Bay Tree crosswalk advocates celebrating success; snowy plovers having a bad nesting season on Siesta; volunteers sought to help reduce beach garbage on July Fourth; and county staff trying to keep North Beach Road clear of sand
Regular readers will recall that in April, residents of the Bay Tree Club on South Midnight Pass Road talked with The Sarasota News Leaderabout their years-long endeavor to convince Sarasota County staff of the need for a crosswalk between the two sections of their complex— the building on the Intracoastal Waterway side and the structures across the road, facing the public beach.
County staff repeatedly had turned them down, for a variety of reasons.
Yet, the two leaders of the initiative — Libby Sloan and Margi Ryder — were not about to give up. They were able to enlist the assistance of Gene Kusekoski, president of the Siesta Key Association(SKA), in bringing their concerns to the attention of County Commissioner Alan Maio.
At last, their hard work has proven fruitful.
During the June 7 SKA meeting, Kusekoski told the audience that, “after three long years, the ladies have won their case …”
On June 11, Ryder reported to Kusekoski and the News Leadervia email: “The County is digging out the area for the crosswalk today and they tell me the concrete will be poured tomorrow.”
When they first learned of the decision from county staff, in early May, Sloan let the News Leaderknow how thrilled they were. She wanted to hold off on an announcement, however, until she and Ryder saw the work actually getting underway, just out of an abundance of caution.
This week, Ryder attached photos to illustrate that county staff, indeed, was following through with construction.
Snowy plover nesting news
So far, this summer has not been a good one for snowy plovers on Siesta Key, Kylie Wilson, the Sarasota coordinator for Florida Audubon’s Shorebird Monitoring & Stewardship Program, told SKA members during their June 7 meeting.
While Siesta’s total number of nests in 2017 was approximately 20, she said, this year — with the season half over — only five have been counted. The primary reason the birds are not doing well on the island, Wilson added, is most likely the raiding of the nests by crows. The latter are very intelligent birds, she noted, and they readily seem to recall the sites of nests after they find them, so they can return to check for more eggs.
Dogs on the beach are another major concern, Wilson stressed. Those animals are “a huge disturbance for [the plovers].”
The good news, she pointed out, is that a nest just had been found south of the public beach, which traditionally has been an area the birds have eschewed. A man raking the beach for a condominium complex discovered the nest, Wilson indicated in her weekly email update. The Siesta volunteer surveyor for Florida Audubon was able to get the area roped off right away, Wilson added in the email.
The buffers are designed to keep people out of the areas, as the snowy plover nests are “pretty invisible,” she told the SKA members, especially when they are on the sand. The new one found on June 7, she added, “is right out in the sand.”
In the June 7 email, Wilson wrote, “The female was seen this afternoon on the nest which was last confirmed with two eggs. She will likely be laying her third egg and incubating this weekend,” Wilson pointed out.
Volunteers truly are needed, she stressed to the SKA audience, to keep an eye on the progress of that nest. She invited anyone interested in helping to email her firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yet another critical issue, she explained, is the need for a parking space Audubon volunteers can use without worries about towing. Because this nest is so close to the condominium complex, she said, public parking is not available. Unfortunately, she said, many of the nests tend to be closer to private property than the public beach.
Siesta property owner and manager Michael Holderness told Wilson he could help with the parking situation, for which she offered her gratitude.
Holderness also talked of having seen a lot of crows near the dumpsters at the Blasé Café and Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill locations in Siesta Village, which are close to Beach Accesses 4 and 5.
Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for Sarasota County, who oversees Village upkeep for the county, explained that Wilson would need to contact the private business owners about dumpster problems. Cece suggested that Wilson also could contact the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce for assistance.
Holderness did ask Wilson whether it would be possible to create caging over the snowy plover nests, to protect the birds from crows.
Efforts have been made in some areas to use caging around piping plover nests, she responded. However, the initiative is not appropriate for snowy plovers, she said. “They’re very, very sensitive to disturbance. These guys will abandon their nests at the drop of a hat,” even if eggs are close to hatching. “Their main and only defense, really,” she added, is to try to make themselves invisible against the backdrop of the sand.
Furthermore, Wilson continued, crows will sit on top of a cage and pester birds on a nest.
“I get that question a lot,” she noted, referring to cages as a means of protection.
Yet another reason the cages do not work for snowy plovers, she said, is the fact that chicks “walk almost immediately” after hatching. The parents follow them around, to try to protect them, she noted. “The chicks need to be able to forage, as they would normally.”
The plovers, she added, “just have a horrible nesting strategy; [yet], that’s how they’ve been doing it for centuries.”
Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, took the opportunity of the discussion to offer an explanation about why Sarasota County staff years ago removed garbage cans from the public beaches and put them at the accesses. The containers, he said, “were a great magnet for crows,” which exacerbated problems for the beach-nesting birds on Siesta.
In response to another question, Wilson also pointed out that she and volunteers cannot rope off potential nesting areas until eggs have been found. The only exception, she said, is on property owned by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is just north of the public beach. The foundation allows pre-posting, she said.
However, in the past, she continued, the birds have been inclined to nest closer to beach vegetation.
Finally, Wilson invited everyone to join her at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 16, at the Siesta Key Public Beach Pavilion for a Bird Walk program. Anyone planning to participate should bring water and sunscreen; binoculars also are recommended.
The program is for all ages, according to a flyer Wilson provided the News Leader. The goal is for the public to learn about the shorebirds and seabirds that make their homes on the county’s beaches. “There will be an emphasis on our beach nesting birds and your role in their success!” the flyer adds.
On one other positive note during her remarks to the SKA members, Wilson did point out that the northern end of Longboat Key has had “a lot of [snowy plover] nesting this year.” Of the six nests reported so far, she said, chicks had hatched from two of them; two remained active with eggs and two have failed.
Help with reducing beach garbage on the Fourth
SKA Secretary Joyce Kouba is seeking volunteers to help hand out yellow bags at the beach accesses on July Fourth, to encourage people to dispose properly of the trash they accumulate as they enjoy their holiday visit to the shore.
Last year, representatives of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department and volunteers undertook the same type of initiative, with the hope fewer people would just leave their garbage on the beach when they started home. A big storm that blew up — with accompanying lightning — put a big figurative dent in the effort. People fleeing the rain and Mother Nature’s pyrotechnic show left quite a lot of trash on the beach, but at least some of it was in the yellow bags.
Kouba welcomes volunteers to contact her at email@example.com.
Fighting the sand
The News Leaderheard a complaint last week about the sand piled up on the vacated segment of North Beach Road. The 357-foot-long stretch clearly is marked by signage as “Public Access.” However, from the Beach Access 2 perspective on the evening of June 7, the area did appear to this reporter to be part of the beach, not a roadway.
The News Leaderinquired of county staff about the situation this week, acknowledging that the same breezes that make sitting on the shore at Access 2 so comfortable contribute to sand on the road. Emergency Services Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby checked with appropriate staff and provided this response: “The last time the sand was cleared from North Beach road was on June 3, 2018. Additionally, we followed up with our street sweepers on Monday, June 5, and finished cleaning this section of North Beach Road. We will continue to monitor and clean this area as needed.”
According to the street vacation the County Commission approved on a 4-1 vote in May 2016, the affected segment of North Beach Road is open to all users except those in motorized vehicles.