Sunday, May 6, 2018

Friends of St. Vincent NWR Spring Newsletter

Spring 2018 Newsletter

President's Message
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating the Big Five-O! Can you believe it? – hardly changed a bit after all these years. Best looking 50-year-old we’ve seen in a long time; becoming a rare beauty these days. Still the same pristine habitat, alive with birds, mammals, reptiles, turtles and fish -  species almost too abundant to count.
How do you celebrate a milestone? With a party, of course! That’s exactly what we have in the works and we hope you’ll be our guest on July 6th.  Your can look forward to complimentary boat transportation from Indian Pass for a short cruise to St. Vincent Island. The Refuge and Friends will host a summer picnic complete with a half-mile loop walking tour through lush tropical forest, continuing on to the white sugar sand beach for some serious shell searching, and finishing with a wander over dunes for a spotting scope view of nesting and resting shorebirds on the protected Point. There will be abundant exhibits and activities for all along the way. To RSVP, sign up will be found starting early May on our website:
Yes, St. Vincent has had some work done to her over the years to keep her at her best. Land has been managed by fire, threatened and endangered species carefully monitored, occupants counted and protected. This is a celebration of what has been accomplished by the herculean effort of passionate care by staff, volunteers, advocates, and donors who provided the expertise, extra hands, urgent voice, and financial support for the past five decades. So, here’s to the next 50. Let’s give her our very best.

Lisa Johnston, President
Funding support for the St. Vincent NWR turtle patrol is almost completely dependent on donations from the public. Please help us monitor and protect our sea turtles by adopting a nest this summer.

Our projected expenses are close to $3,000 and include the following:
 - Repairs for the vehicle that volunteers use to patrol 9 miles of beach daily
 - Fuel for the vehicle and water for the volunteers
 - Stakes and cages for marking & protecting nests
 - Gloves, flagging tape and batteries

Your tax deductable donation of $25 or more will help us provide these necessary supplies for the program.

If you would like info on how to adopt a nest in 2018,
Or email us at

Guided Tours:
A Great Way to Meet the Refuge!
     Among St. Vincent's many charms are its size and inaccessibility: this remote island is 9 miles long and 4 miles wide, about 12,000 acres altogether. To help our visitors get to know the Refuge, the Friends offer a seasonal series of guided tours.  These themed tours are a labor of love and offer visitors four hours of immersion (usually via an open-air wagon). Transportation across Indian Pass is provided in cooperation by a commercial operator.
     Four tours in October 2017 celebrated Wild Week, and focused on Photography and endangered species that call St. Vincent home.  We hosted four tours in November and December. We held our Fiftieth Anniversary tour on January 10 with the help of the Panhandle Players, who made several historic figures associated with the island come alive for our tour.
        Also in January, we hosted the Tallahassee chapter of the Audubon Society as the first of our trial ‘Community Outreach’ tours for groups with compatible missions to the Refuge. February saw our Valentines Day tour with a focus on the love lives of the species that call St. Vincent home. Dr. Jack Rink joined us on February 28 with a tour discussing the unique geomorphology of the island with a focus on dune and ridge dating processes.
     In March we offered three tours. The first was a Community Outreach tour, and the second a tour focusing on sea turtles. OnMarch 9 we hosted a World Wildlife Day tour with the theme of  “ Big cats: predators under threat” , and although the bobcat who calls St. Vincent home did not make an appearance , we did see tracks of the red wolves and several other inhabitants.
     April is a busy month with our first ever trail bike tour , followed by our Earth Day global event tour with the theme of ‘End Plastic Pollution’ , where we join with over one billion people in 192 countries to promote ecological awareness.
     We wind up the season the first week in May with our International Migratory Bird Day / See a Monarch day tour, always a big hit with our visitors.
     This year’s volunteer team includes narrators Carol Brown, Nancy Stuart, Landy Luther and Colleen Sinor. Our drivers are John Inzetta, Mark Parsley, Iain Brown and Dave Francisco. Special thanks to Jeff Chanton and Sue Cerulean who shared birding and sea level rise information on several tours.
     For our upcoming 2018 - 2019 season, we hope to have the sign up calendar up in September with an enhanced offering for all our visitors. If you haven’t joined us for a fun and sustainable way to see the Refuge , we hope you will sign up and enjoy the ride.

Carol BrownTour Coordinator, Friends of S. Vincent NWR
Sign up for a guided tour for Fall 2018 at

"What's the Point?
A New Refuge Campaign
to protect
 Shorebirds and Seabirds


     For two decades, my husband and I have rented one or another house along Indian Pass, always choosing one with an unobstructed view of the westernmost point of St. Vincent island.
     We love this place on Earth above all others because just across the Pass, we can clearly see the benefits of the National Wildlife Refuge system. This particular Refuge was set aside 50 years ago "as an inviolate sanctuary for wild birds."
     When I focus my spotting scope and binoculars on the birds that rely on this safe, protected place, I’ll see very different numbers and kinds of sea and shorebirds, depending on the time of day, wind speed and direction, tide and season of year.  I keep notes of what I see.
     For example, on April 9, 2018, a typical spring count, I counted only 45 brown pelicans and 250 skimmers and terns on the Point, resting at 9 am. On a quiet morning in September, though, it’s not uncommon to tally more than 1000 brown pelicans on the very same sand, and a variety of other species, as well.
     The only times these resting, feeding, self-renewing birds startle from the Point are when they are chased. A bald eagle or migrating hawk or falcon may swoop over the birds, and they rise up from sleeping on the sand and swirl away in the air. This is a natural interaction between wary prey and fast, hungry predator.
    What is not natural is when humans intrude on that same singular point of refuge. Some come by kayak and paddleboard, others by powerboat, attracted to the shining sand. Either they don't see, or they ignore the signs asking them to leave these few acres to the birds. Such intrusions startle the birds as much as predators do, but the energetic cost to them is far greater.
     This summer, Saint Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is launching an ambassador program for the birds on its Point. Generous folks have contributed $1770 to fund lodging and per diem for a young environmental college student to teach our visitors how to safely access the refuge, while honoring the needs of migratory birds.
     Be sure and say hello to our ambassador if you visit Indian Pass this summer!
Susan Cerulean, Advocacy Chair
 Gulf Coast Lupine: take a walk on the wild side with this gorgeous plant 
When we think of rare and endangered wildlife we often think of iconic species like the red wolf, but don't overlook our Refuge's special plants. This lavender scented lupine grows only in northwest Florida on sand hills, scrub areas and coastal dunes. It is a native, endemic to Gulf, Franklin and Walton Counties. You can see it on our Refuge on the beach walkover trail, and in the swales and dunes closest to the beach at Roads 1-4. Gulf coast lupine blooms in the spring (usually the first two weeks of April) with tall lavender to deep purple blossoms. It does not transplant well so it exists primarily in the wild. We hope you enjoy this rare and threatened species.

Refuge Report

If you have visited St. Vincent island recently, we hope you will pardon our dust!  It has been a busy and productive 2018 so far.  A 1716-square foot metal building to house our heavy equipment and tools has just been built, as well as a wooden building to house the island’s new diesel-powered generator.  For the first time in years, the refuge’s airboat is running!   This tool has allowed staff from St. Vincent and St. Marks NWRs to closely inspect St. Vincent Island’s fresh and brackish lakes so that we can finetune management strategies for them.  Volunteers have erected symbolic fencing along the island’s beaches to protect the nests of shorebirds, and constructed sea turtle nest enclosures.  The Island’s adult pair of Red Wolves have consistently been found to be together, and our hope is that they are constructing a den, so that they will be giving us a new litter of wolf pups later this year.
          And of course, we are just getting started.  Later this spring, we will be hosting Port St. Joe High School students on St. Vincent Island, teaching them about wolves, shorebirds, sea turtles, and fire ecology.  This summer, we hope to once again host large groups of local underserved children, and local chapters of girl, boy, and cub scouts on the island.  Sea turtle nesting season is about to begin, and we fully expect another year at or near record numbers of nests for the island. Volunteers will collect biological information and place each nest in a protective enclosure. 
     On Friday, July 6th, St. Vincent NWR will be celebrating its’ 50thbirthday on St. Vincent Island.  Please come join us in the celebration of this wonderful island’s birthday as a national wildlife refuge!
   Refuge staff is so very thankful for all of the volunteers that work so hard, the supporters who have put everything together, and all of the donations that continue to allow us to do great work in conservation.

John Stark, Deputy Refuge Manager, St. Vincent NWR

Volunteers Make                a Difference!

Meet John Epstein     

I am a retired snowbird from a small town in Illinois that is located about 35 miles northwest of Chicago. For 29 years I worked in various aspects of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing that involved using fermentation technology to produce a variety of products including antibiotics, plant growth regulators, and biological insecticides.  I’ve been visiting St. George Island for the past 13 winters, beginning with stays that lasted a single week and have now grown to 3 months in 2018.

I have attended the last 11 annual meetings of the Friends/Supporters group, the first one at the Indian Pass Raw Bar when Joe Collins spoke about his experience studying serpents on the island.  The day after that remarkable presentation, Joe and his wife Suzanne conducted a fascinating tour of the refuge with special emphasis on his knowledge of snakes, their habitats, and lifestyle.   At a subsequent meeting, I asked Landy Luther, who was a founder and past president of the Friends Group, if there was anything that I could do in a volunteer capacity to help the refuge.  Landy asked if I would be willing to construct turtle nest cages and if so to contact Shelly Stiaes who was the refuge manager at the time.  Shelly arranged for me to meet with Bradley Smith, the Refuge's Biological Science Technician who got me to the island and provided instruction and guidelines on how turtle nest cages should be made to comply with the Florida Wildlife Service requirements.  That was several years ago;  each year since I have spent a few days during my time in Florida making cages.

Three years ago, I asked my good friend Will McCord, a snowbird from Traverse City, Michigan who also winters at SGI, if he would be interested in joining me for a day of turtle cage construction.  Will, who retired from a leadership role in a specialty manufacturing firm, readily agreed.  We formed a pretty good team, and in 2018 we managed to construct about 40 cages during several visits to the reserve.

Recently, with the guidance of John Murphy and again Bradley Smith, Will and I have helped with establish symbolic fencing on beach fronts. The purpose of the symbolic fencing is to inform casual visitors of the presence of nesting shore birds and thereby protect the nests and fledglings from inadvertent disruption.  On several occasions we have been joined by other volunteers including Dave Francisco, Sue Lavender, Iain Brown, Leland Yee, and Mike Turresi.

Both Will and I share a fascination with St. Vincent Island and a strong desire to see it perpetuated in its current undeveloped state as a sanctuary for many and diverse forms of wildlife.  Unfortunately there are limited resources available to accomplish this laudable goal.  Making turtle nest cages and stringing symbolic fencing is not very glamorous even though Bradley did award us honorary PhD’s (Post Hole Diggers), but we feel pleased to make any contribution we can. Sustaining St Vincent Island is important not only to the plants and animals living there, but also to future generations, who like ourselves, wish to experience and appreciate an uncompromised environment.
by John Epstein

The Elusive Black Rail

    Described in the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America as “as secretive as a mouse, virtually never seen in the open,” the Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) is a small, dark, and elusive marshbird that is strongly thought to be declining throughout its range, but about which relatively little is known--even about the most basic aspects of its biology.

     Due to its extremely secretive habits, wildlife biologists often detect Black Rail by broadcasting recorded marshbird calls; surveyors then listen for the unseen birds’ responses from the dense marsh vegetation.  Black Rails are reliably detected in the high salt marsh of Mallard Slough on St. Vincent Island, although they are absent from most Gulf coast marshes.  Since at least the 1990s, wildlife researchers have detected Black Rail in St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge marshes each time they have surveyed.  On a statewide basis, the Refuge was recently ranked third in Florida for Black Rail presence.
     This year, the Refuge staff is excited to try environmental DNA or eDNA techniques, as well as remote acoustic monitoring, to learn more about Black Rail on the Refuge.  The Refuge is also working closely with state wildlife researchers to support a pilot Black Rail breeding study in 2019.  Rails will be netted and outfitted with radio telemetry transmitters to learn more about their breeding habits and habitats on the Refuge. 

Bradley Smith, Biological Technician, St. Vincent NWR


St Vincent NWR
50th Anniversary Celebration!
July 6, 2018
9 am – 3 pm

Come to the Refuge and join us in connecting our community to nature’s diversity!  Learn about local birds, sea turtles, shells, and more.  Special activities for children.

Details:  You must pre-register ( Free transportation provided to the island; barge will depart every 30 minutes from Indian Pass boat ramp.  Lunch on the grill!

Bring your own water and sun protective clothing.  An all outdoor event!

Life on St. Vincent:
Memories of a Boy I

In 1907, Dr. Raymond Pierce bought St. Vincent Island. Through the twenties and until 1948, when the Pierce estate sold the island, it was used as a hunting preserve . Charles Marks, Jr. recalls life on the island when his father was living on the island as an employee of Dr. Pierce.

"The Pierces used it [ St. Vincent Island ] as a winter resort and had a large home in the West Pass area, replete with butler, maid, and cook, which they brought with them each year from Buffalo. I can still remember each morning precisely at 8:00, the butler would come out on the veranda and blow a full course of reveille with a five foot trumpet, the kind used in the middle ages. We had quite a settlement, with a Delco generator that produced electricity for the big house, as well as for our family, and for the two black families that lived and worked there, too. There was a pump and a water tower that provided running water for us all.   

The Pierces had an ‘outdoor ‘bathtub’ which was like a swimming pool to me. It had a high wall around it for privacy, and clear running artesian water flowing through it warm enough to use in winter. I learned to swim in the 6 X 18 ‘ four feet deep pool during the summer. I remember being shocked to learn that the Pierces walked over to the pool in robes, and then went in naked. My folks made me wear a bathing suit; it had shorts down to my knees, and a top all the way around up to my neck. But my mother covered up like Queen Victoria."

Sadly, the scenes described by Charles Marks, Jr. no longer exist. The hunting preserve and compound described by him were removed and only two structures remain from Dr. Pierce’s time: a cabin and a boathouse.  The island remains a wild and beautiful place, though, most likely Mr. Marks would feel right at home.

Carol Brown


Terry D. Peacock 

Refuge Manager of St. Marks NWR and St.Vincent NWR, &
Deputy Project Leader of North Florida Complex
I have worked with the U.S. Fish and Service since 1983, at Eufaula NWR (Alabama); St. Vincent NWR in Apalachicola, FL; Washita and Optima NWRs in Butler, OK; Mingo NWR in Puxico, MO; then back to St. Vincent NWR, and St. Marks NWR in St. Marks, FL.  I have also done two temporary duty assignments in Canada banding ducks, and several temporary duty assignments assisting around the region on other refuges.
I received my degree in Wildlife Management  from Auburn University in Auburn, AL in December 1983 and have worked for the USFWS ever since then.
I am married to Rodney Peacock, whom I met as a hunter on St. Vincent NWR during my first tour of duty there.  We have been married for 30 years and have two daughters.  Our daughters spent much of their grade school years volunteering on St. Vincent NWR during my second tour of duty. 



May 1, 2018    Sea Turtle nesting season begins
May 5, 2018    International Migratory Bird Day                             Tour*
July 6, 2018    50th Anniversary Celebration on                             St Vincent NWR*

Sign up for our Guided Tours HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment