By Kiana Leveritte, Wildlife Sanctuary Program Intern
Lou Clymore has breathed life into the Atlanta Audubon Audubon Society for more than 12 years as a volunteer certifier for the Wildlife Sanctuary program. After taking a Tree Keepers class with Trees Atlanta, she was introduced to the literary works of Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, and she found the passion to make a difference. She began birding in her back yard, and now Lou doubles as a master birder and gardener, and her fervor for bird-friendly spaces is apparent in the zeal and attention she brings to the seven acres of flora in her back yard. As a certified Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary caretaker herself, Lou brings the same intensity to her yard and its best interests as she does to those spaces she certifies.
In each property she certifies, Lou is a fountain of wisdom pouring out support and advice to the property owners. Some might even consider her an avid environmental educator for her community. Her crusade brings her into different parts of Atlanta's concrete jungle, and she always loves seeing the spectrum of creativity people bring to their yards.
This same spirit of creativity shows when walking through her back yard. Although the beech tree is her personal favorite, Lou’s yard is a Piedmont native wonderland. From the array of native shrubs like hearts-a-bustin’, beautyberry, serviceberry, and American holly to the tall bigleaf magnolia, her yard has many sights to see. She has a glorious pollinator garden, trees, and winding vines that bring persimmons, blackberries, and mulberries into her household when they yield. Like many wildlife sanctuaries, Lou’s yard is home to many birds and other small critters, including beavers. Eastern Phoebes, Blue Jays, and Swamp Sparrows sing in your ears while Red-tailed Hawks, Brown-headed Nuthatches, and Sandhill Cranes fly overhead. It truly is a sight to behold. Everywhere you look, you see her love for the environment: bird boxes, bird baths, ground cover, plant diversity, and minimal invasive species so that the space thrives.
In her 12 years as volunteer certifier, Lou Clymore’s love for birds and the native Piedmont flora shines in the way that she guides people in her certifications and her surrounding community. The advice she offers to those who take the same torch is simple: “Enjoy it. Take in the experience as a volunteer certifier. Make memories, and learn what works as you go.” She also encourages other certifiers not to stray from being inquisitive about the properties and to revisit for clarity if needed. Her last piece of advice is to remain organized and keep copies of all the paperwork used in case of mishaps or misunderstandings.
Lou Clymore, we thank you for all your hard work and dedication to your community and the Wildlife Sanctuary program for the Atlanta Audubon Society. Your efforts are a reminder to us all on what it means to create thriving, bird-friendly spaces in Atlanta and its surrounding areas while encouraging others to do the same.
by Esther Stokes, Stokes Landscape Design and Atlanta Audubon Board Chair
Winter is a favorite time for me in wildlife sanctuaries and natural areas. Instead of a riot of flowers and bees, it is the evergreens that stand out. The berries stand out on winterberry hollies and American hollies. The grasses have lengthened to their full height, and they sway in the cooler winter breeze. There can be a lot of winter bird activity because they feed on all the seeds left from the growing season, some still on the plants and others resting on the ground, just waiting to be discovered by hungry birds. It is a quieter time, but it has its own special charm.
Whether the wildlife sanctuary is a residential garden or a 250-acre nature preserve, most of us bring to it a tendency to want to neaten it up. The growing season is past, we think it looks messy, the seedheads are ratty, some of the grass starts to lay over, and we wish it looked better. And so, before you know it, the gardener is out in the garden with pruners to neaten up. And the maintenance crew for the nature preserve seizes the moment to cut back, mow, prune, etc. We do want to control these spaces.
If you can resist the tendency to whack it all back, just think of the benefits: The birds have more to eat, the mammals have some cover and can find food in the overgrowth, the pollinators have laid eggs on (or in) the leaves or on the stalks, and keeping these things on the property will benefit next year’s populations. Leaving a bit of ground litter in your yard is a simple way to help the yard’s ecosystem remain balanced and keep native birds coming back for future visits.
The trick is to pick just the right time to cut things back or to mow if you have a meadow. We do have to mow (or cut back in the garden) at least once a year, because almost all the land in the Piedmont has a will to return to forest. If we don’t mow, volunteer trees spring up: first the pines and poplars, and then other species. Of course, the opportunistic weeds and plants will germinate as well, so “letting things go” is not an option. We have maintenance responsibilities; we just don’t have to be obsessive about it.
But by the time spring comes, we don’t want to have last year’s growth intermingled with new growth; we want to have things cleaned up by then. And so we must decide how neat we want things to be, how much chaos we can tolerate, and just when to get ready for spring. If you just can’t take the overgrowth, cut things back in most of your area and leave a portion standing for the birds. Do your best to keep leaves on your property for the benefit of the plants and the pollinators. And enjoy the slower time of winter.
by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
On Friday, October 19, 2018, the Atlanta Audubon Society recognized the City of Atlanta’s McDaniel Branch Wetlands as an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. The designation has been a collaborative effort between Atlanta Audubon Society and the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM).
“Atlanta Audubon is thrilled to partner with the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management to add McDaniel Branch and other wetland areas to our network of more than 450 certified wildlife habitats in Atlanta and north Georgia,” said Melinda Langston, Atlanta Audubon board member and Wildlife Sanctuary program coordinator.
The Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary program encourages both private and public properties to enhance their land for birds and other wildlife by installing native plants and providing food, water, and shelter for birds and other wildlife. “The welfare of birds and other wildlife is directly linked to the quality of food and shelter available to them,” says Langston. “The plantings used in the McDaniel Branch not only help hold the stream banks in place and improve water quality, but they also create valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife.”
This 12-acre property is nestled between the south Atlanta and High Point area of the city, and over the past year, plantings of a variety of native plant species have been underway, including wild rye, river oats, black- and brown-eyed Susan, partridge pea, ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, and Mexican hat coneflower. In addition, dozens of native trees, shrubs, aquatics, and riparian fringe species have been planted around the ponds, including red maple, river birch, overcup oak, water oak, American hornbeam, redbud, dogwood, beautyberry, button bush, sweetshrub, spicebush, and witch hazel.
The McDaniel Branch stormwater project was designed to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff in and around Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods. The constructed wetlands central to this project mimic natural systems for managing stormwater. As a way to help hold the stream banks of the McDaniel Branch Wetlands in place, the Department of Watershed Management’s Green Infrastructure team installed a number of aquatic and riparian fringe plants, including flatstem spikerush, swamp sunflower, Louisiana iris, pickleweed, bluestem, upland sea oats, cardinal flower and cinnamon fern. A mowing plan has also been implemented to allow native plants to thrive and avoid harming ground-nesting birds and other wildlife during the nesting season.
The wetland is home to variety of bird species, including the Wood Thrush, Green Heron, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-headed Woodpecker.
The McDaniel Branch Wetlands is located at 441 Bowen Circle SW, Atlanta, GA 30315 and is open to the public. If you live in the area, Atlanta Audubon Society encourages you to check it out for birding and outdoor recreation.
For more information on certifying a property as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, visit https://www.atlantaaudubon.org/wildlife-sanctuary-certification.html.
by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
An explosion of color greets visitors arriving at the Roswell home of Mim Eisenberg, and that is just the way she planned it. Even on a chilly, late November morning there are still a smattering of flowering plants adding a splash of color to the autumn landscape. There is also a steady stream of colorful visitors to the bird feeders: the usual collection of titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and wrens and then, much to our delight, a Red-breasted Nuthatch not five feet from where we were standing. Surprise! The purpose of our visit was to certify Mim’s yard as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. Georgia LaMar and Sheryl Berg were the volunteer certifiers, and I was just tagging along to take some photographs.
Nestled on a one-third acre, corner lot in east Roswell, the main garden lies in the side yard, where everyone who walks or drives by can see it. It quickly becomes apparent on the sunny, cool morning we visited that we weren’t the only one enjoying her garden; many of the neighbors, dog walkers, and other passersby were also taking advantage of the visual feast that is Mim’s garden.
Originally from New York City, Mim moved to Atlanta in 1994 because she was tired of apartment living and wanted a house she could afford. Atlanta’s four seasons and short, mild winters were also selling points on her decision to relocate south. “I bought my ranch-style house in 1995 because it’s on a corner, with lovely light coming through the clerestory windows, and I envisioned creating a perennial garden on the land,” says Mim.
A professional editor and oral history interview transcriptionist, Mim is the owner of WordCraft, Inc., receiving copy and interview files from all over the U.S. for transcribing, editing, and proofreading. Fast forward 24 years, and Mim still does contract work, but she also volunteers her time to proofread for Atlanta Audubon, the Georgia Ornithological Society, and other conservation and nonprofit groups, a service that is deeply appreciated. If you’re reading this or any other Atlanta Audubon article or publications, chances are good that Mim has already taken her editor’s pen to it. She’s tough, but she keeps us honest, and it’s good to know that our articles and copy are error free.
On certification day, Mim and her two adorable, energetic dogs, Molly, a tiny, 4-year-old Papillon, and Jazz, a tri-color, almost 2-year-old Pomeranian, show us around the yard. Georgia LaMar, a long-time volunteer certifier, has some questions. “How would you describe your style?” she asks.
“I have a cottage garden filled with a riot of colorful perennials that attract birds and insects and that bloom from early spring to early winter,” says Mim. “Inherently rather lazy, I wanted to create a mostly perennial garden that would attract birds and wildlife while requiring little more than water and occasional fertilizing to be healthy, and so the journey began. And little by little, one by one, I added plants that would flower during three seasons, just as those in my mom's garden in Connecticut used to,” Mim told us.
Mim waited years to certify her yard over concerns it lacked the required 50% native plants, but Georgia and Sheryl assure her that the large overstory oak trees, including red oak, hickory, and sweetgum, are more than adequate compensation for the smattering of non-native plants that provide color and visual interest to the landscape. Mim discusses her plans to add more native plants to her garden in the coming years, but also shares that it can be challenging to find plants that are free of neonicotinoids. This class of insecticides is used to treat many plants that are available at big-box retailers and nurseries. The “neonics,” as they are called, are designed to discourage insects from consuming the plants, but they are water soluble and spread easily in the landscape. Studies have shown that neonics can have disastrous consequences for bees, birds, and other pollinators. Instead, Mim looks for her plants at native plant sales, such as the ones hosted by the Chattahoochee Nature Center or the Georgia Native Plant Society. She also recommends Santa Rosa Gardens in Florida as a great source for neonic-free plants.
As she guides us around, the incessant noise of bulldozers and heavy equipment drones in the background. Much to Mim’s dismay, a 58.4-acre swath of forest behind her home was leveled in October 2016, and a subdivision is slowly going up in its place. This type of rampant clear-cutting for new subdivisions has become all too common in the metro area, and Mim is just sick at the number of trees that have been cut down and the habitat that has been destroyed. “I cherish my garden and am thrilled that there is so much wildlife in it, fulfilling one of my purposes in creating it. Even though it’s just one-third of an acre, I would like to think that some of the creatures displaced by the clear-cutting have found a home in my garden.”
After a tour of the side yard, Molly, Jazz, and Mim lead us into her small, fenced back yard, featuring more native trees, shrubs, raised flower beds, bird houses, a small patio fountain, and bird bath.
“What are your favorite plants?” Georgia asks. “I love all of my plants,” says Mim, “but the two that have over the years paid for themselves many times over are the Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ and my [native] New England aster because they are virtually care free and attract a myriad of butterflies and other pollinators.” Another insect magnet is Veronica spicata ‘sunny border blue’, she says. [Readers, please note that lantana and veronica are not native plants to Georgia.]
In addition to her gardening, Mim is an accomplished photographer and takes photos of the birds that visit the feeders just outside her kitchen window. Over the years, Mim has shared on social media sites photos of the birds and animals that visit her garden. She still posts regularly to www.flickr.com/photos/mimbrava/.
After a tour of the yard, we head inside so that Georgia and Sheryl can compile their notes. Jazz and Molly show off a few of their tricks, including the remarkable ability to recognize and retrieve by name (e.g., green donut, yellow ring, etc.) various toys from the pile near their crates. After a bit of Q&A about outdoor cats (a big no-no) and fertilizer/chemical use (natural/organic only, please), Georgia and Sheryl congratulate Mim and present her with an official Atlanta Audubon Sanctuary sign, adding her to the network of more than 450 Atlanta Audubon certified properties in the Atlanta.
That afternoon, a neighbor friend helped mount the sanctuary sign in her garden, and the very next day an Eastern Bluebird landed on her sign, giving the bird-friendly seal of approval. She snapped its photo and gave us permission to use it on the sanctuary section of our website.