To say 2021 turned out to be an eventful coastal breeding season would be an understatement. Two tropical systems impacted nesting along Florida’s Gulf Coast, first with Hurricane Elsa skirting Southwest Florida and washing out Black Skimmer colonies, then Tropical Storm Fred hitting the Gulf Coast and Eastern Panhandle beaches late in the breeding season. Luckily Fred was just late enough that the storm had a minimal impact on the Eastern Florida Panhandle tern and Black Skimmer nest sites, though it did re-arrange sand for the wintering birds already on our shores.
Northwest Florida’s urban beaches, including Pensacola, Navarre, and Panama City, continue to support Least Tern and Black Skimmer nesting. Destin has become a hot spot for Least Terns, with 200 chicks fledged this year. The offshore and remote habitats of the Eastern Panhandle harbored a greater variety of nesting species, including Black Skimmers, Least Terns, Snowy Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Royal Terns, Caspian Terns, Gull-billed Terns, and Brown Pelicans. A highlight this nesting season: seven American Oystercatchers fledged from Audubon-monitored sites, and more fledged from the region.
Northeast Florida saw successful Least Tern nesting at Amelia Island State Park through consistent stewarding and some additional management of the site. Anchor stewards and volunteers also contributed to the successful nesting of Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers at the Talbot Island State Parks and Ft. Matanzas.
Colonies here produced over 400 Black Skimmer chicks, even after suffering through illness, red tide, and a hurricane. An ephemeral sand island of Caxambas Pass Critical Wildlife Area became a favorite for Least Terns this year, fledging 150 chicks. Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries staff documented over 24,000 breeding pairs of wading and shorebirds of 26 species, including Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, American Oystercatchers, and Brown Pelicans.
Audubon staff monitored 15 active rooftop colonies in the Panhandle as well as 31 active colonies in the greater Tampa Bay area. The team recorded Least Terns as the predominant nesting species on rooftops, though we also watched American Oystercatchers and Killdeer as well. Rooftops are much harder to monitor than beach sites because of access and building height. However, our staff used various cameras and surveillance tools to improve our understanding of rooftop nesting.
The Bottom Line
Despite hurricanes, historic levels of human disturbance, and lingering uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, our coastal team and volunteers worked around the clock to help chicks fledge. Though it was a difficult breeding season, it remained a successful one!