August on Longboat Key

Our week on Longboat Key, Florida, was, as expected, characterized by hot, humid weather and frequent thunderstorms; on our last day, a tropical depression formed in the Gulf of Mexico, soon to become Tropical Storm Claudette as it approached Panama City. All of the clouds and hazy air, combined with my intolerance for late night viewing, had a negative impact on my plans to observe the Perseid meteor shower.

Since this was my first August trip to the Key, certain seasonal changes were evident. While all of the usual coastal birds were represented, their numbers (with the notable exception of ospreys) were lower than during the cooler seasons; especially evident in the case of brown pelicans, I suspect that this reflects a dispersal to more northern climes in summer and that I am used to observing the concentrating effect of a North American winter. One treat was the opportunity to see many of the shorebirds (sanderlings, short-billed dowitchers, black-bellied plovers), just down from Canada, in their summer, breeding plumage. We also enjoyed the company of a mother manatee and her calf (on Sarasota Bay) throughout the week and were visited by a pod of dolphins, including a newborn.

The local newspaper reported that 203 sea turtle nests are currently spaced along Longboat's beaches; their nesting season stretches from May through October. Unfortunately, a significant increase in hatchling disorientation has been noted this year; instinctually heading for the low light of the ocean when they emerge at night, many are heading inland toward the artificial light of human habitation. The wayward turtles soon fall victim to herons, raccoons, intense daytime heat and starvation; in fact, we observed one dangling from the beak of a gull this week. Efforts continue to reduce Gulf-front, outdoor lighting during the turtle nesting season; knowing that the sedate, residential community of Longboat Key has documented a significant impact on hatchlings, one can only imagine the toll imposed by more heavily developed coastlines.