Sunday, I visited Spoonbill Pond at Big Talbot Island. At this particular park, one can log 30 or more species within a few hours’ time. The birds are accustomed to people, and often come close enough to photograph with a 30x optical-zoom camera.
Spoonbill Pond abuts a beach and is separated from it by a low, grassy dune. Inside the dune, on one side of the pond, is a wide mud flat where many migratory birds gather.
There are signs scattered about Big Talbot Island, asking people to be respectful of the wildlife. They remind people that leashed dogs can accompany people on the wooded walking trails, but are not allowed along the shore. However, people often ignore the signs, and it only takes the sighting of a single predator to scatter a flock.
When too many predators are sighted, birds evacuate to other areas entirely – except those have already been consumed by houses, condominiums, and hotels.
I started today’s visit by gazing across the pond. Fewer birds than usual, and more scattered.
Through my binoculars, I see a woman rise from the sand. She has been lounging at the base of the dune, at the edge of the mudflat. She is joined by another woman and two young children. The women, their children, and three large dogs charge onto the mudflat. The children chase one another. The dogs run mad circles, one past the other.
As they charge forward, the birds take to the air or scurry into the marsh grass. The entire pond is now owned by the dogs – a bulldog and two lab mixes. Their claws rip the sand. At a central clump of grass, one dog stops. Cocks its head. Raises its tail. It is interrupted when a companion slams into it. The chaos continues for a half hour – more.
One woman has noticed me watching. I get the impression that she enjoys the attention. I turn my back and walk away.
Later, I walk the shoreline. It is obvious that these same dogs have been allowed to run on the other side of the sandbar as well. To say that the beach is filled with pawprints is an understatement. The ground has been shredded.
As I walk, I see a young couple accompanied by a mastiff mix, also off-leash. Another couple is walking two Dobermans. An older woman is dragged by a small poodle mix. The small dog may seem innocuous, but birds consider all predators a threat. They evacuate a beach for a small dog as readily as a large one.
I feel helpless and frustrated. I want people to enjoy the park, but it’s important that we share it with one another, as well as with the park’s inhabitants.
When I get home, I do some research. I visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site. Here I find a form to report people interfering with wildlife, breaking wildlife laws, or destroying habitat. I relay my experiences.
I quickly get a response. A supervisor has relayed the information to officers who work the area. It is suggested that, in the future, I call immediately when I witness a problem.
The Commission’s number is 1-888-404-3922. Their FWC web site says that cell phone users can also text the Commission at *FWC or #FWC, depending on service provider.
The North Central Region of Florida includes these counties:
For those living in the North Central Region of Florida, call: 904-359-6584 and select option 7 to be routed directly to the dispatch center, 24 hours a day/seven days a week. The information is then relayed directly to a law enforcement officer patrolling the affected area.