ANNA MARIA ISLAND – When you see terns two by two on the beach and snowy plovers in pairs, it’s a sure sign that shorebird nesting season is here.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers have spotted the first pair of nesting snowy plovers this spring on the north end of the Island, Director Suzi Fox said.
Snowy plovers are a threatened species in Florida, as are black skimmers, which also are on the Island for nesting season. Other threatened species that nest on local beaches are the American oystercatcher and the least tern. Threatened species are one step away from endangered status.
From April 15-21, beachgoers will see Turtle Watch ATVs driving carefully up and down the beaches looking for signs of nesting, so that they can stake off nesting areas to protect the birds, which are easily frightened off their nests – sometimes for good – by people who get too close.
If birds are screeching nearby, you are too close, Fox said, adding that some birds defend their territory with the best weapon they have – bird droppings.
To keep the beaches safer for birds and sea turtles, which will begin nesting in late April or early May, Turtle Watch volunteers will be picking up plastic beach toys abandoned on the beach and placing them in toy lending boxes at the two public beaches, Manatee and Coquina, for people to use.
“Hopefully, people will use them instead of buying more plastic and leaving it on the beach,” Fox said, adding that the toys will be cleaned regularly.
Beachgoers whose kids use the toys to dig holes in the sand should fill them in before they leave to keep people and sea turtles from falling in them, she said.
To teach local schoolkids about beach wildlife, Turtle Watch plans to lend “traveling teaching trunks” full of education information to local teachers, Fox said.
The organization also will be posting about 60 signs drawn by local schoolchildren on Island beaches instructing beachgoers about beach etiquette around wildlife, an alternative to “stay off the dunes” signs that people don’t seem to notice, she said.
Local children’s artwork also will be featured on notecards available for purchase at Tuesday Turtle Talks, scheduled for 10 a.m. at Waterline Marina Resort, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, on April 10 and 24, May 8 and 22, June 5, 12, 19 and 26 and July 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.