A busy holiday for Egmont bird protectors
Birds populate the Egmont Key beach, where first there are no boats near in the restricted area, then no birds at all and a regular fleet of boats beyond the line. Islander Photo: Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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Tampa Bay area residents who love the bay, birds and the Egmont Key Wildlife Refuge volunteered from dawn until dusk the three days of the Memorial Day weekend, making sure birds nesting on Egmont weren't disturbed.
Members of the Manatee County Audubon Society, Friends of Tampa Bay Refuges and Tampa Bay Watch served as marshals, monitoring the closed-area bird sanctuary there. They kept watch to make sure that boats, swimmers, dogs and walkers did not enter the closed area and disturb birds nesting on the beach. They also were there to educate the public with posters, maps, brochures and fact sheets.
Egmont Key is one of 545 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system. The refuge was established on the island in 1974 and takes up 237 acres of the 286-acre island. It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with two other refuges - Passage Key and Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge. The Egmont refuge shares its island with a 39-acre state park and with marine pilots guiding ships in and out of the bay.
The Tampa Bay area hosts 25 species of colonial water birds, approximately 160,000 birds. These include nearly two-third of the statewide population of black skimmers and royal, sandwich, Caspian and least terns, as well as birds such as plovers and oystercatchers.
Some of the most important bird colonies in Florida are protected by the Egmont sanctuary. A survey in May counted 12,000 laughing gull nests, 1,600 royal tern nests and so on down the line to just three of the rare oystercatchers' nests.
Altogether, the key supports at least 117 species of nesting, migratory and wintering birds, and last year had 30 loggerhead turtle nests plus hosts many land-dwelling gopher tortoises and box turtles.
Egmont also has nearly 85,000 human visitors a year, most of them during the critical nesting period for coastal birds and sea turtles. A holiday weekend there is very busy with boaters - Memorial Day weekend saw as many as 400 boats in a day.
People walking nearby flush the birds from their nests, which leaves eggs and babies unprotected from the many predators there.
The area will be monitored by volunteers again over the Fourth of July weekend. USFWS boats will pick up volunteers at Anna Maria City Pier, and anyone who would like to join the group should call me at 518-4431, or Barbara Howard at (727) 512-4914.