1000-pound sea turtle is no easy task. 

The team used a spotter aircraft to locate the turtles.  Once found, the pilot would radio the chase boat who would zip in with a large net.  The net was connected to a large metal hoop and was designed to give way once it was around the turtle.  Once in the net the turtle was hauled onto a small inflatable boat where the work of tagging could be done.  They would measure the animal, take blood samples, place a PIT tag within them (similar to a microchip in your pet) and then attach the satellite tag by a tether to the tail end of the turtle before releasing it.  The entire operation took less than 30 minutes.    

Between 2015-2019 19 leatherbacks were tagged in the northern Gulf.  17 of these were females and 2 were males.  Data obtained from these tags ranged between 63 and 247 days at liberty.  The behavior the team noticed was divided into foraging behavior (feeding on jellyfish) and transiting behavior (direct swimming ignoring all). 

The turtles foraged in this part of the Gulf until the fall season.  At that point most of them moved south along the Florida shelf, past the western peninsula of the state, heading towards the Keys.  A few chose to swim directly south against the Loop Current, and a small number remained in the area. 

Those moving along the Florida shelf appeared to be foraging as they went.  Those crossing the open Gulf may have foraged some but seemed to be focused on getting south to the nesting beaches.  Almost all of the turtles entered the Caribbean on the east side of the Yucatan channel, following the currents, with their final destination being their nesting beaches.  When they returned, they did so in the warmer months and used the western side of the channel – again following the currents – until they once again reached the northern Gulf and foraging began again.  One interesting note from this study, the two males tagged did not leave the Gulf.

The tagging studies do show that leatherbacks use the Gulf of Mexico year-round.  They usually head south to the Caribbean when it gets colder and use the currents to do so.  It is during the warmer months we are most likely to see them here foraging on jellyfish.  It is an amazing experience to encounter one of these large turtles.  I hope you get to experience it one day.

Satellite tracks of leatherback movement in the GoM. Red (2015), Blue (2018), Black (2019). Image: Sasso (et.al.) 2021.

Reference

Sasso, C.R., Richards, P.M., Benson, S.R., Judge, M., Putman, N.F., Snodgrass, D., Stacy, B.A. 2021. Leatherback Sea Turtles in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico: Foraging and Migration Behavior During the Autumn and Winter. Frontiers in Marine Science., Vol. 8., https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.660798.

Panhandle Terrapin Project 2023 Report

Panhandle Terrapin Project 2023 Report

Diamondback terrapins are the only resident turtle within brackish water and estuarine systems.  Their range extends from Massachusetts to Texas but, prior to 2005, their existence in the Florida panhandle was undocumented.  The Panhandle Terrapin Project was developed to first determine whether terrapins exist in the panhandle (Phase I) and, if so, what is their status (Phase II and III). 

Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin (photo: Molly O’Connor)

The project began at the Marine Science Academy at Washington High School (in Pensacola) in 2005.  Between 2005 and 2010 the team was able to verify at least one record in each of the panhandle counties.  For Phase II we used what we called the “Mann Method” to determine the relative abundance of terrapins in each area.  To do this we needed to conduct assessments of nesting activity in each county.  In 2012 the project moved from Washington High School to Florida Sea Grant.  At that time, we developed a citizen science program to conduct Phase II of this project.  Effort first focused on Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, but in recent years has included Okaloosa County.  Florida Sea Grant now partners with the U.S. Geological Survey (based out of Gulf County) to assist with Phase II and lead Phase III, which is estimating populations using mark-recapture methods, as well as satellite tagging to better understand movements and habitat use.  The focus of Phase III has been Gulf County, but tagging has occurred in Okaloosa and Escambia counties. 

Over the years we have trained 271 volunteers who have conducted thousands of hours of nesting surveys and helped obtain a better picture of the status of diamondback terrapins in the Florida panhandle.  Here are the 2023 project results. 

Results from 2023

We trained 67 volunteers; 35 (52%) of which participated in at least one nesting survey.

The volunteers conducted 196 surveys logging 212 hours. 

During those surveys terrapins (or terrapin sign) were encountered 43 times; a Frequency of Encounter (FOE) of 22%.

Three terrapins were tagged.  Two from Okaloosa and one from Escambia.  All but two of the nine primary survey beaches saw nesting activity (78%).  One new nesting beach was discovered. 

Escambia County

Two nesting beaches.  47 surveys. 7 encounters (FOE = 15%).

The Mann Method assumes the sex ratio is 1:1 (male: female) but recent studies suggest the ratio may be as high as 5:1 (male: female).  Based on these two rations the number of terrapins estimated to be using these beaches ranged from 4-36. 

One terrapin (“Dollie”) was tagged.  Fire ants and torpedo grass were reported on some beaches. 

Santa Rosa County

Three nesting beaches.  68 Surveys. 14 encounters (FOE = 21%).

The number of terrapins estimated to be using these beaches ranged from 6-30.

No terrapins were captured, though one was seen nesting.  No invasive species were reported from the nesting beaches. 

Okaloosa County

Four nesting beaches. 67 surveys.  21 encounters (FOE = 31%). 

The number of terrapins estimated to be using these beaches ranged from 2-66.

Two terrapins were tagged (“Kennedy” and “Molly”).  Phragmites were reported from all beaches. 

Walton County

Walton county currently does not have a volunteer coordinator and surveys are not occurring at this time.  We are working with an individual who may take the lead on this. 

Bay County

This team is just beginning and currently there are no primary beaches.  The team focused on five beaches encountering terrapin nesting activity on one of them.  They conducted a total of 14 surveys encountering terrapin tracks on 1 of those (FOE = 7%).  The estimated number of terrapins using this beach ranged from 4-12. 

Baldwin County Alabama

Due to the proximity of terrapin habitat and nesting beaches at the Alabama/Florida line, and the possibility of terrapins using habitat in both states, a team was developed in Baldwin County Alabama this year.  The team began conducting Phase I surveys and encountered one deceased terrapin.  No nesting beaches have been identified at this time. 

Summary

The results of this year’s surveys suggest that, based on the number of nesting beaches we know of, there are anywhere from 2-66 terrapins utilizing them.  Again, two of the primary beaches did not have nesting activity this year.  USGS tagging studies will provide better population estimates and a better understanding of how these animals are utilizing these habitats.  The current population estimate for Gulf County is a little over 1000 individuals and most are showing relatively small range of habitat utilization, although two individuals in the western panhandle moved from one county to the neighboring one. 

Training for volunteers occurs in March of each year.  If you are interested in participating, contact Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu.