FWC Volunteer Spotlight Spring - Summer 2020

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Spring - Summer 2020 •  Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers


Spring is typically one of the busiest times of the year, with our interns and volunteers active in a variety of wildlife and habitat conservation projects across the state. This year, spring looked and felt different for us, as it probably looked and felt different for you. We appreciated your understanding as we delayed or cancelled many of our intern and volunteer activities, and we admired your flexibility as we began inviting you back into the field, implementing new practices to ensure your safety. You are an integral part of our daily operations and we are grateful for your contributions during this time. In this edition, we share some of the field projects our staff have kept moving in your absence as well as a few projects that continued with limited volunteers in June. Additionally, we share some insights from our Volunteer Program Biologists, along with creative ways to volunteer on your own, in the field or from your home or backyard. Enjoy!

— the FWC's Volunteer Program Team


Your safety is our highest priority! We have guidelines in place to ensure that our interns, volunteers, partners and staff remain safe and healthy during these times. Here are some of the things we are doing:

Volunteer Program Biologists in the Field

Our Volunteer Program Biologists have been busy keeping up with critical fieldwork in each of their regions so that volunteers can jump back in when appropriate. Check out their good work!

Northwest Region

Emily Hardin assisted with shorebird nest monitoring on six rooftops in Bay County. Least terns and black skimmers have adapted to nesting on gravel rooftops as well as the busy sandy beaches.


Least terns on a rooftop. Photo by Rebekah Snyder, Audubon FL.

Northeast Region

Simon Fitzwilliam helped with the annual Florida scrub-jay surveys known as Jay Watch. Jay Watch is a highly coordinated effort to survey Florida scrub-jay populations statewide. This program has expanded and evolved ever since it was started back in 2002! This year, a much-reduced version of Jay Watch was carried out by a few highly experienced and seasoned volunteers at locations such as the Ocala National Forest, the Cross Florida Greenway and other tracts of scrub habitat on a variety of Wildlife Management Areas.


An adult and juvenile Florida scrub-jay seen during this year’s Jay Watch at the Cross Florida Greenway. Photo by Brinda Curran, FWC Volunteer.


A banded Florida scrub-jay spotted during this year’s Jay Watch at the Cross Florida Greenway. Photo by Josie Muncy, FWC Volunteer.

Southwest Region

Brendan O’Connor and other FWC staff undertook monitoring for the southeastern American kestrel in Polk and Hernando counties. This spring, Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area and an adjacent beach on Estero Island were posted. Posting is a common management practice to protect shorebird and seabird nests, along with their eggs, chicks and habitat from disturbances. It involves placing informational signs and posts to delineate buffer areas where people, vehicles and pets are not allowed to enter. Both areas are home to colonies of least terns as well as the solitary nesting snowy plover and Wilson’s plover. Brendan worked alongside other biologists and law enforcement officers posting the areas.


Southeastern American kestrel with eggs. FWC photo.


Shorebird posting on Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area. FWC photo.

South Region

Andrea Pereyra has been committed to shorebird conservation work in Monroe, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. She has monitored several rooftops and ground colonies for least terns and roseate terns, as well as ground sites with solitary American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover nests. In an attempt to collect long-term information on survival, demographics and movement of certain imperiled shorebirds and seabirds, biologists put identification bands on individual birds when they are chicks. Andrea assisted Ricardo Zambrano, the Regional Biologist, with banding roseate terns in Monroe County and American oystercatchers at Lake Worth Lagoon and Bird Island Critical Wildlife Area.


State-designated Threatened least tern egg and chick on a rooftop. Direct counts of eggs and chicks on rooftops are only conducted by the FWC when necessary. This measure is taken to prevent disturbances to eggs, chicks and adults. Photo by Andrea Pereyra, FWC.


Andrea holding a recently banded American oystercatcher at Lake Worth Lagoon. Photo by Ricardo Zambrano, FWC.

Volunteers in the Field

Wading Birds Nest Monitoring

In South Florida, spring and early summer is chick season for wading birds. To determine wading bird nesting success and population estimates, the FWC conducts long-term monitoring at breeding colonies throughout the state. Caroline Jordan, FWC Volunteer, has taken ownership of monitoring one breeding colony located in Broward County which can only be accessed by kayak. The colony is located on a 16 sq. ft. man-made island known for the large presence of the Federally-designated Threatened wood stork. Caroline’s counts continued through April, after which Andrea Pereyra continued with the task. There were many wading bird nests and chicks observed at the site. Peak numbers of nests and chicks between February and May 2020 were, respectively, 102 and 115 for wood storks and 14 and 30 for the State-designated Threatened tricolored heron.

Wading birds1

Chicks and adults of the Federally-designated Threatened wood stork. Photo by Caroline Jordan, FWC Volunteer.

Wading birds2

Breeding pair of the State-designated threatened tricolored heron. Photo by Andrea Pereyra, FWC.

Ridge Rangers Native Vegetation Restoration

Summertime in Florida is known for its frequent rain showers which support new plant growth. In late June, Ridge Rangers were able to continue assisting with the long-term restoration efforts on an 11-acre parcel at Royce Ranch, part of the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area. Before acquisition by the FWC, this site had been cleared and used as an orange grove. With time, the landscape turned into a combination of invasive grasses and bare sand. So far this year, the Ridge Rangers have planted 150 native plants including oaks, garberia, partridge pea and blazing star, all grown from seeds at our native plant nursery. June’s planting brings the total up to 2,000 native plant species planted by these volunteers since 2017. Positive results are already being observed! Many of the flowering species planted this year are either blooming or putting out buds. Also, three nighthawk nests were encountered along the irrigation line.


Beardtongue blooms in the early summer months while other flowers, such as blazing star, will bloom in the late summer and fall. FWC photo.


A common nighthawk defending eggs along the irrigation line near an oak planted in 2019. FWC photo.


Ridge Rangers Lianne Plumhoff and Bill Smith practiced social distancing while planting and tending to the restoration site. FWC photo.

Thoughts on Volunteer Management

Our Volunteer Program Biologists share some great insights on volunteer experiences, success and promoting opportunities.

What volunteer experiences do you consider valuable to keep your volunteers motivated?

  • A wide range of projects and locations is important to allow volunteers to identify what interests them most.
  • It’s important for volunteers to understand the “why” of what they are doing. Explaining how the task at hand makes a difference for our wildlife resources helps to motivate volunteers.

What are some skills and personal traits of volunteers that bring success to your projects?

  • A curious mind and ability to adapt and work independently. 
  • Being a team player and a good communicator. 
  • Patience, compassion and a healthy sense of humor go a long way!

Where do you promote volunteer opportunities?

  • It depends on the type of project or workday, but we usually post opportunities on the FWC Calendar and occasionally on our FWC Volunteers Facebook page. General information about the types of intern and volunteer opportunities offered is also available on our website.
  • If you would like to volunteer more regularly, we recommend that you contact one of us depending on the region you are based. Check the Regional Connection section at the bottom right hand column of this newsletter to locate your region and your Volunteer Program Biologist.

Ways to Volunteer on your Own

Did you know that there are many ways you can volunteer on your own to help Florida’s fish and wildlife?

  1. Conduct your own litter cleanup! Trash and debris can harm wildlife, both on land and in the water. Whether in your neighborhood, along a beach or river, or in a local park, you can make a difference for wildlife by picking up the litter you see. If you are an avid boater or paddler, check out these instructions for making a trash collector to keep with you on the water!
  2. Report what you see. FWC biologists are trying to gain more knowledge about certain species, and we need your help to do it! Check out the FWC Sightings page and if you see any of the species listed, report it at the appropriate link.
  3. Become a Florida Nature Tracker. You can help the FWC document plant and animal species in your backyard! To sign up and learn more about how you can contribute to science visit  iNaturalist.org  and add your observations here. You can even create your own yard project; check out this video to learn how.
FL Nature Trackers

Bird nest box in a backyard. FWC photo.

Regional Connection

Regional 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 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!