Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Owl Empty Nesters & Our Resident Gophers

Submitted Photo | A gopher tortoise trying to reclaim its burrow from the owl.

Photo by Jean Hall | It’s summertime, and the fledglings have left the nest; mom and dad are seldom at the burrow except in the morning or late afternoon.

According to the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), the Owl Watch Program is stronger than ever. They plan to continue to grow the program and expand upon the citizen science research in Marco Island and to also include Cape Coral and ranch lands burrowing owls. 

Just as the burrowing owl fledglings are leaving the nest, Owl Watch Marco Program Manager Alli Smith is leaving to pursue new opportunities and continue her education. According to Lori Beal of AWE, Smith brought tremendous insight and direction to the volunteer data collection and monitoring program and continuing our research objectives over the past several years. We all wish Alli Smith the best. 

For continuity, Brittany Piersma will be helping out in the interim with various elements of the AWE program in Marco Island. Brittany is currently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) shorebird biologist and steward at Sand Dollar Island. She has been the AWE Winter Anchor Shorebird Steward for the past 2 years. You may have seen her on the beach in front of Residents Beach and JW Marriott last winter with her scope checking out the birds visiting Marco during the winter.

Brittany will also be assisting with the Gopher Tortoise survey on Marco Island. She will be monitoring the burrow sites year-round for this year. In 2019, the Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee (BACR) partnered with AWE to initiate a field study and survey for the gopher tortoise population in Marco. This is a conservation partnership similar to the Owl Watch of Marco Program.  

The initial survey has already started, and for 2020, the scope of work will include the development of a gopher tortoise conservation and stewardship program for this threatened species. 

Photo by Bob Eastman | You can help a gopher tortoise cross the road by picking it up and placing it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. But only if it is safe for you to do so!

Program initiative will include the identification of the population of gopher tortoises on Marco Island, Key Marco, Hideaway Beach and Marco’s Estates and Sheffield area. The conservation program initiative will include: 

  1. Determine the number of actual properties that will need surveyingdeveloped and undeveloped. 
  2. Research any past city reports and maps indicating burrow locations. 
  3. Secure site access permissions to survey the burrows using Owl Watch protocols. 
  4. General health, gender and age of the population 

The conservation plan will also include site protection, stewardship, annual surveys and identify annual funding options. Going forward, just like the Owl Watch Marco Program, AWE plans to recruit a dedicated contingent of volunteer surveyors. 

What Do We Know About Marco’s Gopher Tortoises?  

Floridians celebrate Gopher Tortoises on April 10th to support the conservation of this threatened species. They are Florida’s only native tortoise found in every county. 

Spring and summer days are a good time to spot gopher tortoises as they are more active foraging and searching for mate. You can help a gopher tortoise cross the road, by picking it up and placing it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. But only if it is safe for you to do so. Don’t ever put gopher tortoise in your vehicle. It is illegal, and remember the tortoise is a land animal, so never attempt to put it in water.


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