Tag Archives: Wildlife

Dead dolphin recovered from Anna Maria beach

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Gretchen Lovewell, center, program manager for the stranding investigations team at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium on City Island in Sarasota, arrived to oversee the removal of a male dolphin that washed up on the Gulf shore near the Palmetto Avenue beach access in Anna Maria. Mote will determine cause of death with a necropsy, but no trauma was evident, Lovewell told people gathered on the beach. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Nack had issues.

Gretchen Lovewell, program manager for the stranding investigations team at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium on City Island in Sarasota, wrote The Islander an email Jan. 10, explaining that the dolphin that stranded and died on the Gulf shore near the Palmetto Avenue beach access in Anna Maria had “several issues.”

Her post-necropsy update stated that most of the male dolphin’s organs were abnormal and it had recently eaten four “decent-sized catfish.”

Lovewell said there was “no smoking gun,” but it was a “very sick animal.”

Lovewell told people gathered on the beach there was no evident trauma and age may have been a factor. The stranding team was familiar with the dolphin named Nack. It had been tracked for years by members of the Sarasota Bay Dolphin Project.

Meet 2019’s Islanders of the year, but the real winner is wildlife

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Devon Straight, with a rescued eagle. Islander File Photos
Ed Straight, left, holds a sick gull. Islander File Photos
Gail Straight feeds a juvenile raccoon. Islander File Photos

Ask just about anyone who has lived on Anna Maria Island more than a few months, a student at Anna Maria Elementary School, a cop, the volunteers who take calls at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. Ask an animal-, bird-, wildlife-lover, and the answer comes readily.

Who you gonna call with a wildlife emergency? Wildlife Inc.

When you call the Wildlife rescue number, you likely reach either Gail or Ed Straight, founders and directors of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, based in their home in Bradenton Beach since 1987.

Ed Straight, president and former Bradenton Beach city commissioner and law enforcement officer, started rescuing and rehabbing animals in need as a hobby after finding a duckling alone in a lake, rejected by its mother.

They now manage thousands of rescued birds and animals yearly, from laughing gulls and owls to Key deer and otters and many more, caring for their injuries or nursing them when they’re abandoned, and returning them to the wild when possible.

They also raised their grandson, Devon, who continues to help while serving in law enforcement in Bradenton Beach.

They had a slow start, but the number of animals the nonprofit cared for grew as development encroached on habitat, according to Ed Straight. He told The Islander that Wildlife Inc. cared for around 2,500 injured or abandoned animals in 2018 and received many more rescue calls.

Ed Straight and Wildlife Inc. volunteers take screech owl Odie and other animals to local schools and island events to teach people about wildlife.

It is the only wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Manatee County.

They answer calls at all hours and they don’t ask for much, just help feeding the thousands of critters in their care.

It’s a big feed bill.

They are Islanders of the Year.

And they deserve our help.

Call Wildlife Inc. at 941-778-6324.

And thank them for all they do.

Osprey takes up residence on new Lake LaVista nesting pole

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Laura Schulman of Alpharetta, Georgia, captured this photo Dec. 26 of an osprey using the new artificial nest while visiting family for the holidays in Anna Maria’s Lake LaVista neighborhood. Islander Courtesy Photo
Workers install the nesting pole, donated by FPL. At 50 feet in height, the pole and nest dwarf the surrounding trees. Islander Photos: Phil Colpas
An employee of Volt Power, a subcontractor for Florida Power & Light, secures the Lake LaVista nesting platform to the top of the pole.

It’s like the bird knew the nest site was a gift.

When a Norfolk Island pine tree containing an osprey nest was felled in November, residents of Anna Maria’s Lake LaVista neighborhood worried about the fate of the homeless bird.

After the tree was cut down, an osprey stayed in the area and could sometimes be seen perched in another Norfolk Island pine tree. But that tree was on a piece of property slated for construction.

Neighbors couldn’t bear to see the osprey lose its home twice, so they decided to take action.

Lake LaVista resident Kay Johnson proposed installing an artificial nesting platform near where the tree stood that was removed.

The Lake LaVista Homeowners’ Association gave permission to place a pole on the property at the end of Lake LaVista, near the 200 block of Lakeview Drive. The HOA also purchased the nesting platform from Bradenton-based All Steel Fabrication Inc.

Dean Jones, who manages Anna Maria’s public works department, offered to dig a hole for the pole and coordinated with Florida Power & Light, which donated a 50-foot pole for the nesting platform.

As they erected the pole Dec. 19, workers saw the osprey hovering above.

In less than a week, neighbors spotted the osprey in its new artificial home.

“It’s so great to see,” said Lake LaVista HOA member Anna DeAugustine. “What a great way to start the new year.”

Contractor awaits parts for Bradenton Beach dock repairs

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Duncan Seawall employees climb Nov. 25 off a work barge used to make repairs to the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. The gangway rests on the dock. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
A structure to support the gangway to connect the Historic Bridge Street Pier to the floating dock stands partially constructed Nov. 25. The structure consists of four cross-braced pilings.

The floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach soon may be open to the public.

Public works director Tom Woodard said Nov. 26 that Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall was cross-bracing four timber pilings to form a support structure for the gangway, the walkway connecting the pier to the dock. The gangway was pulling away from the pier and removed.

The dock was closed Oct. 4 for repairs to the gangway.

The pilings form the foundation of a support structure, where the gangway will rest when it is reinstalled. It previously was connected to the pier.

Work the week of Nov. 25 involved cross-bracing the pilings with lumber and placement of a support beam between the pilings closest to the pier.

The final step will be to build a 6-foot extension of the pier deck to connect to the support beam and gangway.

Duncan also will install safety railings on the floating dock.

Duncan took Nov. 28-29 off to celebrate Thanksgiving, but Woodard said the contractor would complete the job “hopefully by Dec. 6.”

He added that the city would open the dock to the public when the work is finished.

City officials opened the dock Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to failures by the company originally contracted to build and install the dock. The dock, which cost $191,524, replaced one damaged by storms and removed in 2017.

The dock was closed within a month of opening because of the gangway.

The repair will cost $73,317, including the cost of 18 new rollers — the mechanisms connecting the dock platforms to the support pilings to allow for tidal movement — after the city procures the parts from Ronautica Marinas.

Fungus killed gulls on Passage Key

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Jeannie Bystrom, an animal activist, found a laughing gull and other birds in a colony dead Oct. 8 at Passage Key, north of Anna Maria Island and sounded the alarm. Islander File Photo: Jeannie Bystrom

Investigators now have the reason for why laughing gulls were found dead in October on Passage Key.

Researchers with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in Athens informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Save Our Seabirds in mid-November that aspergillosis killed the birds. The fungal infection is common in the warm, moist environs of Florida.

Dana Leworthy, avian hospital administrator with Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota, told The Islander aspergillosis can come from any rotten item and laughing gulls are known for consuming most anything.

“It grows in swampy areas or on dead fish,” Leworthy said of the fungus. “It can reproduce without hesitation.”

More than 30 dead gulls were retrieved by the FWC for testing Oct. 13.

And they were found to have microscopic lesions in their throats.

Lesions and growths are two symptoms of aspergillosis, which can cause lung problems, including respiratory issues.

Researchers call aspergillosis “the great pretender” because it mimics so many other diseases and can display a variety of symptoms, Leworthy said.

Aspergillosis was definitively confirmed by blood tests at the University of Georgia.

But where or how the gulls contracted the fungus remains a mystery.

Leworthy speculated they may have become infected eating a single rotten food source.

The fungus is common in birds, but Leworthy said it was “weird” only the laughing gulls were affected and found dead on Passage Key. No other bird species appeared to be sickened on Passage Key.

“Maybe they had some sort of stressor that made them more susceptible to illness,” Leworthy said. “It’s just very strange that they were the only ones.”

The Passage Key gulls were not the only group of gulls that died mysteriously in October.

Before the Passage Key incident, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were taken to Save Our Seabirds from Siesta Key. More than half died within 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Nine more birds died on the beaches. Their cause of death has not been established.

The incident ended and no birds have turned up dead since October.

Tagged sea turtle finishes 5th

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Sea turtle nesting season ends, Bortie Too finishes fifth With a tracking device affixed to its carapace, a female loggerhead sea turtle — named Bortie Too by sponsor Bortell’s Lounge — makes her way June 21 to the Gulf of Mexico. She traveled 906 miles to finish fifth in the annual Tour de Turtles race. For more about Bortie Too and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, go to page 26. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
A screenshot from conserveturtles.org Oct. 31 shows the path in the Gulf of Mexico taken by Bortie, a loggerhead wearing a satellite tracking device since she nested June 20 on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Anna Maria Island’s contestant might not have won the race, but she’s still going strong.

During the peak of loggerhead nesting season, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy to satellite tag a sea turtle in its Tour de Turtles, a program to tag and release nesting female loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles for migration data.

The tagged loggerhead — named Bortie Too for Bortell’s Lounge in Anna Maria, AMITW’s sponsor — was held overnight and tagged with a satellite tracker on June 20. She was released June 21 after nesting on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach.

The tracking device showed the Sea Turtle Conservancy and AMITW that Bortie Too nested a second time on the beach in Holmes Beach and traveled south, to the seagrass beds north of Cuba, to land fifth place in the tour, which tracks distance covered through Nov. 1 by 13 tagged sea turtles.

The tracking device continued transmitting data from the tagged turtles after the race ended and will do so until it falls off or becomes damaged.

Bortie Too was AMITW’s fourth contestant in the tour.

In 2015, AMITW’s tagged turtle Amie lost her transmitter shortly after the start of the marathon.

In 2017, AMITW won the tour with loggerhead Eliza Ann, which traveled 1,693 miles from its release through Nov. 1, 2017.

Bortie Too’s predecessor, Bortie, finished in 10th place out of 14 in 2018, but won the online peoples’ choice award on the STC Facebook page.

Bortie Too can be tracked at conserveturtles.org/sea-turtle-tracking-active-sea-turtles/.

Island turtle watch tracks record season

It is now time for turtle watch volunteers to brush the sand off their feet and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring closed out another record-breaking season Oct. 31, marking the sixth straight success since 2014.

In May-October of 2019, 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests were documented on the island, compared with 534 loggerhead nests in 2018.

Did you know?
Sea turtle nesting on island beaches has more than doubled since 2014, when 260 nests were spotted.

Green sea turtles, which are less common to the island than loggerheads, nest every other year, leading to this year’s spike.

However, 2019 saw the most green nests since turtle watch started keeping records in 1982.

Sea turtle nesting on island beaches has more than doubled since 2014, when 260 nests were spotted.

“Our success is a team effort,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Oct. 26. “We work with the public and with code enforcement and the changes are obvious in the numbers.”

Mature females only leave the water to nest. Hatchlings, guided by their instincts, emerge from nests and crawl to the Gulf of Mexico. Both follow the reflection of the moon and stars on the water.

Artificial lighting visible from the shoreline, can disorient sea turtles away from the Gulf, leading to exhaustion, starvation and death.

Starting in April, Fox worked with code compliance officers in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to attempt to fix beachfront lighting that might not be “turtle-friendly,” so that nesting or hatchling sea turtles would be less likely to be drawn away from the water.

The first nest of the season was spotted May 1 on Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

Within a month, there were more than 100 loggerhead nests on island beaches.

By July 1, there were 343 nests on the island. The first nest hatched that day, but most of the hatchlings disoriented due to visible beachfront lighting.

Turtle watch noted 59 instances of mature or hatchling sea turtles being drawn away from the Gulf by lighting visible from the shoreline — the most AMITW has ever documented.

In 2018, there were 50 disorientations.

“It’s a work in progress, but as more people come to the island, we have more work to do,” Fox said. “People must be educated and noticed by code if lights are a danger to turtles.”

Beachfront properties are required to have low, shielded exterior lighting that meets Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission standards and indoor lights must be turned off or shielded by curtains or blinds.

Turtle watch educates the public on best practices for nesting season through educational handouts and weekly informational “Turtle Talks” in season.

People also are invited to some nest excavations throughout the hatching portion of season. AMITW volunteers conduct excavations — dig into hatched nests — 72 hours after hatching to collect data that is shared with county, state and federal agencies. Turtle watch volunteers count the number of hatched and unhatched eggs, and any live hatchlings in the nest are released to the Gulf.

With the assistance of about 90 AMITW volunteers who walk the beach each morning during nesting season looking for signs of nesting or hatching, more than 27,000 hatchlings crawled from nests in the sand to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2018, turtle watch documented 35,778 hatchlings.

Fox said she is not sure why the hatch rate was lower this year, but it could be due to younger females just starting to nest.

There were no major storms this season, but heavy summer showers and occasional high tides caused some standing water, which also might have contributed to the lower hatch rate.

Fox said, when she attends the state marine wildlife permit holder meeting in January 2020, she will speak with reps from other organizations to find out if they had similar numbers.

By Aug. 30, season had peaked and there were 533 nests on the island.

As of Oct. 31, two nests remained and were expected to have hatched by press time for The Islander.

“It has been another great year,” Fox said. “The key is to continue working together and educating people, so that we can protect the wildlife that is so sacred to our island.”

Sparce season for shorebirds on Anna Maria Island

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A scoop of black skimmers takes flight in late May on the beach in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy Pete Gross

“Our shorebird program is almost nonexistent at this point,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Oct. 26.

Fox said black skimmers, which usually nest early summer and depart for their summer migration in September, did not nest in 2019, but remain in colonies on Anna Maria Island beaches.

She said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is concerned with the unusual behavior and plans to investigate the matter.

The species is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but is not on the federal endangered species list.  It also is protected as “threatened” under Florida’s endangered and threatened species rule.

The black-and-white birds that wear a touch of orange on their beaks can be seen flying low over the Gulf of Mexico, skimming for food in the water along the shoreline.

As of Oct. 31, about 200 skimmers remained in several colonies, moving between Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

Fox said the problem is not just with skimmers. Other migratory birds, including least terns and American oystercatchers, also have not nested on island beaches in 2019.

“We’re just not seeing them anymore,” she said.

She said she is concerned that people are disrupting the birds, by chasing them or otherwise interfering with their habitat.

“We need to educate people about the birds so they understand it is not OK to mess with them,” Fox said. “And with a little help from FWC, hopefully, our birds will be back and nesting next year.”

Feds investigate mysterious bird deaths

The mysterious illness plaguing Southwest Florida laughing gulls has garnered the attention of federal investigators.

Jim Valade, assistant refuge manager with the Crystal River National Wildlife Complex in Crystal River, confirmed federal authorities picked up the dead gulls from Passage Key after they were found Oct. 8 following a tip to wildlife rescuers.

“We were finally to go this past weekend (Oct. 12-13) and retrieve several dead birds,” Valade told The Islander Oct. 15. His “we” referred to staff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including biologists.

“Given the tides, the time passed and the shorelines of Passage Key, we suspect there may be more dead birds we didn’t see or that have swept out,” he said.

The feds verified 30 dead birds — all laughing gulls — present on Passage Key at the time of their trip and collected two of the “freshest specimens” for testing.

Theories have abounded as to the cause of the laughing gull deaths from Siesta Key northward to Passage Key since the beginning of October, but so far, no definitive cause has been identified.

“We really don’t have any idea what is going on with these birds,” Valade said. “We won’t know until we get some turnaround from the testing.”

The testing will take place at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Anne Ballman, a field epidemiologist with the center, said no specimens had arrived as of Oct. 17.

She said test results may not be available for weeks, not until after the necropsies are completed.

Numbers of reported sick and dead laughing gulls slowed, but continued to occur the week of Oct. 14.

“A couple more have trickled in today,” Save Our Seabirds hospital technician Jonathan Hande told The Islander Oct. 16 of the 20 sick and dying seabirds the facility had received to date.

Meanwhile, Ed Straight with Bradenton Beach’s Wildlife Inc., said he received another laughing gull Oct. 15 that was pulled from a canal in Anna Maria near South Bay Boulevard.

Straight observed that the majority of sick and the few dead birds from Anna Maria Island seem to be clustered on the north end.

“The feds are finally asking us questions,” he told The Islander Oct. 15.

Save Our Seabirds confirmed several of the dead gulls from its facility were being tested under the auspices of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Hande said two laughing gulls from SOS were shipped Oct. 15 to Georgia for testing by the FWC.


About laughing gulls

The laughing gull may be seen often on Anna Maria Island beaches, but the National Audubon Society considers the species “climate endangered.”

Laughing gull numbers were seriously depleted during the 19th century by hunting for the feather trade. The species recovered well in the early 20th century, then declined in northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls.

Currently, some colonies face threats, but overall the population appears abundant and widespread.

Laughing gulls can be found at salt marshes, coastal bays, piers, beaches and the oceans, but also several miles inland at rivers, fields and landfills.

Climate-related threats include drought, heatwaves and urbanization.

— Lisa Neff

Holmes Beach says ‘time will tell’ for Spring Lake improvement

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A bird stands Oct. 10 next to a drain pipe on the southwest corner of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. The presence of birds and minnows indicates the lake is recovering, according to Eran Wasserman, city director of development services.
Bubbling at the surface of Spring Lake Oct. 10 indicates the aeration system is operating. The city recently began aerating 24-7 to improve conditions. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Minnows swim Oct. 10 near the surface of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. An aeration system activated Sept. 17 killed some fish in the lake, which appears to be recovering from the shock of activation.

Spring Lake in Holmes Beach is showing signs of improvement.

Minnows swam Oct. 10 near the surface of the lake and, though the water was brown, it no longer strongly smelled of sulfur. An aeration system was activated Sept. 17 to circulate stagnant water and infuse the lake with oxygen.

Upon activation of the system, the lake, surrounded by homes between 68th and 70th streets, became murky, smelly and more than 1,000 fish died, prompting complaints from lakeside residents and property owners.

Eran Wasserman, the city’s director of development services, said the city started running the aeration system around the clock Oct. 10, compared with six hours nightly for several weeks prior.

Wasserman said the city would test water quality at the end of the month and again in January.

However, he said the first test might be premature, as the lake requires time to recover.

“It just takes time to tell if it’s working,” Wasserman said. “We just have to wait and see.”

The lake bottom has about 3 feet of accumulated sludge and suffers the impact of a sewage spill in 2015, when about 22,000 gallons of waste from a broken Manatee County sewer line entered the lake. After the spill, the county provided the city and the health department with reports indicating the lake was healthy. Subsequent testing determined the muck on the lake bottom mostly is algae, which digests pollutants, but requires oxygen.

The city installed the aeration system to circulate oxygen and break down the sludge.

However, lakefront residents were alarmed after the system activation, when the lake condition became dire.

At an Oct. 8 commission meeting, Terry Schaefer, a candidate in the Nov. 5 commission election, said a water quality expert retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered to consult with the city about the lake and provide an analysis at no cost. Schaefer said his friend would want access to reports on the lake.

Mayor Judy Titsworth suggested Schaefer ask his friend to contact Wasserman.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.