Created from dredge materials in 1995, the island is periodically refreshed with sand removed from the neighboring channel. This winter, a fresh load buried the southern half of the island under two feet of new sand, but Megan made sure the dredgers left some brushy vegetation for the pelicans. The island seems small, but its Brown Pelican colony has been growing by about 100 nests per year and last year hosted over 600 breeding pairs, along with a few pairs of Oystercatchers and Laughing Gulls. Though things were silent during our visit, the island will be busy by the time we return in May.
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Megan then showed us to the research dorm, a cozy 6-bedroom trailer in Apalachicola, and we explored the town a bit. It's small but lively, with a strong fishing community.
The next day, we borrowed a kayak and drove it up to Panama City, about an hour west of Apalachicola and the site of our second Florida colony. In contrast to Apalachicola, Panama City is urban, and Audubon Island sits just alongside a busy shipping lane. The island itself is buttressed by concrete blocks to prevent erosion, creating a little stone fortress covered with birds.
There were plenty of pelicans and gulls on the island, but none had laid eggs yet. The setting is nothing like the other seabird colonies I've worked in, which are typically located on offshore islands as far from civilization as possible. Nevertheless, even a colony skirted by massive paving blocks and separated from the city by less than a quarter-mile of water can feel like another world.