Coastal Conservation

Steward Stories: Adventures of Audubon Shorebird Volunteer Deborah Woods

By Deborah Woods

My name is Deborah Woods. I am retired and volunteer as both a Beach Bird Steward and a Rooftop Monitor. My regular beach for stewarding is Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area in Collier County.  

When did you start volunteering to help shorebirds?

I’ve been monitoring shorebirds since 2010. I first became involved as a volunteer at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where I began assisting the avian biologist, Beverly Anderson, with counting birds for breeding and non-breeding surveys.  She became my mentor, teaching me shorebird identification and best practices for observing. I also began monitoring rooftops at nearby shopping centers. I helped post colony sites during nesting seasons and collected disturbance data that ultimately secured the designation of Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) in 2015. 

Around the same time, I had heard about the Audubon Bird Steward program and met Brad Cornell, who is on staff with Audubon Florida and also serves as program lead for Audubon of the Western Everglades. With Audubon, I trained volunteers to meet beachgoers and teach them how to avoid disturbing shorebirds on the beach.

Later in 2015,  I became a member of Rookery Bay’s Team Ocean, a program with a mission of promoting environmentally friendly boating practices along waterways and beaches within the research reserve. This team was critically important in educating boaters about the “No Landing” status of the newly established CWA. For the next three years, during nesting season, I spent three or four days each week on a Team Ocean vessel anchored at Second Chance notifying boaters on approach to seek alternate beach locations. Nesting success markedly improved and, in 2017, Team Ocean was recognized by Audubon Florida with the annual Guy Bradley award.

To this day, I regularly volunteer with the stewardship of nesting birds on Big Marco Pass CWA.

What is your favorite shorebird?

My favorite shorebird is the one I am currently looking at through my binoculars or scope! They are all marvelous. I love observing Least Terns dangling a fish in search of a mate, Black Skimmers skimming and then delivering their catch to a waiting chick, trailing a Wilson's Plover as it surreptitiously returns to its nest sequestered among the grasses, spying a tiny head pop up from under its brooding parent. 

Looking for banded shorebirds and then discovering the bird’s history is always fun. My first sighting of a banded Red Knot with Beverly in 2015 was amazing! The data from the bird’s bands revealed that it had been banded in Patagonia, South America!  That was so cool and remains the longest-distance bird I’ve ever seen.    

What did you do before moving to Florida?

I grew up outside of Baltimore, MD, graduated from Towson University and became an elementary school teacher for 31 years. Along the way, I obtained a master’s degree in Instructional Technology to become a media and computer specialist in the school where I worked.  I followed that with a certification in Environmental Education and worked with a team of teachers to bring programs to the students and qualify our school as part of the Maryland Green Schools Initiative.

It wasn’t until I retired to Florida that I was able to devote much time to the outdoors.  I became immersed in learning as much as I could about Florida ecosystems, becoming a Florida Master Naturalist along the way. 

How do you spend your free time?

When not stewarding on the beach, I also volunteer with Audubon EagleWatch and Audubon Owl Watch, for Conservancy of Southwest Florida as a naturalist aboard the Good Fortune II eco-cruise, and as a courier for the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital, a facility where I’ve had to transport a number of sick shorebirds found on the beach.  Recently, I also began volunteering for the FWC Horseshoe Crab survey, spurred on to do so because of the unique relationship with Red Knots’ survival. I also enjoy kayaking as a member of several local kayaking clubs, bird photography, and birding, all of which support the volunteer opportunities I’ve sought.

 I’m looking forward to a busy summer stewarding at the beaches! I hope to see you out there.


"Deb’s been a core volunteer since I started during the pandemic and restarted in-person stewardship in Collier County," says Rochelle Streker, Southwest Florida Shorebird Program Manager. "I see her on the beach all the time during the breeding season and the Collier Anchor Stewards all quickly learn that Deb is someone to rely on during stewardship and outreach. One of the things Deb excels at is talking to families and children about how to protect the nesting birds while enjoying a day on the beach; they walk away educated and smiling because her passion for birds and the natural outdoors is so contagious!" 

Are you interested in volunteering? Learn more here.  


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