Winter Speaker Series
Don Morrow, local birder and Refuge volunteer, will continue our Winter speakers’ season for the
Friends of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge!
Topic: Migratory Birds of the
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge
When: March 12, 2020 at 7 pm
Where: St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Center
3915 State Road 30-A, Port St Joe, FL
Don Morrow - Essay
from Tallahasse Democrat
As a Big Bend birder, I have seen a lot of changes in birding opportunities since I first moved here in 1983. Some things are obvious and visible. The area’s population has doubled, resulting in more roads, homes, businesses and less habitat for birds. Fortunately, as we have grown, we have had the wisdom to set aside key sites as publicly accessible open space; Lake Overstreet, Piney Z and others. I have always seen bird protection as a simple matter of land protection. You save habitat; you save birds. Problem solved.
However, other invisible changes have been happening during my 36 years here that are causing me to rethink my simple idea that saving land is enough. The average global temperature has increased by half a percent and the rate of that temperature increase is getting faster and is forecast to continue to do so. As the climate changes, the Big Bend will see changes that cannot be fixed by preserving more land.
A recent paper by the National Audubon Society, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink details some of the ways that temperature increases that we could see by mid-century will affect the Big Bend.
We will lose coastal marshes to sea level rise. We can expect to see an increase in the frequency and magnitude of spring droughts even as we experience heavier than normal rain and flooding at other times of the year. We are already experiencing some of these effects. All of this will have an impact on our local birds.
The Audubon report has an interactive tool that allows you to see at the state or even zip code level which species of birds will be affected. Some of the impacts on familiar birds are unsettling. Nine species that we think of as “our birds” will be lost as they shift their breeding range further North.
I have Brown Thrashers in my backyard. These long-tailed cousins of the local Mockingbirds are also mimics. They are rufous-brown above with brown-streaked breasts. They can outsing any Mockingbird and one was reported to have learned over a thousand songs. I am not sure that my local pair is that accomplished, but I still enjoy listening to them sing in the spring, but with even moderate temperature rise, they will be gone.
And it’s not just the Thrashers that are at risk. Eastern Towhee, Red-headed Woodpecker, Fish Crow and Yellow-throated Warbler are all in jeopardy. Another two dozen local species will also be affected and may see their numbers decline. Baltimore Orioles will no longer winter in Tallahassee.
Climate change is coming, but we can take steps to blunt its effects by decreasing our carbon footprint. It doesn’t mean that our community needs to stop growing or that we tear buildings down. Some steps are easy and even economical. Others may require more effort. We still need to save land, but climate change means that we need to do more.
I don’t want to lose the Brown Thrasher’s song.
Don Morrow retired from a 33-year career in land conservation with the Trust for Public Land. Since retiring four years ago, he birds once or twice every week throughout the year and conducts shorebird surveys year ‘round as well as seasonal duck surveys.
Spending consistent time and making observations in the same place year after year has enabled Don to have a better understanding of the ebb and flow of bird life, the comings and goings of migratory birds and the changes in behavior of its resident birds.
Snowy Plover, by Don Morrow
Caspian Tern, by Don Morrow
The Supporters of St. Vincent Island NWR
offer tours and other educational activities, and are devoted to increasing understanding of the history and natural environment of the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.