Birds at the Ballpark: Astros, Nationals could have feathered company at new spring training home

If the busy skies over Palm Beach County’s latest public construction project are any indication, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals could have some feathered company at their new spring training home in West Palm Beach.

Click the video and see for yourself: Birds — hundreds of them — have been flying over the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, roosting on newly-erected light towers, on the roof of clubhouse buildings and on batting cage overhangs, along with the upper reaches of palm trees around the site.

 

It’s too early to determine whether the birds will stick around when the Astros and Nationals start playing spring training games in February. But one bird expert who viewed video clips that were shot by The Palm Beach Post on Dec. 16, 2016 thinks they could be permanent season-ticket holders at the $144 million complex.

The ballpark, just south of 45h Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail, is just a mile or two from the Palm Beach County landfill on Jog Road north of 45th Street.

Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016
Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016

“I think it will be a common occurance because of the proximity to the landfill,” said Ricardo Zambrano, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Zambrano identified the birds as “fish crows,” scavengers that can be found picking through trash cans at the beach.

“Once the baseball stadium opens, with fans eating French fries and food, I’m sure they will be hanging around more,” he said.

But there’s not much food on the site now, just construction workers.

Why so many birds now?

Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.
Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.

The 160-acre site used to be a city landfill years ago before it was covered with vegetation and trees such as tall Australian pine.

“I think that the open space that existed prior to the stadium was better bird habitat,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club, “but the birds will adjust and become a common fixture at the baseball stadium.”

The teams started clearing the site in November 2015 when the construction started. When the stadium and light towers started to rise in the last few months, the birds discovered new and lofty places to roost.

Another theory: New grass and fresh landscaping on the 12 practice fields and the main stadium.

“It’s a very organic place right now,” said Marc Taylor, the construction program manager for the Astros and Nationals.

“I would expect they always will be there when we are fertilizing or reseeding the grass.”

Flocks of birds could be seen Dec. 16 over the main stadium, sitting on the light towers.

“They seem to like to hover over the batter eye as most lawn work is happening at the stadium field,” Taylor said.

 

 

Short-term fix for St. Lucie algae woes proposed

Photo by Paul J. Milette/The Palm Beach Post
Photo by Paul J. Milette/The Palm Beach Post

The Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida want the South Florida Water Management District to store water on land it owns in the southern Everglades, which is currently being used to grow sugarcane.

The groups proposed the storage plan in a letter they sent to Gov. Rick Scott as part of their efforts to encourage the district to move water from Lake Okeechobee south. Doing so would lessen or stop discharges from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary, plagued with blue-green algae this summer, they say.

Those discharges must be done to relieve pressure on the aging dike around the lake, which could breach if water levels get too high.

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The district is currently leasing the 16,000-acre property, called the A-2 parcel, to Florida Crystals. The lease expires in 2019. After that, the land will be used in a water project that is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. CEPP projects have already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and are awaiting Congressional approval.

For now, the groups say the land could be used short-term as part of the district’s passive water storage program, called dispersed water management. Passive storage leaves rainwater on land rather than moving it into district canals.

Dispersed water projects are inexpensive alternatives to large water storage projects but store much less water. Berms and structures that block water from moving off the land often must be constructed to make the efforts successful.

According to the groups’ calculations, the A-2 parcel could hold 13.4 billion gallons of water, which could provide 10 days of relief from peak flows into the St. Lucie estuary.

On Friday, the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced additional steps they will take to protect endangered species impacted by restoration projects. The actions outlined will allow more water to move south to the Florida Bayin ways that avoid prolonged flooding of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow.