Oystercatchers take wing in Tampa Bay with the skyline of Tampa in the distance. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and volunteers on an aerial and ground survey of East Coast oystercatchers.
The tall birds with pale pink legs and bright orange beaks congregated on a spit of sand in The Kitchen area of Hillsborough Bay Wednesday, making a census that much easier.
Mark Rachal, sanctuary manager for Audubon Florida, slowly motored toward the tiny sandbar. With binoculars and a GPS at the ready, he counted American oystercatchers in one of the more natural areas of Tampa Bay, filled with clear water, seagrass and mangrove islands, and in the more industrialized Port of Tampa area.
Scientists taking part in the first full count of oystercatchers since 2003 are following their East Coast range in propeller planes from New Jersey to South Texas. The goal of the count is to protect the birds' nesting and foraging habitat and figure out ways to get their population to a healthy level, Rachal said.
On Wednesday staff from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission took to the skies between Cedar Key and Tampa Bay.
Rachal and 14 others were out, verifying the count from the ground. The census can be used by government and various environmental groups when management plans are developed for the birds.