My husband and I own a home in the Destin Pointe community, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Destin East Pass. I first became an Audubon Shorebird Steward volunteer on June 7, 2019, when I discovered eggs on the beach near the dunes in my community in an area that was affected by Hurricane Michael the prior year. My friend called the local Audubon chapter and they put me in touch with Caroline Stahala, PhD, Audubon’s shorebird program manager for the Florida Panhandle. She identified them as Least Tern eggs, and we soon discovered that the birds had established a large nesting site, mainly behind the dunes where there was an expanse of open sand, away from the beach.
We roped off the area that year and have done so each spring since. The first year there were quite a few birds, and around the same number appeared again in 2020, but in 2021 there was a huge colony of about 300 adults and many hatchlings. In 2022, the numbers dropped, and this year, there may be even fewer. We think the numbers dropped because the habitat, rearranged by the storm, had now grown up from cleared sand to natural-occurring vegetation. Despite these changes to their habitat, we roped off the area again this year, as some Least Terns in the area exhibited mating behavior.
I am retired and, while our permanent home is in Vicksburg, Mississippi, we are here quite often. I am interested in birds and find their behavior very predictable, and I love to watch them. I also have the time available—it provides me with an interest and a hobby. Having grown up on a farm in South Dakota, I was always very interested in biology.
Since becoming a shorebird steward volunteer, I have learned several things: 1) If the Least Terns are attacking you, there are nests and/or hatchlings in the area. 2) If you see Great Blue Herons hanging around the beach, they are probably looking for young birds or eggs to eat. One year they circled the area like undertakers.
My husband and I split our time between our homes in Destin and Vicksburg. I grew up in eastern South Dakota near Salem and graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in Economics. I later moved to Vicksburg for a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC formerly known as the Waterways Experiment Station). I completed my MS degree in Computer Science at Mississippi State University and eventually became the Branch Chief of the Software Development and Testing Branch, spending most of my career there.
My husband and I have four grown sons between us and three granddaughters who we visit frequently in Georgia, New York, and beyond. But when I'm in Florida, Least Terns are my favorite babies. I love to discover nests and watch out for the hatchlings.
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