A Day at the Beach

A Day at the Beach

I might shock a few people when I say this, but I’d rather be out in the bay somewhere rather than the beach. I just feel like I always bring a gallon of sand back on me even after washing down before getting in the car. However, there is one activity that will always get me out on the beach, and it just so happens to be the right time of the year for it. Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), aka Pompa-Yes, have started to cruise the white, sandy beaches in search of food as they migrate west to their breeding grounds. While out on a fishing trip this past weekend, the Pompano (and every other fish) eluded me, but I was blessed with an amazing array of wildlife.

When I first arrived at my spot just to the east of Portofino Towers, I was greeted with a pair of Sanderlings (Calidris alba) playing the “water is lava” game while taking breaks between waves to argue with each other and probe the sand with their beaks from marine invertebrates. When I was doing more research on sanderlings, one comment I saw was that they ran like wind-up toys, and that’s the truth! They were pretty brave too, not a single footprint of mine in the wet sand didn’t go un-probed. Sanderlings are “extremely long-distance” migratory birds that breed on the arctic tundra close to the North Pole and winter on most of the sandy beaches in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world. Non-breeding sanderlings will often stay on sandy beaches throughout the summer to save energy. They were great entertainment for the whole fishing trip.

Sanderlings

Sanderlings in the Tide Pool – Thomas Derbes II

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) were out in numbers that day. I am not the best photographer, but I was very proud to capture a Pelican mid-flight. These birds are residents of the Florida Panhandle year-round. If you’ve ever been to Pensacola, you might have bumped into one of the many Pelican Statues around the area, and they’re pretty much the unofficial mascot of the area. I am always amazed at how these seemingly big, clumsy birds can effortlessly glide over the waves and water as if they are the Blue Angels doing a low-pass. Pelicans were almost wiped out by pesticide pollution in the 1960’s, but they have made an incredible comeback.

Pelican Flying Over The Waves

Brown Pelican – Thomas Derbes II

While I was waiting for a Pompano to bite, I had a visit from a small Atlantic Stingray (Dasyatis sabina) that was caught in the tidepool that was running along the beach. He didn’t seem injured or sick, so I quickly grabbed a glove and released him into the gulf. Stingrays are pretty incredible creatures and can get to massive sizes, but they do contain a large, venomous spine on their tail that poses a threat to beach goers. They are not aggressive however, and a simple remedy to make sure you don’t get hit is to do the “Stingray Shuffle” by shuffling your feet while you move in the water to scare up the stingrays.

Stingray

Atlantic Stingray Cruising the Tide Pool- Thomas Derbes II

As I was getting ready to pack up, I noticed a new shorebird flying in to investigate the seaweed that had washed up on shore. I had a hard time identifying this bird, but once I was able to see it in flight with its white stripe down the back, I realized it was a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Turnstones get their name from their foraging behavior of turning over stones and pebbles to find food. Even though we do not have pebbles, the turnstone was looking through the seaweed for any insects or crustaceans that might be an easy meal. Turnstones are also “extremely long-distance” migratory birds breeding in the arctic tundra with non-breeding populations typically staying on sandy beaches during the summer. The turnstone made sure to stay away from me, but I was able to get a good photo of it as it ran from seaweed clump to clump.

Stoneturner

Ruddy Turnstone – Thomas Derbes II

While I didn’t catch anything to bring home for dinner, I did get to enjoy the beautiful day and playful wildlife that I wouldn’t have experienced sitting on a couch. You can turn any bad fishing day into an enjoyable day if you pay attention to the wildlife around you!

Understanding Salinity in Northwest Florida’s Waters with a Family Activity

Understanding Salinity in Northwest Florida’s Waters with a Family Activity

Understanding Salinity in Northwest Florida’s Waters with a Family Activity

Dana Stephens, 4-H Agent

Salinity is the amount of total dissolved salts in water. This includes all salts not just sodium chloride, or table salt. Salinity is important in aquatic environments as many flora and fauna depend on salt and the level of dissolved salts in the water for survival. People interested in the composition of water frequently measure chemical and physical components of water.  Salinity is one of the vital chemical components measured and often measured by a device determining how readily electrical conductance passes between two metal plates or electrodes. These units of electrical conductance, the estimate of total dissolved salts in water, is described in units of measurement of parts per thousand (PPT).

At the large scale, Earth processes, such as weathering of rocks, evaporation of ocean waters, and ice formation in the ocean, add salt to the aquatic environment. Earth processes, such as freshwater input from rivers, rain and snow precipitation, and ice melting, decrease the concentration of salt in the aquatic environment. Anthropogenic (human-induced) activities, such as urbanization or atmospheric deposition, can also contribute to changes in salinity.

Salinity and changes in salinity affect how water moves on Earth due to contrasts in the density of water. Water containing no dissolved salts is less dense than water containing dissolved salts. Density is weight per volume, so water with no dissolved salts (less dense) will float on top of water with dissolved salts (denser). This is why swimming in the ocean may feel easier than swimming in a lake because the denser water provides increased buoyancy.

Northwest Florida is a unique place because we have a variety of surface waters that range in salinity. There are ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and springs, which have no to low salinity levels (0 to 0.5 PPT), and commonly referred to as freshwater systems. We house six estuaries—Perdido Bay, Pensacola/Escambia Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay, St. Andrews Bay, St. Joseph Bay, and Apalachicola Bay. Estuaries are bodies of water with freshwater input(s) (e.g., rivers) and a permanent opening to the ocean (e.g., Destin Pass in the Choctawhatchee Bay). Estuarine waters are termed brackish water (0.5 to 30 PPT) due to the dynamic changes in salinity at spatial and temporal scales. Waterbodies with an even more dynamic change in salinity are the coastal dune lakes Northwest Florida’s Walton and Bay Counties. Coastal dune lakes are waterbodies perched on sand dunes that intermittently open and close to the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes these waterbodies are fresh and sometimes they have the same salinity as the Gulf of Mexico, like after a large storm event. Finally, the Gulf of Mexico, or ocean, has the highest salinity (> 30 PPT) among the waterbodies of Northwest Florida.

Here is an educational activity for the family to explore salinity and how salinity differs among Northwest Florida waters.

Understanding Salinity Activity--Join in this family activity to explore understanding salinity in water. Here is what you will need for the activity. Three containers for mixing. Four, clear glasses. Salt. Food coloring. Measuring cups. Spoons.

Salinity Activity for Families. Step 1: Prepare Water. Set three mixing containers on hard surface. Measure 1/2 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of salt. Pour 1/2 cup of salt into one container. Pour 1/4 cup of salt into another container. Add 1 cup of hot tap water to all three containers. Add different food coloring to containers with salt. Mix salt, water, and food coloring until completely dissolved in each container using separate spoons.Salinity Activity for Families-Step 2: Explore Salinity Densities. Pour contents of three containers into three clear glasses separately. Pour 1/2 cup from the clear water glass into the fourth, empty glass. Add water with a spoon from the lower salinity glass to the glass with clear water. Do this slowly along the side of the glass. Do not stir/share this glass. Add water with a spoon from the higher salinity glass to the same glass. Do this slowly along side of the glass. Do not stir or share the glass. Observe changes when adding the waters with different salinity levels.Salinity Activity for Families-Step 3: Questions to Consider and Discuss. What happened when the first colored water was added? What happened when the second color water was added? Why do you think this happened? How may salinity levels affect the density of water?Broad Questions for Consideration--Name some waterbodies in Northwest Florida where salinity may be the same and where salinity may differ. Why id density of water important in our waters in Northwest Florida?Salinity Changes Everything--thanks for participating. Please contact Dana Stephens at dlbigham@ufl.edu or 850-826-1316 for more discussion questions or family activities.

 

 

Stormwater Management Webinar Series and Field Tours

Stormwater Management Webinar Series and Field Tours

Green stormwater infrastructure at Cascades Park in Tallahassee, Florida. Image: T. Jones, UF/IFAS.

Green stormwater infrastructure at Cascades Park in Tallahassee, Florida. Image: T. Jones, UF/IFAS.

Join us for a two-part webinar series on Managing Stormwater in a Changing FL Panhandle on May 1, 2024 from 8:30-11:30 am CST (9:30-12:30 pm EST), and May 15, 2024 from 8:30-11:30 am CST (9:30-12:30 pm EST).

We are also offering two optional no-cost field tours of stormwater management sites in northwest Florida. The first will be held on May 3 in Pensacola to the Escambia County Central Office Complex, and the second on May 22  in Tallahassee to the Upper Lake Lafayette Nutrient Reduction Facility (aka Weems Pond). Detailed information as well as how to register for both the webinars and the field tours is found below.

Webinar series: Information and registration

Please register for the webinar series here: Eventbrite link  Once in the registration site, you will have to register for both dates separately.

May 1: Day 1 will focus on Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) and its maintenance, as well as presentations and discussion on the ecological function of GSI+LID.

May 15: Day 2 will focus on implementing GSI and LID at the community level, with presentations about ongoing research on extreme sea levels and effects on flooding events, a resiliency case study on Cedar Key and funding opportunities for GSI and LID through FDEP.

PDHs and CEUs offered:

  • 4 Professional Development Hours (PDH) will be offered through the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Two PDHs will be offered for Day 1 and two for Day 2.
  • 4 Continuing Education Units (CEU) will be offered for Pesticide Applicators through FDACS in these categories: Ornamental & Turf, Private Applicator Ag, Right-of-Way, Aquatic, Natural Areas, Commercial Lawn & Ornamental, Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance, Limited Lawn & Ornamental and Limited Urban Fertilizer.

The webinar is free for those not seeking PDHs or CEUs. For those seeking PDHs or CEUs, the cost is $50 for Day 1, and $50 for Day 2.

Field Tours: Information and registration

Please register for each tour separately through the Eventbrite links provided.

May 3 Pensacola Tour: Join us for a tour of the Escambia County Central Office Complex, a LEED Gold certified building with pervious pavement, energy efficient design, and the largest green roof in Florida. Registration: Pensacola Field Tour

May 22 Tallahassee Tour: Join us for a tour of the Upper Lake Lafayette Nutrient Reduction Facility (aka Weems Pond) which captures sediment and trash from a large upstream drainage basin and uses modern treatment methods to filter the stormwater before it enters a natural system. The tour will be led by the City of Tallahassee Stormwater Planning team. Registration: Tallahassee Field Tour

We look forward to your attendance! Please contact Andrea Albertin if you have any questions at (850) 875-7111 or via email: albertin@ufl.edu

Snake Watch 1st Quarter Report; 2024

Snake Watch 1st Quarter Report; 2024

The Snake Watch Project is one that is helping residents in the Pensacola Bay area better understand which species of snakes are most encountered, where they are encountered, and what time of year.  The project began in 2022 and over the last two years between 50-60% of the 40 species/subspecies of snakes known in the Pensacola Bay area have been encountered.  The majority of these encounters have been in the spring, with garter snakes, black racers, banded water snakes and cottonmouths being the most common.

The eastern garter snake is one of the few who are active during the cold months.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

The 1st quarter reports cover the winter months, and you would expect fewer encounters – but encounters do happen.  In 2022 there were only 6 encounters during the winter months.  There was one mid-sized snake (between 12-24” maximum length), 2 large snakes (greater than 3’ maximum length), 1 water snake and 2 cottonmouths for a total of five species.  In 2023 there was a significant increase in 1st quarter reports.  There were 57 encounters (26% of the total for the year) and 13 species logged.

  1. Two species of small snakes (less than 12” maximum length) were encountered three times.
  2. Three species of mid-sized snakes were encountered nine times, this included an encounter with the eastern hognose snake.
  3. Six species of large snakes were encountered 17 times. These include the rarely seen eastern kingsnake and Florida pine snake.
  4. Three species of water snakes were encountered, including the green water snake.
  5. The cottonmouth was encountered 10 times during the 1st quarter of 2023.

This increase in sightings may be more a result of more people interested in the project than a true increase in snake activity, but it does provide us with information on snake activity during the winter months.  Eastern garter snakes, eastern ribbon snakes, banded water snakes, and cottonmouths were the most frequently encountered.

A cottonmouth found on the trail near Ft. Pickens.
Photo: Ricky Stackhouse

Snake encounters during the 1st Quarter of 2024 are down.  This year 27 encounters occurred logging eight species.  The cottonmouth continues to be the most encountered snake in our area and the only one who was encountered in double digits (n=11).  Other species encountered included the eastern garter snake, eastern ribbon snake, gray rat snake, corn snake, southern black racer (encountered every month), eastern coachwhip, banded water snake (encountered every month), and the cottonmouth (also encountered each month this quarter).

We will continue to log encounters during the spring.  If you see a snake, please let Rick O’Connor know at roc1@ufl.edu.

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)

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)

Boating Restricted Areas

Byron Flagg (Gray Robinson Law Firm)

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)

At Risk Vessels

Resources: FWC Derelict and A-Risk Vessels

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Florida Vessel Turn-in Program (VTIP)

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

Phil Horning (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

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)

11:15 – 12:15 Lunch

Post Lunch Q&A Derelict Vessel Discussion

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)

Boating and Seagrass protection

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

Savanna Barry (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

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)

Pontoon Boating Safety (Operator’s Perspective)

Resources: Okaloosa County Watersport Operators Coalition

John Stephens (Okaloosa County Watersport Operators Coalition)

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)

Florida Friendly Visitor Program (Working with Recreational Boaters)

Resources: Florida Sea Grant – About Us!

Anna Braswell (Florida Sea Grant, UF IFAS Extension)

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)

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)

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.