FWC Volunteer Spotlight Summer 2019

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Summer 2019  •  Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

In April, the FWC celebrated Florida Volunteer Month through a social media blitz of service! We shared the accomplishments of our volunteers, interns and the staff and partners who work with them every day in April on our new Facebook page. Through volunteering, you can make a difference for Florida’s fish and wildlife! Please continue to check us out, like and share our page by searching for FWC Volunteers on Facebook!

— FWC Volunteer Team

Florida Volunteer Month_3

Shorebird Update

By Emily Hardin and Brendan O'Connor


Volunteers, FWC staff and Audubon staff in the Northwest Region show off their finished chick shelters. Photo by Chris Lipps, Audubon Florida.

Shorebird nesting season is in full swing throughout Florida! Chicks have begun to hatch and fledge, and some breeding pairs have laid second clutches. FWC volunteers across the state are helping to monitor shorebirds and educate others about them. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for all their hard work and dedication to helping these species.

Our Bird Steward volunteers are integral to shorebird protection. They visit nesting areas and keep an eye on the birds, eggs and chicks while also educating beachgoers about the birds and the importance of not disturbing them. Stewards are especially vital on busy days such as Memorial Day and Independence Day. Volunteers help the public learn about and view shorebirds from a safe distance and prevent impacts on the birds’ behavior.

FWC volunteers also help monitor and collect data in nesting areas. This involves walking survey routes weekly or monthly to gather information on nesting and hatching activity. It can also mean visiting some shopping centers and hotels! Some species of shorebirds, particularly least terns, have adapted to nesting on gravel rooftops instead of on the busy beaches. Volunteers visit these sites sometimes multiple times a day to collect information on the numbers of birds utilizing the rooftops. With coordination between the FWC and building owners or managers, volunteers also check for any flightless chicks that may have fallen off the edge of the roof and need an extra hand getting back up. 

We reported in our Spring 2019 newsletter the effort our volunteers devoted to making chick shelters. As we explained, these shelters serve to provide shade from the sun and a hiding place for chicks to avoid avian predators, such as gulls and crows. Chick shelters are generally made from repurposed materials, making them a low-cost and sustainable tool for protecting shorebird chicks. Chick shelters were built in several locations across the state and deployed before the beach-nesting bird breeding season commenced.


Two least tern chicks and an adult least tern availing of the chick shelters in Lido beach, Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Kylie Wilson, Audubon Florida Anchor Steward.

Seagrass Transplantation Volunteers

By Emily Hardin


FWC staff and volunteers prepare seagrass to be transplanted to the restoration site. Photo by Katie Konchar.

An ongoing oyster reef restoration project in Bay County has entered an exciting new phase. The project began in 2015 to help mitigate erosion and poor water clarity, and conditions have improved since the project’s beginning. So much so, in fact, that biologists have been able to start transplanting seagrass from other areas of the bay into the restoration site. Volunteers joined FWC and FWRI staff in collecting, preparing, and transplanting the grasses to the site in April, and have been helping to monitor the grasses each month since!


Photo Left:  Seagrass planting units ready to be planted in the restoration site. Photo by Gema Hernán. Photo Right:  Newly transplanted seagrasses. Photo by Jacob Berninger.

Apalachicola National Forest Second Annual Wetlands Cleanup

By Emily Hardin


Volunteers and staff pose before heading off to various wetlands to clean up litter and debris. Photo courtesy of Emily Hardin.

The FWC, US Forest Service, and Coastal Plains Institute joined forces again this year to host a Wetlands Litter Clean-up in Apalachicola National Forest. Volunteers spent a few hours removing over 460 lbs. of garbage from ephemeral wetlands and learning about the species that utilize them!


Clint Davis and John Dunlap, United States Forest Service staff, unload truckloads of trash collected in the wetlands into a donated dumpster. Photo Courtesy of Emily Hardin.

Marine Fisheries Interns in the Field

By Melissa Crouch

Marine Fisheries Management (DMF) Summer Interns joined FWC staff to observe saltwater artificial reef deployments off Panama City, Florida and conduct a specimen collection at Wakulla Beach, Florida.


DMF Interns watch as saltwater artificial reefs are deployed off Panama City, Florida. Photo courtesy of Melissa Crouch.


DMF Interns use a seine net to collect specimens at Wakulla Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Melissa Crouch.


DMF summer interns have a great time during a specimen collection at Wakulla Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Melissa Crouch.

Turkey Hazing

By Brendan O'Connor

A senior community in Zephyrhills, Pasco County, reported concerns to the FWC about wild turkeys in their neighborhood showing aggressive behavior when approached by humans. Wild turkeys that lose their natural fear of people can become a public safety concern due to their powerful wings, large size and spurs on the males’ legs. The FWC’s Wildlife Impact Management Section provided advice to resolve the situation. FWC volunteers, Connie Sweet and Larry Wallace, visited the neighborhood to discourage the wild turkeys from foraging in the residential area. They hazed the turkeys by shouting, using an airhorn, opening and closing an umbrella while facing the turkeys, waving their arms and clapping. You can help keep wild turkeys wild by never feeding them. More information on hazing turkeys can be found in our Living with Wild Turkeys brochure.


Two tom (male) turkeys. Photo by Larry Wallace, FWC Volunteer.


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. 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!

Ridge Rangers Celebrate 25 Years

By Tessie Offner


Ridge Rangers and land managers celebrated the 25th anniversary of the program. Photo by Dustin Angell, Dustin Angell Photography.

In April, the Ridge Ranger program celebrated it’s 25th anniversary at Kissimmee River State Park. The Ridge Rangers, a volunteer task force, was founded to help with ecosystem restoration efforts on the Lake Wales Ridge and surrounding area. This spring and summer, Ridge Ranger projects have been focused on removal of invasive plants from sensitive scrub habitat, monitoring scrub-jay populations and restoring a field once used for citrus by planting native vegetation. It is hoped that this 22-acre field will once again become continuous habitat with the surrounding scrub and utilized by Florida scrub-jays.

If you are interested in becoming a Ridge Ranger, you can register on our website and sign up for a work day!



Ridge Rangers plant native vegetation at the ground cover restoration site. Photo by Tessie Offner.

Welcome Tessie!


FWC Ridge Ranger Program Coordinators, past and present, at the Ridge Rangers 25th Anniversary Celebration. Tessie is pictured second from left. Photo by Sharon Tatem.

Please welcome Tessie Offner to the FWC’s Volunteer Team! She is the new Ridge Ranger Volunteer Coordinator based in Lake Placid; however, Tessie is not new to the FWC. Her pioneering work removing Argentine black and white tegus from Hillsborough County scrub led her to employment in the FWC’s Wildlife Impact Management section working with non-native wildlife in the Southwest Region. She left the FWC in 2015 to complete a master’s in wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida and is excited to be back with the FWC to continue work that protects and preserves Florida’s scrub with a team of like-minded individuals.

Welcome Travis!


Photo courtesy of Travis Blunden.

Please welcome Travis Blunden to the FWC's Public Access Services Office within the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. Travis is the new coordinator for Wings Over Florida (WOF). While new to this position, he is not new to the FWC, he worked in the land management section for 11 years, first as a biologist at Half Moon Wildlife Management Area and then as the Northeast Region Conservation Biologist. Prior to joining the FWC, he interned with the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and worked for the Florida Park Service. An experienced naturalist, Travis has worked with birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. He enjoys being outside and sharing the natural world with others, especially his young daughter. For more information about WOF, visit http://floridabirdingtrail.com/wof/.

Volunteers to Careers


Caitlin Crocker (left) and Caitlin Morrison (second from left), pose with other volunteers after helping to post a shorebird nesting area back in March. Photo by Britt Brown.

Caitlin Morrison and Caitlin Crocker have been regular service volunteers with the Northwest Region Volunteer Program, helping with a variety of projects since the program’s inception. We are so happy to welcome them onboard as seasonal technicians with the FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute’s Fisheries Dependent Monitoring section conducting inlet boat count surveys in St. Andrew’s Bay throughout the summer.

Tallahassee Shines in City Nature Challenge


Photo by Andy Wraithmell.

The species diversity of Tallahassee and Leon County has now been displayed on the world stage. In the 2019 City Nature Challenge, Tallahassee and Leon County placed first in number of observations and number of species for our population category, fifth in number of species per capita and fourth in number of observers per capita, an impressive result for our first year!

“Tallahassee/Leon County was in the top 10 in per capita observations, species and participation,” said Alison Young, Co-director of Citizen Science at the California Academy of Sciences, a sponsor of City Nature Challenge.“ They were also first in all categories in cities with a population of 100,000 – 250,000 people. In just four days, you all almost doubled the number of observations in Leon County on iNaturalist and added 730 new species there!”

From April 26-29, the City and County joined together to compete in recording as many species as possible using the iNaturalist app and website. The community performed very well in the observations and species categories, landing in the top 35 of all competing cities with 11,267 observations. Observations of 1,701 species put the community in the top 20 of that category, besting cities such as Atlanta, San Antonio and even Bogota, Columbia! All of this was achieved with 409 observers. These numbers are even more impressive when the areas and populations of other competing projects are considered. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area project covered a nine-county range and had 1,937 observers.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held a series of events, both on its wildlife management areas and in local parks. FWC partnered with WFSU, the Challenger Learning Center, City of Tallahassee, Leon County, Coastal Plains Institute, Apalachee Audubon, and several other organizations to engage members of the community with the nature around them. Species as unusual as striped newts, hooded pitcher plants, and golden-banded skippers were all recorded as part of the challenge. These observations help add to the body of knowledge we have about the natural heritage of our state. The full list of species and observations can be viewed on the Tallahassee/Leon County City Nature Challenge project page.

Upcoming Events

Second Annual Scallop Rodeos

Bay & Gulf Counties

July 20 (St. Andrews Bay) & August 3 (St. Joseph Bay), 2019

FWC Biologists need your help to collect live scallops and restore scallop populations in St. Andrews Bay and St. Joseph Bay! Volunteers will be able to collect up to 100 scallops each and deliver them to FWC biologists ALIVE at the end of the day. All of the scallops collected by volunteers will be placed in predator exclusion cages in their bay of origin to protect them throughout the year and help restore scallop populations. Click here to register!

National Estuaries Week

September 14 – 21, 2019

This is a nationwide celebration of our bays and estuaries and the many benefits they provide to local communities. Organizations throughout the country host local events in celebration of National Estuaries Week, from beach clean-ups to marsh restoration events. Check the FWC Calendar or with local organizations to see if an event is happening in your area!

Last Shorebird Count Window

August 5 – 11, 2019

If you are a shorebird monitor volunteer, don’t forget about your last mandatory count window during the week of August 5 – 11. Surveys conducted during monthly count windows provide information on distribution and minimum population estimates of Florida’s shorebirds and seabirds. The primary purpose of the August window is to count chicks and fledglings.

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.

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