The Southwest Shines

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The Southwest Shines

Summer 2018•Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Regional Volunteer program is proud to introduce a new identifier celebrating the FWC's volunteer programs. This image highlights some of the key species and habitats that benefit from volunteer involvement, such as gopher tortoises, fish, pine flatwoods, birds and much more. Can you guess the species of bird in this image? More importantly, this image celebrates you and your dedication to conserving the landscapes, species and waterways that make Florida unique. Your efforts are priceless!

In this quarterly edition, we highlight the hard work of volunteers in the FWC's Southwest Region. We learn about protecting native species, tracking a keystone species, assisting the public with surrendering nonnative species, and planting marsh grass. We hope our newsletter inspires you to volunteer and support the place you visit or call home.

— Sharon Tatem, Volunteer Program Manager

Intrepid volunteers help protect native species

By Brendan O'Connor

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Tyson Dallas, Biologist for the FWC's Nonnative program, illustrates the use of Havahart traps to Larry Wallace, an FWC volunteer involved in the Tegu Removal Project in Riverview, Florida. Photo by Brendan O'Connor, FWC.

Furnished with eggs, dowel rods, a GPS unit and a sense of eagerness, a steadfast group of volunteers is using its stealth skills to assist the FWC in trapping Argentine black and white tegus. In the Riverview area southeast of Tampa, these volunteers have been assisting the Wildlife Impact Management team in efforts to control a breeding population of the Argentine black and white tegu. In partnership with Hillsborough County, the FWC is increasing efforts this season to survey for and remove this nonnative species, which preys on a wide range of Florida's native species. The tegu eats a variety of foods, including fruit, eggs, insects, and small animals such as lizards, rodents and even gopher tortoise hatchlings. Exploiting tegus’ wide range of diet, volunteers bait the traps with chicken eggs, strawberries and even cat food to attract the tegus.

Volunteers have been monitoring 24 traps distributed in dense scrub on Hillsborough County properties. The traps have been checked every weekday since March 29, with volunteers accumulating over 200 volunteer hours. The traps also accidently attract some of our native species, which are released unharmed on site. The unexpected visitors to the traps have included skunks, raccoons, opossums and most recently a bobcat, much to the excitement of one of our volunteers who successfully released it on site. All traps are monitored at least once every 24-hour period during the week. Eight volunteers have been sharing the responsibility of inspecting the traps each weekday. The project is expected to last into late summer, when tegus become dormant and enter “brumation,” the stage of staying underground for long periods of time. Despite the hot Florida summer, these volunteers plan to continue their efforts until the tegus become inactive. If you see a tegu or any nonnative species, you can report it by calling the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681).

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Tegu in Havahart trap. Photo by Brendan O'Connor, FWC.

Volunteers assist land managers by tracking a Florida keystone species

By Brendan O'Connor

Gopher Tortoise Surveys

Volunteers involved in gopher tortoise surveys on Bullfrog Creek WEA. Photos by Brendan O'Connor, FWC.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, zealous volunteers have been busily wading through dense vegetation, getting bitten by hungry mosquitoes and avoiding smilax, a thorny plant that seems to grow out of the ground with the sole intention of tripping the unwary. Keen eyes are also necessary to ensure everyone steers clear of any venomous eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. “Why?” you may ask.

Bullfrog Creek Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA), is a 833-acre FWC property in Hillsborough County, eight miles south of Riverview and southeast of Tampa. Typically, habitat such as this is managed in part through prescribed fire, which serves to promote new growth of plants as well as seed and fruit production. However, Bullfrog Creek WEA is bordered to the west by Interstate 75, to the east by U.S. Route 301, and to the south and north by residential properties. The layout of this WEA dictates very specific wind patterns and weather parameters to safely undertake a prescribed fire, and hence the use of prescribed fire is complemented by mechanical treatment. The mechanical treatment aims to manage the density of saw palmettos and improve plant diversity, which enhances available foraging opportunities for wildlife. The challenge faced by land managers is that the property is also home to many gopher tortoises, and their burrows must be avoided by the heavy machinery utilized for the mechanical treatment. This explains why our ardent volunteers have been busy at work on this site.

Volunteers have conducted line transect surveys across the WEA to identify and mark the location of gopher tortoise burrows. Using brightly colored flags and GPS units, volunteers traversed over 70 acres and identified the location of over 500 burrows. These volunteers were from the FWC’s Southwest Region Volunteer program, including groups such as the American Daughters of Conservation and Florida Master Naturalist students. Volunteers are helping the FWC complete its due diligence for one of Florida’s keystone species.

Another successful Exotic Pet Amnesty Day

By Brendan O'Connor

Pet Amnesty

Species surrendered at the Exotic Pet Amnesty Day in St. Petersburg include (from top, clockwise) red-eared slider, ferret, bearded dragon and ball python. FWC photos.

On May 19, the FWC teamed up with Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg to host an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day. The Exotic Pet Amnesty program is an effort to reduce the number of nonnative species being released into the wild by pet owners. The agency also facilitates the adoption of surrendered exotic pets by preapproved, qualified adopters. Fourteen volunteers assisted at the event in St. Petersburg, contributing 98 volunteer hours. With over 150 people attending, the event was a great success. Thirty-one animals were surrendered and adopted, including one bird, four mammals, and 26 reptiles.

The next Exotic Pet Amnesty Day will be held on Sunday, August 19, at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, West Palm Beach. Further details on volunteer opportunities for this event will be posted on the FWC's calendar.

Marsh grass planting

By Brendan O'Connor

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Volunteers plant marsh grass on Don Pedro Island State Park. FWC photo.

An ongoing partnership between the FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection aims to restore fish and wildlife habitat, reduce erosion and help stabilize the Florida coastline. On June 2, 28 volunteers assisted the agencies with the planting of marsh grass at the Don Pedro Island State Park. The wetland is being restored from a disturbed area, and since 2017, 21,643 plants have been planted there, including 8,300 by volunteers. The planting efforts were made possible by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Exceptional Volunteers!

Volunteer Award Winners

FWC volunteers, Vernon Todd and Katherine Orr (Mark Hyman not pictured), are presented with their Volunteer of the Year award by Katie Konchar (pictured right), Biologist for the Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration program. FWC photo.

The FWC's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation held their Annual Awards Ceremony on March 23. Congratulations to Mark Hyman, Katharine Orr and Vernon Todd on their Volunteer of the Year award! Mark, Kat and Vernon are a great team that volunteered a combined 282 hours on the West Bay Oyster Reef Restoration Project in Bay County last fall. Thank you for your dedication!

Carol Lyons

Carol Lyons, FWC volunteer, organizes and enters data for the MMPL's Manatee Aging program at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. FWC photo.

Carol Lyons has been an integral member of the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory’s (MMPL) volunteer program for 15 years! Since 2012, she has volunteered over 1,300 hours. Carol plays a huge role in organizing and entering data for our manatee earbone aging program. Her close attention to detail and thoroughness have allowed staff to keep track of over 8,700 samples. On top of that, Carol is simply a wonderful person, and her commitment to manatee research is inspiring. She may be the last one to admit it, but without her, the earbone program would not be where it is today. Thank you for all you do, Carol!

Samantha Holcomb

Samantha Holcomb, FWC volunteer, collects tissue samples with a smile! She will later process these samples in her position with the HAB laboratory. FWC photo.

Samantha Holcomb has been volunteering with the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory since January of 2018. During this time, Samantha has put in almost 200 hours of service! She has quickly become a dedicated and trusted volunteer, assisting with carcass recoveries, necropsies, rescues, data entry, and daily cleaning tasks. She is always enthusiastic and willing to assist with any project, even if that means kayaking for hours to find a manatee, long evening transports, or dirty necropsy tasks. Her infectious energy makes her a joy to work with, and has made her instrumental in aiding new volunteers learn the ropes. We are happy to say that Samantha is now also part of the FWC family with her part-time position in the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) laboratory, where a portion of her work entails processing tissue samples we take during necropsy at our facility. We are thrilled to see Samantha continue to learn and grow within the FWC, both as a volunteer with our lab and as a staff member with HAB.

Volunteers Continue Successes Statewide

Apalachicola Clean-Up

Apalachicola National Forest

Volunteers and staff stand behind 1,500 pounds of trash collected from a wetland in Apalachicola National Forest. Photo courtesy of Clint Davis, U.S. Forest Service.

During National Volunteer Week in honor of Florida Volunteer Month (April), volunteers participated in a litter clean-up in Apalachicola National Forest. This event was a partnership effort with the U.S. Forest Service and the Coastal Plains Institute, a local nonprofit. Approximately 20 volunteers helped remove 1,500 pounds of trash from an ecologically important wetland.

Bachman's Sparrow and Brown-headed Nuthatch Surveys

Bachman's Sparrow Surveys

Brinda Curran and Virginia Hall, FWC volunteers, survey for Bachman's sparrows and brown-headed nuthatches in the early morning. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.

Brinda Curran and Virginia Hall, FWC volunteers, completed Bachman's sparrow and brown-headed nuthatch surveys at Ross Prairie and Gore’s Landing Wildlife Management Areas. Though they did not detect any Bachman’s sparrows, they were treated to several feisty nuthatches that put on quite the show as they dive-bombed the playback speaker.



FWC volunteers restore habitat for the Panama City crayfish. Photo by Emily Hardin, FWC.

FWC volunteers restored habitat for the Panama City crayfish by hand-clearing overstory growth and vegetation during National Volunteer Week in honor of Florida Volunteer Month (April).

Jay Watch

Jay Watch

Jay Watch Training. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.

The FWC and Audubon Florida held a successful Jay Watch training in Marion County at the Department of Environmental Protection's Cross Florida Greenway Triangle.

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Advanced Jay Watch Training. Photo courtesy of Dr. Marianne Korosy, Audubon Florida.

Seasoned Jay Watch volunteers attended the advanced Jay Watch Training in the Ocala National Forest on June 14 and 15.


Scallop Cages

Cecilia and Bud Shuler, FWC volunteers, along with Cameron Baxley and Kelly Williams, Biologists for the FWC's FWRI, put the finishing touches on predator-exclusion scallop cages. Photo by Emily Hardin, FWC.

During National Volunteer Week in honor of Florida Volunteer Month (April), FWC volunteers made predator-exclusion cages for a scallop restoration project taking place in Bay and Gulf counties led by the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI). Volunteers made over 165 cages!


Juvenile scallops are ready to go to their new Scallop Sitter families! Photo courtesy of Rebekah Nelson, FWC.

Over 150 volunteers are also making a major effort to help restore bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) throughout St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrews Bay in the Florida Panhandle. Since April, these volunteers have been acting as “Scallop Sitters” by monitoring cages of juvenile scallops as they grow, mature and breed over the next several months. The scallops live in cages on volunteers’ docks or out in the bay. The cages prevent the scallops from becoming prey and keep them in close quarters, so that breeding is more successful. We appreciate the ongoing efforts of this group of volunteers!

Explore Your Florida

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Participants of an FWC bioblitz scan for birds along the Wacissa River. FWC photo.

As long as you have a smart phone or a camera, you can help us gather information on Florida’s native species through a free app called iNaturalist. This app allows you to observe, identify, and record finds quickly and easily while out exploring our network of wildlife management areas. You can join projects that are part of our Florida Nature Trackers program, and help FWC biologists get a better understanding of the species occupying the lands that they manage. For many people, however, nature is easiest to access right in the backyard. As a result, we encourage people to enhance their yards for wildlife and then document the life that they observe through our new Backyards and Beyond program. So what are you waiting for? Go explore!

Miami Blue

Miami blue butterfly. FWC photo.

Florida has an incredible diversity of habitats and wildlife to explore. And with more than 500 sites along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, you are never very far from a great place to go wildlife watching. Bird watchers from around the country and world visit the “sunshine state” to see things like Bachman’s sparrows, Florida scrub jays, and limpkins. Butterfly enthusiasts search for butterflies such as Miami blue, Bahamian swallowtail, and Florida purplewing. This is just a small selection of some of the incredible things that can be found along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Check out: to get started on your journey. Remember, when you are on the trail, upload your photos to iNaturalist, a fun and easy way to contribute to citizen science! 

Regional Connection

Our Regional Volunteer Coordinators are specialists who bring their biological and citizen science expertise to recruit, train and manage volunteers for research, habitat enhancement and stewardship projects throughout Florida. Click here to locate your region to identify your regional coordinator. Click here for more information on volunteer opportunities.

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Coordinator

Andrea Pereyra - South Region Volunteer Coordinator

Logan McDonald - Northeast Region Volunteer Coordinator

Emily Hardin - Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions. Visit the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida to make a donation. Indicate FWC Volunteer Programs under the subheading Donation on behalf of / In Memory of within the section Make a Tribute or Memorial Gift. Your support will help us expand volunteer opportunities as we work to foster a statewide network of conservation volunteers. Thank you for supporting Florida's fish and wildlife resources!