Summer at the beach may be normal for many college students, but the students of Flagler College’s Coastal Zoology course were there with a purpose. Drs. Ed McGinley and Ben Atkinson have created an interesting course that splits time between informative lectures and real-world experiences. This June, Audubon Florida’s Chris Farrell was asked to help introduce the class to the ecology of nesting shorebirds.
After a classroom discussion, the students visited nesting shorebirds at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine. They observed the large nesting colony of Least Terns – remarkable birds that migrate from Central and South America to raise their young on our beaches. This year the colony is larger than any in recent years in Northeast Florida – most likely due to habitat changes from Hurricane Matthew. Chicks of all ages were seen in the colony, and were great fun to watch as they ran and hopped toward any adult landing with a fish to share. Additionally, the students observed nesting Black Skimmers – a rare sight in Northeast Florida these days. With luck, this year could produce the first skimmer chicks in many seasons.
In addition to sharing information about shorebird ecology, Chris explained to the students the importance of stewardship in protecting these imperiled birds. Residents and tourists alike can help shorebirds by respecting posted areas, leashing dogs, removing trash, and avoiding any behaviors that disturb the birds during this critical time.
Volunteers are always needed to help protect and monitor shorebirds around our coast. If you are interested in learning how you can help our shorebirds, please email FLConservation@audubon.org.