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Boaters, birds crowd island

B.J. Stowers watched, horrified, on Friday as a dog killed several newly hatched birds on Three Rooker Bar. "We saw the dog repeatedly go in and get the live chicks and mutilate them and go drop them in an open area, then go in and get another one," Mrs. Stowers said.

Hundreds of birds are hatching these days on Three Rooker Bar, a small island off Palm Harbor. Mrs. Stowers is worried that many may be destroyed this weekend as recreational boaters, some of whom might bring their dogs, converge on the island for weekend fun. Between Honeymoon Island and Anclote Key, Three Rooker is a popular weekend retreat.

"It's just wall-to-wall boats on the weekends," Mrs. Stowers said.

This year, she said, it's also wall-to-wall birds. A regular visitor to the island, Mrs. Stowers said she's seen more birds nesting this year than in the past. They include least terns, blue herons, skimmers, egrets, oyster catchers and sea gulls.

The sand bar is part of the Anclote Key Preserve and is monitored by the rangers at the Caladesi Island State Park. Caladesi manager William Cutts said his employees regularly post warning signs on Three Rooker, but they get stolen or blown away.

"We put them up periodically during the nesting season, but there's just not much we can do," Cutts said. He added that he doesn't have enough personnel to patrol the sand bar on a regular basis.

Dogs aren't allowed on the island, Cutts said. But if owners insist on taking their dogs, the dogs should be kept on a leash during nesting season to help protect the birds.

In addition, people should be careful where they walk.

"Any time you get close to a bird nesting area, you're going to see the (adult birds) rise up," he said. "Once that starts you need to back away."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Stowers wishes she could get that message to every boater who visits the island.

"It was just heartbreaking to see that dog bringing out those baby chicks," she said.