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Island student helps TIOF map nests for school project

By Staff | Apr 15, 2020

DAN BILLHEIMER Sixth-grader Aika Billheimer prepares for a nest mapping trip.

“Notebook and pen, check.”

“Water, check”

“Smart-phone with map app, check”

“TIOF uniform T-shirt, check.”

“Put more air in my bike tire, check.”

“I’m ready,” called The International Osprey Foundation’s youngest volunteer to her father as she prepared to help TIOF map all of the osprey nests on Sanibel and Captiva using GPS coordinates.

Aika Billheimer is a sixth-grader at The Sanibel School. Part of her social studies class requirement was a community service project. TIOF discovered this after a chance encounter with her at the Lighthouse Cafe. She needed a project, and TIOF needed help mapping osprey nests that were not yet located using GPS technology. It was a perfect fit.

TIOF Board Members Kathryn Brintnall and Jim Schnell met with Aika and her father in November to discuss the requirements and timeline. Both parties were enthusiastic and the project was underway. Over the next six weeks, Aika and her father traveled by boat and bike all over Sanibel and even up as far as Captiva and North Captiva. Taking careful notes, noting nest locations using GPS, and observing osprey nesting patterns.

Aika logged over 15 hours for her service project. TIOF will enter her data into the Osprey Watch global database, used by conservation and regulatory agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Foundation to track population trends and inform environmental policy.

Aika also noted that although she catalogued 32 nests, there were not many osprey attending those nests in December. Her observations were more evidence Sanibel has two different populations of osprey, those that live in Florida year-round, and those that migrate to South America, arriving back in Southwest Florida in the December through January timeframe.

Aika said she really loved her project because she got to be “out in nature and learn about ospreys.” She notices them all the time now as she is out and about “on island.” Her favorite times were on her bike and her uncle’s boat checking out nests all over the islands. Aika also had some input for her peers who are more into sports or talking on their phones. “They could also get out into nature, and see how beautiful it is. It would be nice if we had an after-school nature club, too,” she added. “Kids might enjoy taking a tour of some of the nests when there are birds there.”

Brintnall expressed her appreciation of Aika’s work to Charles Villardi, principal of The Sanibel School. She informed him that Aika made a significant contribution to TIOF.

Brintnall also remarked on how important it is that young people engage in meaningful projects that allow them to contribute to real environmental solutions and research at a young age. The collaboration between the school and TIOF was just such an opportunity.

Villardi indicated that Aika’s service project was a perfect example of what made him so proud of “his kids,” and their involvement in the community.

“We are hoping that a lot more young people will join with TIOF in its mission,” TIOF President Susan Tucker said at a recent board meeting.

The International Osprey Foundation’s mission is to preserve, educate the public, and research the lives of ospreys worldwide. For more information, visit www.ospreys.com.

Kathryn Brintnall is a board member for The International Osprey Foundation.