Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011
On December 20th, staff from the South Florida/Caribbean Network overflew Biscayne National Park in MetLife’s Snoopy One blimp to determine if it might prove as or more effective than a helicopter for aerial monitoring of park natural resources.
Matt Patterson and Kevin Whelan flew with Capt. Mark Finney in Snoopy One, departing from North Perry Hollywood Airport around 9 a.m. after a pre-flight briefing, addition of helium, and fueling. They first flew out over the coast and evaluated visibility over the Atlantic Ocean. There was a marine fog layer, but it soon burned off and they continued south along Miami Beach and Key Biscayne and entered the north end of Biscayne National Park near Stiltsville.
One of the main purposes of the trip was to evaluate how colonial nesting bird activity might possibly change when approaching nesting/roosting birds by blimp compared with similar approaches by helicopter. Generally, the helicopter noise and downdraft will spook some birds during the approach, but most will circle and then land shortly afterwards. Similar behavior was seen in double crested cormorants during the blimp’s approach, but in most cases they returned to the islands to roost.
Snoopy One flew to Soldier Key, circling twice, and then moved down the northern keys to Ragged 5, Sands, Elliott, Jones Lagoon, and the Arsenickers. While surveying Sands and
Elliott Keys, the blimp circled slowly at low altitude (~250 feet) in hope that the observers could identify potential Mexican red bellied squirrel nests in the tree canopy. Some were spotted, but this activity is more successfully seen in early spring after the mahogany trees have dropped their leaves.
The blimp continued south along the mainland towards the mouth of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant cooling canals, now closed to the bay, then turned north and headed across the middle of Biscayne Bay to Key Biscayne, along the beach, and back to North Perry Hollywood Airport.
During the trip, the observers documented several species of birds, including osprey, roseate spoonbills, great blue herons, anhinga, and double crested cormorants. They also saw manta rays, several sharks, dolphin, and manatees.
Plans are to use this platform in the future if it is again available.