Description: Lake Okeechobee is a 470,000-acrelake with 100,000 acres of marsh along the western margins. The Herbert Hoover Dyke surrounds the entire lake, and water levels are controlled manually. Since Lake Okeechobee is a major source of irrigation for nearby sugar crops, the farmers influence the management of the lake’s water levels to remain above 15 feet, despite Dr. Paul Gray’s efforts to convince them that this water level is too high for the natural functioning of the lake. The lake is maintained at water levels too high for shorebirds until drought conditions cause the water levels to drop, which occurred two years ago, and the lake then attracts an abundance of shorebirds. The elevation of the marsh is between 11 and 15 feet, so the mud flats are exposed when the water level drops below 15 feet. The water level of the lake is usually the lowest at the end of the dry season in the spring, so shorebirds may be more abundant at that time.
Shorebirds concentrate along the western lake margin on the exposed mud flats of the marshes. An airboat is necessary for maximum accessibility while the navigating the lake. Open boat trails may allow limited access in a regular boat. Several boat ramps are available throughout the western shore. Visibility is good because the shorebirds will forage on the open mud flats and not in the heavily vegetated areas.
The State of Florida owns the entire lake and the land inside the Herbert Hoover Dyke. We can contact Dr. Gray and arrange for him to show us the lake on his airboat. Although he is extremely busy and may not be able to aid with the surveys, he may be able to help coordinate with others. Since the lake is located in a major migration flyway, it is an important site that would be used by birds if the water levels were maintained at appropriate levels. No surveys have been done at Lake Okeechobee, so no data of shorebird species that use the lake is available.
Survey Method: Survey by airboat along the western shores of the lake.
Selection Bias: Some areas of the marsh may be difficult to access with an airboat.
Measurement error: *
Measurement bias: *
Pilot Studies: This site is unpredictable based on the conditions of the lake, such as water level. Since the area is too large to initially survey by boat, an aerial survey of the western shoreline is may be necessary to determine Type 1 habitat.
Local Contacts: Paul Gray, Ph.D., Okeechobee Sanctuary Manager, Audubon of Florida