The 2018 breeding season was a successful one in the Panhandle. The Western Panhandle hosted 6 beach nesting sites with both Least Terns and Black Skimmer colonies and a handful of small sites that had just a handful of Least Terns nesting in them. The rooftops in the panhandle had Least Terns on 20 rooftops but only 10-12 were successful in producing fledglings.

Currently winter shorebird surveys are going on. If you are interested in helping conduct winter surveys or if you would like to get involved during the summer breeding season please contact Caroline Stahala cstahala@audubon.org or for rooftops Emily McKiddy, emckiddy@audubon.org.

Beach Nesting Sites

Navarre Beach – Technicians Moira Conley/Hannah Edwards

Navarre Causeway – This site along the causeway portion of the bridge leading to Navarre Beach is always a spectacular nesting area.  This nesting site had as many as 57 Adult Least Terns but only about 4 Least Tern chicks fledged. We had fewer Black Skimmers show up to the site this year than in previous years with 168 Black Skimmer adults. At one point we were monitoring 94 skimmer nests.  In the end only 51 Black Skimmer chicks fledged from the site, which is up from last year. Thank goodness we didn’t have any tropical systems come through the area this season.  However, we may have some predation occurring by local gulls and wading birds. Thanks to the many volunteers for helping protect this area with chick fencing, asking people to respect the signs, and encouraging vehicles to slow down through the bird site.

Navarre Beach Park– Our local Snowy Plovers were not seen nesting in the park this year.  We are going to keep an eye out for their hopeful return in future years. The site was still used by the causeway Black Skimmer colony once the chicks left the nesting area.  During one day, 145 skimmers were seen in the area, and this included 36 fledged chicks. So we know the site is still an important area after they leave the Causeway.

Navarre Empty Lot – This site is the open area west of Springhill Suites Hotel. We had some issues with the area early in the breading season due to the installation of a volleyball court just as the Least Terns were returning to the area to nest. After intervention by FWC, any further use of the area was halted and Least Terns were able to successfully nest. Over a hundred Least Terns were seen at the site with over 50 nests. At least 20 fledglings left the area.

Navarre Beach Access 39A – We didn’t have any actual nesting at the site this year, but we did rope it off and leave it protected for Least Terns in case they left the ‘Empty Lot’ nesting area. Least Terns did use the site for resting and staging. Over 40 birds were seen in the protected space including 12 fledglings.

Navarre Beach Conservation Area – A new site in the conservation area north of White Sands Blvd was protected this year for nesting Least Terns. Over 30 Least Terns were seen using the area as a nest site and we know at least 6 chicks fledged from the area. Next year we will protect the site earlier and make sure to keep people from impacting nesting.

Pensacola Beach – Technician Miranda Anaya

Pensacola Beach Walkover 22A – The colony near the 22A walkover was the first active site on Pensacola Beach in the spring of 2018. About 90 Least Tern adults and 180 Black Skimmer adults were documented at the site.  This nesting colony was set up to be a spectacular seabird breeding colony.  However, the site was visited by a predator and all the Black Skimmer nests were lost. A few of the Least Terns nests survived the predation event and a handful of terns fledged from the area. This was devastating. However some of the skimmers settled down and renested at colony along the eastern end of Pensacola Beach, 27A.

Pensacola Beach Walkover 27A – The seabird nesting colony along 27A appeared after the predation event at 22A. 150 Least Terns and 130 Black Skimmers were seen within this nesting colony. The site is still active with at least 18 Black Skimmer chicks still waiting to fledge and 28 skimmer chicks already being able to fly. Over 20 Least Tern chicks were seen fledging from the area as well. Feel free to go over and check on the chicks that will most likely be there until mid-September. Email Miranda if you would like to help her at this site until then. Manaya@audubon.org

University of West Florida and Portofino Site – An area familiar to those of you who travel between Navarre Beach and the Santa Rosa section of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Monitoring is not easy at these sites so hat’s off to Miranda and Larry Head for trying to keep track of adults, chicks and nests out there. This area is vast and we don’t want to traverse it too much and disturb nesting individuals. We know at least 35 nests were established in the area, and certainly more that we couldn’t document. The site did fledge chicks we just don’t have a good count on them. But it was successful and we will continue to protect it as long as we can.

Elementary School – This is a small isolated nesting colony with about 9 Least Tern nests. At least 4 chicks were produced at this site.

Multiple small sites – This year was an interesting nesting year on Pensacola Beach.  Most of the time seabirds like to nest in colonies as large as possible. However this year, we had about 7 sites spread throughout Pensacola Beach with 5 or fewer nests. Miranda posted each and every site, monitored the area and tried to protect them as she would a large colony.  As you can imagine, making her way to each one of these sites takes extra time and effort; it’s a lot easier when the birds are all in a single group. Thank you Miranda for going to extra mile for each and every nest.

Rooftop Nesting Sites

Bay County

Women’s Fitness at the Beach– This small rooftop successfully fledged Least Terns again this year. It had a high count of 22 Least Terns and one Killdeer and had great vantage points that allowed our surveyors to see the flushed birds from the ground as well as see onto the rooftop and enjoy seeing chicks running around. While this building remains unoccupied the realtors in charge work with Audubon Florida to make sure the rooftop nesters aren’t disturbed.

Surveyors: Norm Capra and Annette Desercey

Callaway Self Storage– This site is located on the East side of Panama City and hosted around 100 Least Terns throughout the summer. The building has a high wall around the flat rooftop, keeping chicks from falling to the ground during their most vulnerable ages. The owner of Callaway Self Storage was very helpful and willing to help and protect the Least Tern colony. We are hoping to add some pea gravel to the rooftop next year to enlarge the suitable area the Least Terns have to nest.

Surveyor: Peggy Birchall

Panama City Center– The rooftop above the TJ Maxx and Home Goods stores was a very active rooftop this year, like it is every breeding season. Volunteers observed upwards of 100 Least Terns using this rooftop to nest. This site had issues with lots of Laughing Gulls and hawks perching on power poles overlooking the colony. This caused the majority of the chicks to be predated upon when they hatched or the eggs to be depredated before they could hatch. In the middle of the season Audubon Florida and FWC installed some chick fencing and some chick shelters to help the young chicks avoid falls and the predators. This intervention seemed to help because flight capable chicks were observed at the TJ Maxx in July. In the off season Gulf Power will be putting perching deterrents on their power poles and the site will be completely fenced.

Surveyors: Todd Gerardot and Becky Freeman

AT&T- This chick fenced site hosted a good size, successful colony this season. Twenty three Least Terns were observed guarding 22 nests.  Adults were seen bringing back fish late in the season suggesting older chicks being present. Although we do not have confirmation, based on the adults behavior the AT&T colony was assumed successful in producing fledglings.

Surveyor: Brice Burleson

Chateau Motel– The Chateau is scheduled to undergo major renovation in the future but we were happy to have this rooftop still suitable for this breeding season. Chick fencing was reinstalled prior to Least Terns showing up and the hotel had around 250 Least Terns nesting on it this season making it the largest site in the Panhandle. This site had a lot of disturbance throughout the summer with a new hotel going up next door and Laughing Gulls from the parking lots and dumpsters nearby. This site was successful in fledging at least 30 flight capable chicks.

Surveyor: Matthew Zak

Escambia County

Publix– This site was the only successful site in Escambia County this season. Least Terns use this site every year despite it being a long distance from the Gulf. Surveyor Jerry Callaway observed 40 Least Terns using this large rooftop. FWC employed a rooftop technician this year to gather more data and she was able to give Audubon Florida a better idea of what is going on. On some of the rooftops, surveys are only taken from the ground. Thanks to her data we validated at least a few flight capable chicks. This colony is an ideal place to nest with a tall ledge surrounding the rooftop with the exception of a few openings for water drainage.

Surveyor: Jerry Callaway

Sears– Least Terns were seen at the Sears for two weeks and then not again. It is likely that they never laid eggs and opted to nest at another location with a larger colony.

Surveyor: Rachel Halterman

Pensacola Port Authority-This site is a regular nesting location for a few species of rooftop nesting seabirds. Due to a large construction project on the rooftop well into nesting season, none of the seabirds settled on the rooftop and nested there. A few Least Terns and Gull-billed Terns were seen standing on the roof so hopefully next year when all is quiet up there the birds will settle down again and have successful nesting efforts.

Surveyor: Justine Whitaker

NEX Corry Station– This site was a new find in 2018! There were 16 Least Terns observed from the ground and with the help of staff on site as well as the Public Works department, we were able to get a birds’ eye view and count 10 nests. Unfortunately, it did not look like any of the nests hatched before the site was abandoned. Many predators were seen in the area including Red-tailed Hawks and Fish Crows and could have led to the abandonment of the nests. For the 2019 season we will add this location to our weekly surveys starting in March.

Surveyors: Steve Coster, Janet Lloyd, Powers McLeod

Okaloosa/Walton County

Eglin AFB Warehouse 600– The only active site on Eglin Air Force Base played host to 60 Least Terns this season. With dormitory buildings across the street, the rooftop was viewable and chicks were seen running around. Chicks were not observed any older than the downy stage which points to some type of predation. The outcome of this site is unknown because there is a section of roof that is not viewable from above in which the chicks could have gone when they became older. This site is hopefully going to be chick fenced before next breeding season to eliminate the possibility of chicks falling into the gutters and being washed down the drains.

Surveyor: Gary Parsons

Holiday Beach Resort– This Resort was the home of the camera system Audubon Florida uses to gain further information on some of their colonies. The camera was able to pick up over 80% of the colony which consisted of 18 adult Least Terns. Unfortunately in late June the entire colony abandoned their nests over a series of two days. The reason for abandonment was still unknown even after reviewing camera footage. This site has been unsuccessful in producing chicks that survive past the downy stage for the last three years. This will be the site of additional surveying next season to try and isolate the reason for continued failed nesting attempts.

Surveyor: Henri Kelly

Inn on Destin Harbor– The hotel continues to have a small colony of Least Terns use its gravel rooftop as a nesting ground but the birds do not seem to be successful year after year. This year only 5 Least Terns were observed on the fenced site but only stuck around for six weeks. Upon visiting the rooftop there were no eggs present. Either they had been predated after the colony abandoned or the five terns never laid any nests.

Surveyor: Marie Hoover, Henri Kelly

Piggly Wiggly– This site was newly active this season with 122 Least Terns present. Adults were seen bringing fish back throughout June and July suggesting lots of chicks being fed on the rooftop. The management team of the Piggly Wiggly were extremely helpful in protecting their colony and excited to have their new residents this summer! We hope this rooftop can have a colony for the years to come since it has a ledge around the perimeter of the building.

Men’s Warehouse and Steinmart– These two sites are in the same parking lot at the Destin Commons and the colonies on the rooftops are there every breeding season. The mall management does a fantastic job coordinating with Audubon Florida and the businesses to let them know when rooftop birds are present and therefore rooftop access is restricted. Both of these buildings had lots of Least Tern activity with between 15-20 birds on each rooftop. The sites were unsuccessful in producing any flight capable chicks due to unknown reasons.

Surveyor: Saovada Pum

Kmart– This large rooftop was home to around 100 Least Terns again this year! These birds are always very active and would chase away any crows or gulls that came too close. They would even chase birds that are not traditional predators of the Least Terns. The Kmart produced at least 17 flight capable chicks this year. This site is chick fenced which makes it an ideal place to raise chicks without their falling off the rooftop.

Surveyor: Shelby Proie

Santa Rosa County

Milton High School– This site is isolated only to the small band room building that was chick fenced this year. This small rooftop hosted around 40 Least Terns and successfully fledged a few. Since there were students in and out of this building most of the summer any chicks that squeezed through the fencing and fell were found almost instantly and returned to the rooftop. An above rooftop vantage point was found late in the season that allowed us to observe three adults practicing flying lessons with three fledglings and this vantage point will be used next season to have a better idea of how successful this site is.

SS Dixon Elementary– This site was chick fenced in 2016 and the fencing seems to be effective. There was a high count of 28 Least Terns observed this year with no chick falls from the rooftop. This site was unsuccessful but the reason for failure is unknown.

Surveyor: Daniel Stangeland

SS Dixon Intermediate– This was a new site found this year! A high count of 12 Least Terns was observed and it was believed to be successful in producing fledglings. The Santa Rosa school district and maintenance department was very helpful in working with Audubon Florida in respecting the active rooftops in their school district.

Holley Navarre Primary, Middle and Intermediate– These three adjacent schools hosted a couple of Killdeer this season. The outcome for the pairs of Killdeer is largely unknown. Next season these sites will be surveyed starting in March to attempt to find any Killdeer nesting on these rooftops and hopefully get the chicks to avoid coming down off the roof into the playground with lots of children potentially coming upon them.

Surveyor- Krista Wilkes

Thank you for all of your help!

By Emily McKiddy