FWC Volunteer Spotlight Winter 2019

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Winter 2019 •  Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers


Happy New Year! We hope everyone enjoyed a lovely holiday season! Are you ready for all that 2020 brings? As you look forward to what the new year holds, be sure to look back on all your accomplishments from this past year. In this newsletter edition, we celebrate some of the great achievements of our volunteers over the last few months of 2019. Join us in celebrating the work they've done and check out our Upcoming Events section to help us do even more this year!

— the FWC's Volunteer Program Team

Welcome Simon Fitzwilliam!

Simon Fitzwilliam and biologists

Simon Fitzwilliam (left), with FWC staff, at his first outreach event, the Ocean Beach Reef Fest at Satellite Beach, to recruit volunteers interested in shorebird conservation. Photo courtesy of Simon Fitzwilliam.

We are so excited to welcome Simon Fitzwilliam to the FWC’s Volunteer Program Team! Simon will serve as the Volunteer Program Biologist for the Northeast Region. Simon has worked on several wildlife conservation projects in diverse ecosystems such as the rangelands of south-central Florida, the Ocala National Forest, the Florida Everglades, the Nature Coast and the Red Hills region of the Panhandle. Between working seasonal wildlife positions in the winters, Simon spent five summers as a naturalist guide at a backcountry lodge in Alaska. Simon is now back in Florida year-round and is very excited to be fostering stewardship and community engagement in the FWC’s Northeast Region.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering in the NE Region with Simon, visit our website.

New Homes for Wood Ducks

Volunteers make wood duck boxes

Volunteers in the Northwest Region were hard at work making lots of new wood duck nest boxes this winter! Photo by FWC staff.

Volunteers helped to construct new wood duck nest boxes for the Fitzhugh Carter Tract of Econfina Wildlife Management Area (WMA). This area was affected by Hurricane Michael in late 2018, leaving the current nest boxes in less-than-ideal condition. Seventeen new boxes were made to replace the current ones and provide a safe place for wood ducks to nest. A huge thank you to the volunteers who helped with this effort!

New wood duck boxes

Seventeen beautiful new wood duck boxes are ready to be installed around the ponds and wetlands of the Fitzhugh Carter Tract of Econfina WMA. Photo by FWC Staff.

Jay Watch Recognition Event

Jay Watchers Cake

Jay Watchers enjoyed a delicious cake at the recognition event. Photo by FWC staff.

Audubon Florida coordinates the statewide Jay Watch Citizen Science Program. The FWC partners with Audubon Florida to assist in the recruitment of volunteers for this program, who undertake surveys of scrub-jays across Florida. The information collected during surveys is used by land managers to assess management efforts in protecting this Federally-designated Threatened species.

On November 23, Audubon Florida held the Jay Watch annual volunteer recognition event at Archbold Biological Station to thank the volunteers involved in the program. After an informative hike through the Florida scrub led by Dr. Reed Bowman (Archbold Biological Station), presentations were provided by a range of excellent speakers. Cheryl Millet (The Nature Conservancy) provided a historical recap of the Jay Watch Program. Dr. Marianne Korosy (Audubon Florida) presented on the population trends of the Florida scrub-jay, which was followed by a presentation from Dr. Karl Miller (FWC) on the intricacies of scrub-jay translocations. The day celebrated all the efforts of the volunteers who make this program possible.

Pet Amnesty Day 

Pet Amnesty set up

Volunteers helped set up for the event and ensure everything ran smoothly. Photo by FWC staff.

The FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program aims to reduce the number of exotic and nonnative pets that are released into the wild. On October 12, five volunteers assisted with a Pet Amnesty Day in Fort Walton Beach. Volunteers helped set up, greet guests, track paperwork and take photos. In total, 43 pets including ball pythons, sugar gliders, box turtles and more were surrendered and subsequently adopted by new permitted owners! Thanks to all the volunteers that helped make this event a success!

Successful Trash Removal 

Trash removal at Big Pine Tract

Volunteers proudly show the efforts of removing trash from the Big Pine Tract of the Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area in Brooksville. Photo by FWC staff.

In December, a group of volunteers assisted staff at the Big Pine Tract of the Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area to remove trash from the drainage leading to Burn’s Prairie. Volunteers collected and removed 1,060 pounds (0.53 tons) of trash. Most of the trash consisted of glass bottles, plastic, cans, old buckets and discarded piles of wood. Disposing of trash properly can help protect fish and wildlife as debris and litter pose a high risk of entanglement and ingestion. Several volunteers also hand pulled invasive plant species including Caesar’s weed and coral ardisia.

It Takes a Village

shorebird volunteer appreciation event

Volunteers from the FWC’s Shorebird Program, Audubon Florida and Panama City Beach Turtle Watch pause for a photo during a volunteer appreciation event in October. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Samuelsen, Audubon Florida.

As you have probably experienced, the beaches in Florida are very busy in the summer time! Not only are lots of humans taking advantage of Florida’s esteemed beaches, so too are beach-nesting birds and sea turtles. It takes a collaboration of many organizations and agencies, as well as many dedicated individuals, to ensure the protection and conservation of these important species. For example, in Panama City Beach, Florida, the FWC is joined by Audubon Florida and Panama City Beach Turtle Watch to protect beach-nesting birds and sea turtles and to educate beachgoers on all beach-nesting species. In the fall, the three groups held a volunteer appreciation event to gather together and celebrate another great year of collaboration and successful nesting! Collaborations such as this are essential to the conservation of Florida’s native species.

Balsam Apple Removal 

balsam apple removal

The Ridge Rangers removed a significant amount of invasive balsam apple from the FWC’s Carter Creek Tract. Photo by Tessie Offner, FWC staff.

The Ridge Rangers dedicated 95 hours of cumulative work in October and December pushing back the invasion front on the Carter Creek Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge (LWR) Wildlife and Environmental Area by removing balsam apple. Balsam apple is an invasive vining plant, brought to the United States as a culinary and medicinal crop. It is easy to spot the ripe fruits of this plant, which are bright orange with fleshy red seeds. When left to grow unimpeded in natural areas, its extensive vines can overcome native plant species and shade out smaller plants. The work the Ridge Rangers completed will allow for future successful restorative fires and create habitable areas for rare and endangered Florida plants, 28 of which are known to occur on the site. As we look ahead to 2020, we hope to continue to make significant gains towards removing balsam apple from this area!

Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count! This was the 120th year of the count, which took place between December 14 and January 5. You can view this year’s data (as well as historical data) on Audubon’s website.

american oystercatchers

American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) are just one of the species that were documented in Florida in this year’s Christmas count. Photo by Karen Parker, FWC staff.

Bat Week

In October, the FWC celebrated Bat Week. Bats are an integral part of Florida’s ecosystem, and volunteers across the state are involved in a variety of projects benefitting the species. From building and installing bat boxes to assisting with emergence surveys, we are thankful for all that our volunteers do to aid in the conservation of Florida’s bat species.

bat house installation

Eagle Scout volunteers install one of six bat houses they built for the John C. and Mariana Jones/Hungryland Wildlife Management Area. Photo courtesy of FWC staff.

Manatee Awareness Month

November was Manatee Awareness Month and we loved celebrating our staff and volunteers who put in long hours to contribute to the conservation of this species. From November 2018 to November 2019, volunteers with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Marine Mammal Section assisted staff with 89 manatee rescues, 44 manatee releases and 466 manatee necropsies to better understand health and environmental impacts on the Florida manatee.

Manatee Volunteer

Nicole Pegg, FWC Volunteer for the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory, monitors a rescued manatee during transport. Activities conducted under USFWS permit MA770191.

Upcoming Events

Check out the FWC Event Calendar and look for one of our identifiers below to find more volunteer opportunities and details!  


Python Bowl Events 
January 25 – February 1
Bayfront Park, Miami 

The Florida Python Challenge™ 2020 Python Bowl is an event aimed at decreasing the amount of invasive Burmese pythons that are threatening natural ecosystems in south Florida. While the Python Removal Competition only runs until January 19, there is an Awards Celebration on January 25 which also kicks off a special exhibit at Super Bowl Live from January 25 – February 1. During Super Bowl Live you can visit an interactive Oceans to Everglades display, learn how FWC manages invasive species, and meet live Burmese pythons and lionfish! For more information, visit the Python Bowl website.

RCW Habitat Enhancement
January 18, 8:30am – 12:30pm
Disney Wilderness Preserve, Poinciana

Join the Ridge Rangers in helping to clear vegetation around red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees to help protect nests during prescribed burns. For details, visit the FWC Event Calendar.

Helping the rare plant Ziziphus celata
January 24, 8:30am – around 12:00pm
FWC Carter Creek, Sebring 

Join the Ridge Rangers in hand-weeding around the rare Ziziphus celata plant to reduce competition and help this federally endangered plant thrive. For details, visit the FWC Event Calendar.

Partner Beach Clean-up
February 29, 9:00am – 12:00pm CST
Panama City Beach

Make the most of your extra day this year to join the FWC, Audubon Florida, Keep PCB Beautiful, and the Panama City Beach Turtle Watch for a beach clean-up event in preparation for the shorebird and sea turtle nesting seasons! For details, visit the FWC Event Calendar.

Bird Stewards
April – September (varies)
Multiple beaches across the state

As shorebird and seabird nesting season approaches, we are looking for volunteers to become Bird Stewards. These volunteers visit busy beaches to educate beachgoers about beach-nesting birds. If you are interested in helping with public outreach while watching beach-nesting birds, please visit the Florida Shorebird Alliance website, or reach out to your regional Volunteer Program Biologist.

Stash the Trash

Are you interested in helping the ecosystems you love, but haven’t been able to make it out to one of our volunteer events? Here’s a great way to contribute on your own time and schedule! Click on the image below for instructions on how to build your own trash bucket. Next time you are out on the water, you can help Florida’s fish and wildlife by collecting trash and monofilament that you find and securely disposing of it.

To learn more about the FWC’s Stash the Trash initiative, visit MyFWC.com/StashTheTrash.

stash that trash

Click on the image above to get these DIY instructions to make your own trash collector! 

Photos from the Field

Check out these awesome photos from the field!

scrub lizards

Male and female scrub lizards released in Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area in Palm Beach County. Photo by FWC staff. 


Chris Hurst, FWC volunteer, records relevant environmental variables before a herpetological survey. Photo by FWC staff. 

taxa meetings

The FWC’s Volunteer Team (Tessie Offner, Emily Hardin, Andrea Pereyra and Brendan O’Connor) attended the FWC's 2019 Taxa Coordination meetings at Silver Springs State Park, Florida. 

pine woods tree frog

A pinewoods treefrog greets volunteers as they come to collect data at this marked point in a crayfish restoration site. 

wilderness first aid training

Ridge Rangers Coordinator Tessie Offner practices improvising a splint on Volunteer Program Biologist Emily Hardin during Wilderness First Aid Training. 

Regional Connection

Our Volunteer Program Biologists 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 Volunteer Program Biologist. 

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Andrea Pereyra - South Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Simon Fitzwilliam - Northeast Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Emily Hardin - Northwest Region Volunteer Program Biologist


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions to the FWC Volunteer Program. 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!