With new snowy plover nest on Siesta — and lack of success for earlier nests — Audubon Bird Monitoring Program coordinator trying to spread word that fireworks and dogs will make birds abandon eggs

Kylie Wilson seeking volunteers especially for July 4th

One egg rests in the new snowy plover nest on Siesta Key. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Just days after reporting that no snowy plover nests were active on Siesta Key, the coordinator of the Florida Audubon Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in Sarasota County shared exciting news.

In an email blast, Kylie Wilson wrote that a Siesta Key volunteer on June 24 had seen activity suggesting that a pair of snowy plovers that recently had shown up on the beach might be preparing to nest.

Sure enough, Wilson continued, she found a new nest days later. “It has one egg but it will hopefully be a full, 3-egg nest with an incubating momma plover by next week!” she told The Sarasota News Leader.

This is the fifth nest for Siesta. All of the previous four were linked to a plover Wilson and her volunteers call “Miss Sanibel,” because of a green-and-white band on one of the bird’s legs. That band gives them the belief that the plover formerly was a Sanibel Island resident.

Sadly, Wilson has reported over the past several weeks, each of those earlier nests failed, most likely the result of ghost crab predation.

That is all the more reason, she indicated, that she is so hopeful about the new nest. However, her excitement is paired with great concern, she told the News Leader during a June 27 telephone interview. She summed up her worries in two words: fireworks and dogs.

In an effort to protect the nest from both, she said, she is seeking volunteers — especially for the upcoming holiday.

On July 4th, Wilson pointed out, a crowd is expected on the beach. More than a few of those folks likely will have been tempted by the tent sales of fireworks.

A pair of snowy plovers is difficult to distinguish against the fine sand on Siesta Beach. One is at left, in the lower third of the photo; the other is to the right in the upper third of the photo. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Beyond the fact that Florida law prohibits the use of fireworks by anyone except for agricultural purposes and for public, permitted displays, fireworks are a tremendous disturbance to the snowy plovers, Wilson stressed. “If fireworks were to go off,” she said, “that could cause the female to abandon her nest and not return.”

Because the snowy plover population has been on the decline over the past several years, Wilson and her counterparts in other known nesting areas are even more determined to give the birds the best possible chance to produce chicks.

The American Bird Conservancy explains, “Nesting on sandy beaches leaves the Snowy Plover vulnerable to a variety of human disturbances.” The Conservancy adds, “The Snowy Plover is listed as endangered or threatened in several states and is included on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch list.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the birds as Near Threatened on its Red List of Threatened Species.

Signs will be posted at all the beach accesses on Siesta Key, alerting people that no fireworks are permitted on the beach, Wilson told the News Leader. The signage will note the presence of nesting birds.

Something has caught the attention of an adult snowy plover on Siesta Beach. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Each summer, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies also devote a lot of time to educating July 4th tourists. Regardless of how much some of those holiday revelers may have spent on fireworks, officers tell them, they cannot shoot off those fireworks.

During a presentation to SKA members during one June meeting, Deputy Chris McGregor made the point to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members during June meetings: If it files, it is illegal.

Her plea, Wilson said, is “Please go to see a designated fireworks show.” The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, for example puts on a big display every year at the public beach, she pointed out.

Other shows take place around the county, including a display over the bay in downtown Sarasota.

The dog issue

Kylie Wilson holds up a couple of brochures during the April 4 Siesta Key Association meeting. File photo

Dogs are another big concern, Wilson told the News Leader, especially those that are off-leash. The snowy plovers see any dog as a predator, she added. If a dog comes within their vicinity, the plovers will abandon the nest, regardless of the stage of incubation for the eggs.

Like fireworks, dogs are prohibited on public beaches in the county, as detailed in a county ordinance. Nonetheless, earlier this nesting season, Wilson had to seek the assistance of deputies and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) after discovering dog tracks in a nesting area that had been marked off with posts and yellow tape.

SKA President Catherine Luckner has talked of the fact that dog owners often bring their pets with them on vacation, and they see no reason why they cannot take the dogs out on the beach. In many cases, Luckner indicated, the action is a result of ignorance of the county ordinance. She has urged members to encourage visitors to abide by the county law.

Yet, Wilson and Audubon volunteers on Siesta over the years have seen signs that residents are among the worst offenders. Wilson told the News Leader this week that she regularly sees dog tracks at one beach access on the Key.

With those thoughts of fireworks and dogs, Wilson continued on June 27, “I’m desperate for volunteers on Siesta” to help keep a watch over the new nest.

People generally work in three-hour shifts, she said. The shifts begin at 8 a.m. and conclude most days at 8 p.m.

On July 4th, however, she continued, she hopes to add an extra shift, from 8 to 11 p.m. People who will want to shoot off fireworks of their own — in spite of the state law — will come out to the beach after dark, of course, she pointed out.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help protect the plovers and their nest may contact Wilson by email at kwilson@audubon.org.

Wilson said she is hoping very much to be able to sign up at least one person per shift.

If someone already is planning to be on the beach for the 4th, she added, “That might be worth their while” to serve as a volunteer.