• Crosby Sanctuary Update

    Crosby flooding first bridge watermark Emil Kotik 20200608In early June, heavy rains swept through the northeast Florida area. Orange Park was especially hard hit, causing significant flooding at our Crosby Sanctuary conservation property. Luckily the Crosby swamp absorbed the excess rainwater, so there was flooding in the swamp but water levels never became high enough to flood in the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbors were understandably concerned after flood waters from Hurricane Irma inundated the neighborhood in 2017, damaging many homes.

    But Hurricane Irma was an extremely unusual storm. According to a News4Jax story published a year after the storm hit, "Irma’s position and the flow of the St. Johns River combined to create a menace to the area." The hurricane moved northward along the Florida peninsula, with strong winds and heavy rains dumping huge amounts of water into the northward-flowing St. Johns, creating a powerful storm surge. When the incoming high tide, also extra-high due to the storm surge, met the storm surge moving northward in the river, the water had nowhere else to go, and surrounding areas experienced significant flooding, the worst these areas had experienced in over 100 years. No amount of human-engineered mitigation in the Crosby conservation property swamp could have prevented the flooding from Hurricane Irma.

    Crosby swamp watermark CBW IMG 20200621 094727Volunteer Emil Kotik visited Crosby on June 8th and while hiking the swamp trail discovered flood waters nearly to his waist in some spots. But soon the high water had receded, as the Crosby wetlands were able to absorb the extra water and allow it to flow into the Ortega River (and ultimately into the St. Johns), establishing the normal water levels in the swamp within a couple of weeks.

    Wetlands like the Crosby swamp function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage and braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion. (Source: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/why-are-wetlands-important)

    Crosby Sanctuary is home to many different species of birds, animals, insects, and plants, and also provides valuable ecosystem services such as flood water attenuation, stormwater treatment, temperature regulation, and nutrient cycling. We are grateful to be able to preserve and protect this important natural area, and plan to do so for many years to come.

    --Carol Bailey-White, President

  • Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

    Firebush IMG 20171105 113601This year we have featured a different Florida native plant in our monthly newsletters, hoping to help you landscape your yard in a more bird-friendly (and environmentally friendly) way. We have recommended wonderful resources like Audubon's Plants for Birds and the Ixia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society to help you look for the best plants.

    Now, if you haven’t already discovered it, we’d like to introduce the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, commonly called IFAS (pronounced "i-fuss"). They have local offices in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties and are willing to help. Their Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program offers nine principles for making your yard environmentally sound yet also beautiful. These principles include water and fertilizer conservation techniques, how to protect wildlife, how to manage pests, and how to protect your waterfront.

    Florida Friendly Landscaping Logo from IFAS

    Many homeowners feel restricted by their HOA regulations, but in 2009 Florida homeowners gained the legal right to have a Florida-friendly yard (see Florida Statute FS 720.3075 (4)(a)). The statute FS 373.185 (1)(b) defines “Florida-friendly landscaping.” This does not mean that homeowners can let their yards go wild, or that they can do anything they want. Homeowners still need to submit their plans to their HOAs as per their agreements; however, the HOA cannot require things like only St. Augustine grass and non-native bushes and trees. Homeowners in HOAs should also encourage their organizations to adopt Florida-friendly landscaping specifications.

    Click HERE for tips on your legal rights as a Florida homeowner and how to more effectively communicate with your HOA when implementing your Florida-friendly yard. Be informed, grow a terrific yard with low maintenance for yourself and wonderful benefits for the birds.

    --Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director, Duval County

  • Swallow-tailed Kites Fledge!

    Swallow tailed Kite fledgelings by Pat Murphy 20200604 IMG 6104Last month we reported that a lucky Duval Audubon member had discovered a nesting pair of Swallow-tailed Kites at an undisclosed location not far from her home. She has been able to follow the pair's entire breeding season: nest-building, courting, mating, incubating eggs, feeding the hatchlings, fighting off predators, and finally, fully-fledged chicks. She tells us that two healthy Swallow-tailed Kite chicks took their first flights in early June, and since then have been fine-tuning their flying and hunting skills with their parents and several other kites not yet old enough to breed.

    Soon the entire group will leave the area to join a large pre-migration roost (location unknown) before leaving in August on their epic migration to South America. For more information about Swallow-tailed Kites, check out Audubon's Swallow-tailed Kite page, and visit the Swallow-tailed Kite Migration Blog of ARCI (the Avian Research and Conservation Institute).

    --Carol Bailey-White, President

  • Chapter President Installation

    JW and CBW board president handover IMG 20200612 102055July marks the beginning of our new year, and although the worldwide health crisis has currently put the brakes on our normal activities, we hope to be able to resume a limited schedule of activities in September after our summer hiatus. But the work of managing our chapter goes on, and outgoing chapter president Jody Willis (on the left) recently bequeathed the traditional president's keepsake to incoming president Carol Bailey-White.

    The framed artwork by noted Jacksonville artist Lee Adams is a limited-edition, signed print of an exquisite drawing of Cedar Waxwings, and was awarded to Duval Audubon Society in 1976 by the City of Jacksonville as the Mimi and Lee Adams Environmental Award. According to the City's website, "Mimi Adams served as the first chairman of the Jacksonville’s Air Pollution Board formed in 1968, and also in many other civic organizations. Lee Adams was an internationally known artist and naturalist, who became known as the South’s successor to John James Audubon for his paintings of flowers, birds, and fruits. In 1972, the City established the annual Mimi and Lee Adams Environmental Awards to recognize those who have worked to enhance and preserve the environment."

    This spectacular artwork has been passed down to each incoming chapter president since then, a wonderful tradition that keeps our chapter's history alive.

    Many thanks to Jody Willis for her exemplary leadership over the last three years - her initiative, drive, and dedication to our chapter have been an inspiration to those following in her footsteps. And we're thrilled that Jody will continue to be involved with our chapter as vice president and community outreach director. Thank you, Jody!

    --Carol Bailey-White, President

  • Wild Birds Need Your Help!

    Snail Kite by Shane CarrollA recent study of bird populations in North America published in the journal Science revealed that nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds are alive today compared to avian abundance in 1970, a loss of 29%! In addition, Audubon's new report, Survival by Degrees, estimates that two-thirds of North American birds (389 species) are at increasing risk of extinction from global temperature rise.

    In the face of these threats it's easy to lose hope, but we want to focus on what we as individuals, families, and communities can do to turn these trends around. In the past, some species have been nearly eliminated by hunting or pesticides, yet conservation measures (like eliminating DDT) helped these populations to recover, so we still have a chance to bring birds back from the brink!

    Here are twelve things YOU can do to give birds a better chance of survival:

    1. Vote for candidates who place environmental issues front and center. Public policy has a huge impact on survival of the bird species we love.
    2. Stop using single use plastics, especially straws, plastic bags, and balloons. Plastic pollution by Carol Bailey-WhiteThese items can end up in our waterways where they can be mistaken for food by birds, fish, and sea turtles, often killing them. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Refuse straws and bring your own take-out containers when dining out. Dispose of cigarette butts properly - butts are the most common trash found on the beaches during cleanups, and the filters contain plastic. (Another reason to quit smoking.)
    3. Keep cats indoors - they will live longer and healthier lives. Support measures to eliminate feral cat colonies over time. There are 60-100 million free-ranging cats in the US, and they are non-native predators against which our wild birds have no natural defenses. It is estimated that cats kill 1 billion birds and 6 billion mammals each year in the US alone. Outdoor cats typically have a very short life span and can transmit diseases to humans and wildlife. Audubon supports the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors program.
    4. Use traps for a rodent problem instead of rat poison, many forms of which move up the food chain to also kill eagles, hawks, and owls, which eat rodents.
    5. Swear off herbicides and pesticides and reduce or eliminate fertilizer use in your yard. A chemical-free yard provides safe food sources for birds and other pollinators. Organic farms provide the same benefits on an agricultural scale. Pesticides containing neonicotinoids are directly responsible for the disastrous decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other beneficial insects. We are joined by other organizations including the Garden Club of America, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Florida Wildflower Foundation in opposing the use of them.
    6. Plant native plants in your yard, especially fruit and nut bearing trees and berry producing shrubs, which are an excellent food source for birds and pollinators. An easy way to learn what will work in our yards here in northeast Florida is to use Audubon's Plants for Birds website. Go to the native plants database and type in your zip code, and you will get a list of plants for our area, including pictures for easy identification.
    7. Maintain a brush pile so birds have a place to hide from predators.
    8. If you can do it safely, let dead trees stand in your landscape as nesting sites for cavity nesting birds such as woodpeckers. They are also a source of insects which provide protein for birds.
    9. Keep fresh water readily available. In a drought, it’s easier for birds to find food than water.
    10. Reduce deadly bird collisions with glass by keeping screens up year-round. Or, install feather guards which interrupt reflections. Window decals to reduce bird strikes are also available from several vendors, including Wild Birds Unlimited.
    11. Enroll your company in Audubon’s Lights Out Program, which promotes safe migration for birds through urban areas by taking actions such as turning off outside lights on buildings and using window shades during nighttime work. There are currently 30 cities participating in this program throughout the US already and we hope to add Jacksonville to that list soon. At this time there are no cities in Florida that participate in this program and we would like to be the first.
    12. Buy shade grown, bird-friendly coffee. Not only will you be helping small farmers in South and Central America use good growing practices but you will also help our bird species that migrate there in the winter. It is easily obtainable online and several local retailers carry it as well. Ask your local coffee shop to stock it.


    If everyone would do at least one of these things now, such as bringing your own reusable bags when shopping, keeping your cat indoors, stop using chemicals on your lawn, or stop using plastic straws, we can have a positive impact on the survival of the birds we love. Doing nothing guarantees that nothing will change.

    Chapter president Jody Willis and Duval County conservation chair Carolyn Antman appeared on WJCT's First Coast Connect radio show on October 30, 2019 - read the story and listen to the program here.