Three Rooker Island is all about the baby birds

Published June 4 2015


Near the high-water mark, close to shore, three American oystercatcher chicks follow close behind their mother. Nearby, hordes of laughing gulls sit on their eggs, snuggled in the grass. Across the island, hundreds of ibis sway in the branches while guarding over their nests. On Three Rooker Island, it's all about the baby birds. • The island is surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of St. Joseph Sound and is part of the Anclote Key Preserve State Park. Known by old-timers as Three Rooker Bar because of its origins as a sand bar, it has been a popular destination for boaters for decades. It's also one of the top nesting colonies for shorebirds in the state. This means human visitors must be considerate of the avian day care. • As it has done since 2012, the Florida Park Service, with help from Clearwater Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy, has closed about a quarter-mile of beach on the horseshoe-shaped island from May 1 through Aug. 1.

"There are hundreds of boats out here on weekends and this seemed like a good compromise. We need to recognize that this area is popular for recreation, but it's part of our job to help the birds,'' said Dan Larremore, an environmental specialist for the Department of Environmental Protection for the Florida Park Service. ''We have bird stewards (from Audubon) out on weekends making sure people stay where they should, and they also talk to (the visitors), putting a face on it.''

On a recent Thursday, Larremore anchored his boat and waded ashore where he spent more than two hours counting the nesting birds. The final tally: more than 6,000 nesting birds on the island. Along with the gulls, oystercatchers and ibis, there were three species of terns, egrets and a blue heron. There were also about 30 red knots, who were not nesting, but were using the island as a rest stop during their 9,000-mile migration from South America back to their Arctic breeding grounds.

"Black skimmers are here, too, and that's also exciting,'' Larremore said. "But they haven't started nesting. They're still picking out their real estate.''

Over the years, the colonial nesters, birds who stay in groups to survive against predators, have made it clear that Three Rooker is an ideal spot to roost. This couldn't be more evident than when a human missteps and causes a disturbance. The squawking and tornadoes of swirling birds is equal to any Alfred Hitchcock movie.

"We want them to feel comfortable and stay with their nests,'' Larremore said.

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. Follow @Florida_PBJC.