Unsung Heroes and Great Birding at the Egret Marsh Stormwater Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and Other Conserved Areas; a tribute to Keith McCully, Alexis Peralta, and Indian River County’s Stormwater Division.

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2021

We are so lucky in our county to have such diverse habitats in which birds thrive. Conservation areas create great birding opportunities in Florida and Indian River County (IRC) for the experienced or casual birder, and those who just love to be outdoors. All those areas were preserved thanks to dedicated and caring individuals despite the fact that we humans continue to pave over such amazing natural areas. Those people realized that our precious natural areas needed to be preserved or restored and took the steps necessary to protect and care for them. Tourists come from around the world to visit our unique birds and contribute to our thriving economy.

Keith McCully

By passing two referendums for $26M and $50M, and from grants, licenses, Duck Stamps and other funds, nearly 12,000 acres of conservation lands in IRC have been set aside. Some of these excellent birding areas include: Blue Cypress Lake, Blue Cypress Lake Conservation Area, Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, Environmental Learning Center, T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area, North Sebastian Conservation Area, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, Osprey Acres Stormwater Park & Nature Preserve, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Round Island Park, Sebastian Inlet State Park, St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, Wabasso Scrub Conservation Area, and West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility (See links, details, and number of species on our website https://pelicanislandaudubon.org/birding-indian-river-county/).

The one site not on this list is the unique  Egret Marsh Stormwater Park and Wildlife Sanctuary a terrific birding site with 54 bird species reported on eBird. Although visiting it requires an appointment, that is easily arranged. We are very fortunate to have Keith McCully, Stormwater Engineer who heads the county’s Stormwater Division, and the designer of this site to have been an IRC employee. The site uses algae to clean canal water by removing nitrogen, phosphorus and other contaminants from agriculture and suburban lands before it reaches the Indian River Lagoon. The algae is harvested frequently, dried, and removed to the landfill. The water then goes into a wetland to remove more contaminants before going to the Lagoon.

In addition to this one, you can also visit another Stormwater facility at Osprey Acres Stormwater Park and Nature Preserve, which is open every day but Tuesday without appointment. Under construction is a third one, Moorhen Marsh Low Energy Aquatic Plant System, that will remove pollution from the North Relief Canal.

We are also fortunate to have Alexis Peralta, the Stormwater Division Educator, who also enforces the Fertilizer Ordinance. She does an excellent job to educate citizens, businesses, schools and clubs, and camps, and creates videos, new media and marketing, She has been an enthusiastic participant for the last 5 years in PIAS’s Audubon Activist program where she teaches 5th graders in our afterschool Environmental Education program how to protect the Lagoon from stormwater pollution and encourages them to consider a career in environmental science.

We thank Alexis for the outstanding job giving educational tours at these stormwater parks, and educating our Audubon Advocates and also the public how these stormwater facilities work to save our Lagoon. For example, on February 9th, Pelican Island Audubon Society and the IRC Stormwater Division offered a birding field trip led by Alexis to the Egret Marsh Stormwater Park and Wildlife Sanctuary for the Sabal Circle of the Moorings Garden Club. Numerous birds were present as can be seen in the slide show by clicking here.

Many thanks to Keith McCully who is retiring next month after many years of dedicated and extraordinary service to all of us at the County.

Alexis Peralta, right, talks to the Sabal Circle of the Moorings Garden Club at Egret Marsh Stormwater Park. 

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