Sunday, October 9, 2011

Annual peregrine falcon count...and frigatebirds!

For the past 14 years, an annual count has taken place in the environs of The GMT Reserve. We've been counting raptors; specifically, we've been counting peregrine falcons. Organizing volunteer Diane explained yesterday that the peregrines are quite unmistakable in flight. Their rapid ascents and dives are breathtaking, and unlike even the visually-similar raptors also abundant at The Reserve, including ospreys and eagles. With a brisk easterly wind lifting them, they seemed to swirl in the air all around visitors to The Reserve this weekend. In fact, their movement, once identified, truly IS unmistakable, and also quite difficult to capture on camera. Unless, of course, you're as expert with your camera as Craig O'Neal, whose photos are generously shared in this post.

We're delighted to report numbers almost as breathtaking as the flight patterns themselves. On Saturday, the count was more than 360 individual birds. On Sunday, at last report, the numbers were well over 300, as well, meaning that the count is trending to be the highest ever recorded, in a count that dates back to 1997. And we're not done yet: the count goes on for another 3 days. If you're interested, you can find the team, perched as high as they can get, at the top of the GTM NERR North Beach Parking Lot tower. And if you're really fortunate, you'll see what the team saw yesterday (and Craig's photo shows): a pair of frigatebirds, sometimes seen in southwestern Florida but extremely rarely sighted in our local waters.
Get out there!

All photos in this post (C) Craig O'Neal. All rights reserved. Stealing is bad for your karma.

OceanWise: A word of thanks to our community partners and sponsors

You probably know we're counting down to OceanWise (6 reservation-making days left!), a delightful evening of delicious, sustainable seafood, wine and beer - including some local brew!, a silent auction, friends, conversation and more...all coming together to benefit a local treasure: The GTM Research Reserve. And as excited as we are about the support of the community, the anchors of dedication provided by our volunteers, the fun of the silent auction and the palate-pleasing offerings of favorite local restaurants and their chefs de cuisine, the truth is that none of this would be possible without our sponsors.

We all know that business isn't *quite* business-as-usual these days. Many businesses are still finding their feet in the current economic climate, looking cautiously at their every expenditure, often making difficult decisions about how to allocate precious resources. So the businesses that have chosen to support OceanWise and its direct beneficiary, The GTM Reserve, have made a real commitment to the people of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville; they’ve take deliberate action to benefit those of us who live in northeastern Florida and the many visitors who help underpin our local economy.

This commitment is worthy of a brief pause of acknowledgement and thanks. Thank you, OceanWise sponsors:

Wells Fargo

Cap’s on the Water
Vystar Credit Union
Serenata Beach Club

Publix Supermarkets
Bank of America

Mane de Leon Salon
TC Delivers
Marriott at Sawgrass

Lofgren Rich RE/MAX Team
Wingate Insurance Group
APEX Color
Green F1 Properties

Please join us in thanking them by thinking of them as you make those same decisions about allocating YOUR precious resources, both business and personal.

And PLEASE don't miss OceanWise, where these names will be joined by many, many more donors, volunteers, silent auction contributors and by a diverse, fun party of people who share a vision of The GTM Reserve, a gift of pristine natural beauty for generations to follow ours.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Countdown to OceanWise, and a word of thanks

It's time to plan for OceanWise! This Saturday evening is rainy and windblown, a lovely one for staying in, maybe catching the game on TV with friends and family, catching up on email or reading - maybe even getting away with a nap. It's also a chance to think about what you might be doing NEXT Saturday, when the weather will surely have changed and may even offer a crisp hint of autumn. NEXT Saturday, October 15, we'll be hosting OceanWise at the GTM NERR Environmental Education Center and THAT means we'll be hosting some of the BEST seafood in town (with an eye to sustainability), wine and locally brewed beer, friends and conversation...and a silent auction with some truly remarkable offerings. This is all made possible by a stunning list of sponsors including our local chefs and their respective restaurants (Aunt Kate's, Caps on the Water, The Kingfish Grill, Aqua Grill, The Reef, The Manatee Cafe and many more; you KNOW you love this food!) to local and regional businesses.

The silent auction promises to be really intriguing this year. Seranata Beach Club has donated a membership valued at $8,000.00, for which bidding will begin at $1500. There are works of art, including original pieces of various media. One local artisan told us the handmade jewelry item she's donated is the best piece she's ever made. There are gift certificates to a range of local and regional businesses, and many excellent bargains to be had. Get full details AND buy your tickets online. To those of you who've already got yours in hand, many thanks, and we can't wait to see you!

There are 3 critical legs supporting The Reserve: its employees, who work for the State of Florida; its volunteers, who are its heart and soul, and the Friends organization: OceanWise benefits The Friends of the GTM Reserve. The Friends organization, like similar "Friends" groups across the country associated with local National Estuarine Research Reserves, provides financial support and takes a long-range fiduciary view, helping The Reserve meet evolving objectives. The GTM NERR is richly blessed with an active, diverse volunteer base; these dedicated people comprise the Se Turtle Patrol, organize bird counts, help with adminstrative and data management, lead and coordinate educational activities, and much, much more. The NERR's staff includes scientists, reseachers, educators, communicators and more - many of them wearing more than one hat out of pure dedication. And likewise The Friends, which makes every effort to recruit community members with a range of talents to help serve needs of education, research and stewardship. Last evening all three groups united to celebrate the accomplishments and gifts of the volunteers, whose combined donated hours this past year exceeded a value of $100,000: there are no words to express what a gift this collective effort is to our community. Well, maybe these very humble ones: Thank you.

So here we are, all looking in the same direction, all with the same objectives, all hoping you might pitch in and help us. Join us for a lovely evening and help ensure the preservation of this amazing local treasure. Your kids with thank you. Your grandkids will thank you. And so will the kids and grandkids of people you don't even know. And you'll be the one enjoying that delicious, sustainable seafood, next Saturday night.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

OceanWise! Have you heard this yet?

OceanWise! You've heard about this, right? Mark your calendar: Saturday, October 15, begining at 6 pm.
If you don't have your tickets, visit (PayPal: easy as pie!), or call us at 904.823.4500 for information.

2011 marks the second year of this amazing event, and you're invited. The Friends of GTM NERR are delighted to throw open the doors of the Environmental Education Center, welcome you in your cocktail attire, and serve you sustainable - and delictable! - seafood offerings from local chefs, wine and even locally brewed beer. The evening includes a silent aution with some truly amazing items and is made possible by a roster of corporate and personal sponsors. The silent auction alone is reason enough to attend; one of the items is a membership at Serenata Beach Club valued at $8000; bidding begins at $1500. And that's just the beginning.

OceanWise benefits The Friends of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. You can skip this part if you know about us already, but in case you don't, here's the scoop. What used to be Guana State Park became, a number of years ago, part of the NERR system. A partnership between NOAA and coastal states, this system is all about studying and preserving estuarine eco-systems. Estuaries? These are the places where the rivers meet the sea: rich, diverse waters where fresh- and saltwater come together and unique nurseries for an incredible range of species are created. These are places of invaluable import to these species, to humankind and to our planet at large. They are big, critically important pieces of our shared environmental heritage and responsibility, and they need Friends to survive. Fortunate to have a NERR in our own backyard, The Friends of GTM NERR are all about helping ensure funding to bridge gaps that may exist. And we need you to help us.

Local chefs and their kitchens believe in this cause, and bring their culinary skills to bear for its benefit...and ours (okay, yes. We *are* excited; this is yummy stuff). Here are some of the local restaurants and businesses providing the sustainable seafood and tasty beverages with which to wash them down.
Aqua Grill
Aunt Kate's
Cap's On the Water
Whole Foods
The Manatee Cafe
The Reef
Raintree Restaurant
Augustine Grille
Bold City Brewery
The Bistro Culinary Outfitters
Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant

I know, right?

And it would be unfair not to mention those businesses, local and national, who have also lent their support. Some have provided monetary support; some have provided items for our silent auction, and some have done both (and then some!) A partial list of these businesses includes
Wells Fargo
VyStar Credit Union
Serenata Beach Club
Publix Supermarkets
Mane de Leon Salon
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
Bank of America
TC Delivers
Lofgren Rich ReMax Real Estate Team
Apex Color
Wingate Insurance Group, Inc.

The silent auction will include, in addition to the Serenata Beach membership, a wide range of gift certificates, art work incuding hand-crafted works from local artisans and so much more...intriguing, beautiful and valuable items continue to arrive every day. This event was sold out last year and we think the same thing will happen this year, so please book your tickets now, if you don't have them yet. Please join us in celebrating this jewel of northeastern Florida. We have a spot for you right here next to us, and a chilled glass with your name on it. Get your ticket. See you at OceanWise!