The Audubon Observer, May 2021
DUVAL COUNTY'S "MISTER BLUEBIRD"
First, let me say that I will miss my good friend at Audubon, Emil Kotik. He helped me by building nest boxes for my bluebird trail.
I’m Ken Godwin, and I first learned of bluebirds’ plight when I worked on a multi-state AT&T bluebird conservation project in 1982, but I was personally trained by Duval Audubon Society's Mildred Dixon (also a member of the North American Bluebird Society) in the late 1980s. Since then I’ve built over a thousand bluebird nesting boxes over the years. I gave hundreds in the late 80’s to Southern Bell “Pioneer” employees with homes in rural communities around Jacksonville like Callahan, Bryson City, Keystone, MacClenny, and Middleburg. By using my large trail in Dunwoody, GA, that began in 1996 along a high-tension power line corridor, experimentation spreading into the neighborhoods taught me that bluebirds will accept nest boxes in suburban residential settings.
Therefore, when I returned to Jacksonville in 2011, I launched a “census” to determine if bluebirds were seeking nesting cavities in the Jacksonville suburbs. I placed a box or two in or near green spaces ("oases" surrounded by suburban residential development) such as campuses, parks, highway clover-leafs, power line corridors, cemeteries, etc., and eventually, residential homes. I added 50 to 80 boxes each year, until the trail plateaued in 2020 at 450 boxes, covering much of the county within the I-295 beltway, and a bit beyond.
The census showed me where bluebirds were, and by adding boxes to green spaces with an already occupied box, clusters formed. The census evolved into suburban bluebird clusters that I call “nurseries." Currently, occupancy is steady at 30%, generating 800 (+/- 100) fledglings each season. Encouragingly, some nursery clusters have achieved “saturation” (i.e., all boxes are in use, with no “spares”). These clusters are Ringhaver Park, Florida Baptist Children's Home, Ft. Caroline Middle School/Elementary, Venitia Elementary, Dunn Avenue’s Elementary/Middle School/athletic park, Wolfson High School, and Moncrief’s Miller Park. Some clusters are residential neighborhoods near green space oases such the San Jose Golf Club. And, as you may know, former Duval Audubon Society board member Brett Moyer at The Bolles School has similar projects at their campuses. (Also of note is the Northside Bluebird Trail, maintained for the last twenty years by dedicated Duval Audubon Society volunteer Laura Johannsen with help from volunteer Charlene West.)
I could use some help. But the most welcome help would be in the form of word-of-mouth advertising: chatter encouraging friends, neighbors, churches, scouts, PTAs, and HOAs** to add a cavity-nester nest box to their yard landscape, and monitor the box to:
** I can be engaged to speak or “Zoom-speak” for groups or organizations. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to include the word Bluebirds in the subject line.
~ Guest Contributor Ken Godwin
MANY VOICES FOR CONSERVATION AND
Continuing our series focusing on the contributions of historically under-recognized groups to conservation and environmental advocacy, this month we are featuring ornithologist Corina Newsome, whose work as a co-founder of Black Birders Week brought her to national attention in the summer of 2020. She and several other Black scientists organized the event in response to an incident in New York’s Central Park in which a Black birder’s confrontation with a white woman who refused to put her dog on a leash as required by park rules went viral. Black Birders Week was conceived as a way to not only highlight Black contributions to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but also normalize the fact that Black people ARE birders, scientists, and naturalists. Presentations addressed the Black experience in nature, noting in particular the lack of representation in the birding community that has often made Black people feel uncomfortable and less willing to enjoy the outdoors and nature.
From a young age, Ms. Newsome was interested in wildlife and nature and spent hours poring over old National Geographic issues at her grandmother’s house. But her concept of the career opportunities that might be available to her in the field were limited: all the scientists she saw in books and on TV were white, and it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she encountered a Black person who was working as a zookeeper. She was encouraged to do an internship at her local zoo, and only then realized that a career as a wildlife biologist was possible for her.
Ms. Newsome studied zoology as an undergraduate and began her professional career as a zookeeper at the Nashville Zoo, but was inspired to pursue graduate studies in ornithology after learning about Blue Jays in a field ornithology course. Her research specialty centers around the conservation of MacGillivray's Seaside Sparrows, a species threatened by climate change, sea level rise, and predation that lives in the coastal marshes of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. She has shared personal experiences of feeling uncomfortable while conducting her research in the field, and always makes sure that her binoculars and other equipment are visible to make her appear more official and avoid possible confrontations with people who may not think she belongs.
In the fall of 2020, she also became Georgia Audubon Society’s Community Engagement Manager, and has founded several programs aimed at encouraging high school students from underrepresented demographics to consider wildlife-centered careers. Her mission is “to center the perspectives and leadership of historically marginalized communities in wildlife conservation, environmental education, and exploration of the natural world.”
We at Duval Audubon Society recognize the value of diverse voices, and are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive environment. Our activities are open to everyone who is interested in birds and nature - all are welcome!
~ Carol Bailey-White, President
BIRDING DUVAL COUNTY
In past articles, we've highlighted some great birding spots in Clay County and Nassau County, and this month we'll share some of Duval County's best locations for birding. Duval County has so many excellent birding spots that it would be impossible to list them all here, but here are the three top sites in Duval, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's citizen science site, eBird:
Huguenot Memorial City Park: this site is THE top birding spot in Duval County, with sightings of 262 different species reported so far on eBird. The park hosts some of the most critical nesting habitat for shorebirds like Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Wilson's Plovers on the Atlantic Coast, and the beach is roped off during nesting season to protect these vulnerable species.
Another City of Jacksonville park, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is our second-hottest birding spot, with 242 species recorded on eBird. Hanna Park boasts a wide variety of habitats, including extensive wooded areas for warblers and woodpeckers, a freshwater lake for wading and diving birds like Anhingas, Cormorants, egrets and herons, and more than a mile of beachfront access for viewing shorebirds as well as seabirds like Northern Gannets, sea ducks, gulls, and terns.
The site with the third most bird sightings (234) as listed on eBird is Little Talbot Island State Park, the location of a famous Snowy Owl visit in December of 2013 and a somewhat less famous but still noteworthy visit by a Smooth-billed Ani in December of 2018. Little Talbot offers five miles of pristine beaches as well as marsh and maritime hammock habitat for a diversity of bird species observations. Visitors in the late spring and early summer may see beach nesting species like Least Terns, Wilson's Plovers, and Black Skimmers. In addition, it is an important stop-over site for migrant Piping Plovers and annually supports the highest number of Piping Plovers in the region.
Although those are the top three birding spots in Duval County, we also love birding at Spoonbill Pond, Reddie Point Preserve, Westside Industrial Park, Theodore Roosevelt Area, Sheffield Regional Park, and a hidden gem, St. Augustine Road Fish Management Area, to name just a few. There are many more excellent birding spots in Duval County than we can include here. Check out eBird's list of Top Duval County Hotspots for more places to enjoy your next birding adventure!
~ Carol Bailey-White, President
MEET YOUR DUVAL AUDUBON SOCIETY BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
Have you ever wondered what the directors of the Duval Audubon board do? Today we’ll introduce you to our Crosby Sanctuary Director, Pete Johnson, and give you a summary of what he does in that capacity. (As we are an all-volunteer organization, it’s important to note that this is an unpaid, volunteer position.)
Most of you already know that Crosby Sanctuary is our chapter’s own nature sanctuary in Orange Park, which we’ve owned since the mid-1980’s. Crosby is approximately 510 acres in size, and the bird and wildlife habitats within Crosby include mature bottomland hardwood swamp, live oak hammock, loblolly pine slope forest, freshwater marsh, and floodplain forest.
Pete states: “I have been active at the sanctuary since about 2002. Before I came on board the sanctuary was underutilized and needed some serious TLC. I saw an opportunity to connect people with nature at this majestic swamp forestland and started conducting workdays and nature walks. With the help of numerous volunteers, we did some invasive plant control work to reduce heavy amounts of exotic air potato from the south entrance area and upland woods. The volunteers included Duval Audubon members and outside groups such as the Florida Youth Challenge Academy.
In 2007 we expanded the south entrance at 427 Aquarius Concourse from a narrow access easement to a half-acre lot and started planting native plants along the front. This was when the live oak tree was planted near the front entrance area. We also made some infrastructure improvements including connecting the city water supply and installing a backflow preventer and hose bib system for watering plants and general use. Many other improvements have been made since then including installing a driveway apron at the road so we can more easily access the entrance area and trail for maintenance, installing benches, more native plants, and bird feeders. We also were able to expand the sanctuary by 60 acres in 2017 by soliciting and receiving a generous donation of unused land from the former developer of Orange Park Country Club. We’ve also improved the walking trails, built bridges and bought a brush mower to maintain the trails and entrance area.
You will notice that I keep saying “we” a lot in this article. That is because all of the great work and accomplishments at Crosby were done as a team effort with the board members of Duval Audubon and many gracious volunteers. I just help steer things along by providing coordination, planning, logistics and directions for volunteers on workday tasks to complete.
Throughout all of this I’ve had the pleasure to meet so many nice people who appreciate the natural world and birds. This may be one of the biggest benefits to the job!
After being the sanctuary director for close to 20 years, I’d like to convey to the membership and board that I don’t own this position. I am happy to continue, but I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking on the position if they would like to do so. If anyone is interested in being the sanctuary director, then please by all means let us know. A fresh perspective is always welcome and encouraged! Please also get in touch if you have an interest in a specific aspect or activity at Crosby and would like to get more involved out there.”
~ Pete Johnson, Crosby Sanctuary Director
Here is an update on our Lights Out Northeast Florida (LONF) partnership with St. Johns County Audubon Society and The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens: Volunteers have been out every week since mid-March looking for birds that have been injured or killed by building strikes in downtown Jacksonville. This is the initial data collection phase of the LONF program that hopes to encourage businesses and residents to turn off their lights at night during the spring and fall migration seasons to help save the lives of migrating birds.
Starting at dawn, volunteers walk pre-established routes in downtown Jacksonville. They record and collect any dead birds they find, and record and monitor/assist any injured birds they find. So far, the routes have been walked a total of 70 times, collecting 37 dead birds and assisting 18 stunned or injured birds. We hope that these findings will help encourage businesses and homeowners to turn their “lights out” to help migrating birds survive their arduous journey.
It has been an amazing effort by a very dedicated group of volunteers. They will finish at the end of May, but we expect to return to the routes in the fall to collect data on fall migration. Thank you, volunteers!
For additional information on our Lights Out initiative, check out this extraordinary documentary video created by University of North Florida student Ryan Nugent.
~ Carolyn Antman, Lights Out Northeast Florida Volunteer Coordinator
Here’s what’s happening in May:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Sometimes details of our events may have changed after this newsletter is distributed. An event could potentially have to be cancelled or the location changed. If you plan on attending one of our events, ALWAYS check our Calendar of Events, our Duval Audubon Society Meetup group, or our Facebook page the night before for any updates.
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Duval Audubon Society, Inc.