The Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge complex hosted field trips to Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge and State Park on Friday and Saturday, June 14-15. As part of their 8th annual sanctuary tour, participants rode the Egmont Key Ferry, leaving from Ft. DeSoto County Park’s South Pier, to Egmont Key.
The visitors toured the National Wildlife Refuge exhibit in the restored Guard House, part of historic Fort Dade, and then walked along the brick roads to view the century-old artillery batteries and a 60-nest Black Skimmer colony on the north end of the island.
Re-boarding the ferry, they then boated along the west side of Egmont Key to the south end, where thousands of Royal and Sandwich terns and Laughing Gulls are raising their chicks. Hundreds of Brown Pelican nests and young could also be seen. This “high bird use” area is part of the Lower Tampa Bay Important Bird Area, recognized by National Audubon Society and BirdLife International as globally significant.
A downpour caught the ferry on the way back to shore on Friday, and field trippers got wet.
On Saturday’s trip, just before sunset, as the ferry was leaving Egmont, a large spotted eagle ray was seen near the boat, delighting everyone. Fifty boats of fishermen were casting for tarpon in the deep Tampa Bay channel. Back at the DeSoto Pier, manatees and dolphins were seen. Field trip leaders included Friends’ Board Members Patrick Mundus, and Dave and Barb Howard and Audubon’s Mark Rachal on Friday, and Refuge Biologist Joyce Kleen, Audubon’s Ann Paul, and again Patrick Mundus and Dave and Barb Howard led tours on Saturday.