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Dunedin's bird watcher goes looking for trouble

Kim Begay is worried about the Red Tide.

Worried enough that she kept her eyes peeled on a cormorant the other morning, thinking that it was sitting too still. When it finally went back to the water, she was relieved.

Begay, 54, makes morning visits to the Dunedin Causeway, to clean up trash and look out for birds.

She usually worries most about what she calls "man's second-worst invention besides DDT." That would be fishing line.

Recently, she said she found a rudy turnstone with fishing line wrapped around a foot and tangled in vegetation. The tiny shore bird could only move in a one-foot circle.

A high school volunteer with the former Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Begay has been looking out for birds on the causeway - off and on - since 1986. But when she retired 10 years ago from a 25-year career as a court reporter, it became her full-time, unpaid, seven-day-a-week job.

It took her nearly two years to convince Dunedin officials to place receptacles for discarded fishing line along the causeway. The receptacles are PVC pipes with curved openings and bottoms that unscrew to empty them. They've made a difference, Begay said. Fewer birds are getting tangled.

But the problem persists, she said.

She thinks pamphlets should be distributed along with fishing licenses that explain the dangers of fishing line and provide a number to call if you inadvertently hook a bird. She carries spare hooks to demonstrate how to unhook safely.

"I know I can't change everything," she said. "I hope I'm making a difference."

Barb Walker, president of the Clearwater Audubon Society, appreciates Begay's passion. Her persistence and knowledge have saved birds and their habitats, Walker said.

Dunedin Causeway also is home to a small section of shallow sea grass, where rare reddish egrets like to wade and feed. When a local group wanted to build a sailing center near there, Begay became a vocal critic. The center was turned down. Now, Begay's appealing for signs to be placed on buoys, with the goal to keep motorized craft away from those grass beds.

Begay finds birds in trouble "all the time. It's depressing."

She takes them to rehabbers and thinks it's important to keep up the effort. The health of the birds, she said, reflects the health of the environment.

Begay doesn't limit her rescue efforts to the causeway or to birds. She's helped ospreys, hawks and owls at Honeymoon Island, Phillipe Park and Lake Valencia.

Looking back on her records, she calculates her saves:

An average of 13 birds a week.

Over nine years, working full-time.

That's more than 6,000 birds.

And that's not counting squirrels, opossums, raccoons, a fox and injured deer calls, plus tracking a pregnant coyote once to make sure she stayed healthy.

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