CHIMNEY SWIFT TOWER PLANNED FOR SAMS LAKE BIRD SANCTUARY IN FAYETTE COUNTY: ATLANTA AUDUBON RECEIVES GRANT TO BUILD TOWER
by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
Atlanta Audubon will be building a 12-foot-tall Chimney Swift tower with a wrap-around educational kiosk at Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary, in Fayetteville, Georgia, thanks to a grant from the American Birding Expo Conservation Fund. Atlanta Audubon was one of seven recipients of grants from this organization.
Atlanta Audubon will partner on this tower project with the Southern Conservation Trust, a nonprofit land trust organization that manages eight public nature areas throughout south metro Atlanta, including Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary. To date, Southern Conservation Trust has conserved more than 32,000 acres across the southeast and is working to certify their public nature areas as Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Chimney Swift tower installation at Sams Lake is part of Atlanta Audubon’s effort to conserve and raise public awareness of the habitat- and climate-threatened Chimney Swift.
Still a fairly common sight in Atlanta, Chimney Swifts are being forced to respond to additional threats across their range—from chimney capping, to tree removal, to a decreasing supply of insects due to pesticides, pollution, and climate change. Other issues, such as building collisions and challenges on swifts’ wintering grounds are exacerbating population declines. The conservation status of the Chimney Swift was recently updated to Vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
“The Chimney Swift is Atlanta Audubon’s focal bird species for 2019-2020, and we were delighted to receive this grant from American Birding Expo to construct a tower at Sam’s Lake Bird Sanctuary,” says Nikki Belmonte, Atlanta Audubon Executive Director. “Capable of consuming up to 1,000 insects per day per bird, Chimney Swifts are an important part of our southern landscapes, and our goal is to create more nesting and roosting habitat for these birds through towers like the one at Piedmont Park and Sam’s Lake.”
The American Birding Expo was founded by Bird Watcher’s Digest editor and publisher, Bill Thompson, III. The Expo provides bird watchers and nature lovers an opportunity to connect with birding-related companies and organizations, including optics manufacturers, tour companies, bird feeding stores, gift items, birding festivals and clubs, destinations, travel agencies, and more. To promote the conservation of wild birds and their habitats, The Expo Conservation Fund, supported by Expo raffles and silent auctions, annually grants funds to bird conservation organizations and projects.
"The Southern Conservation Trust is excited to work with the Atlanta Audubon on this project,” says Nick Kilburg, Southern Conservation Trust Director of Conservation and Outdoor Education. “The chimney swift tower will help the Trust further educational efforts while providing habitat for this vulnerable and beneficial bird."
Atlanta Audubon Society is building places where birds and people thrive. We create birds -friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
The Southern Conservation Trust elevates nature through exceptional stewardship of conserved lands and public lands.
By Dottie Head
Sometimes you meet someone who just makes you say “wow!” That was my reaction when meeting Isabella Asztalos, from Norcross. A 13-year-old, home schooled 8th grader and two-year participant in the Atlanta Urban Ecologists (AUE) program, Isabella’s resume is impressive. What’s more impressive is her knowledge of and compassion for the natural world (especially birds!). Young people, like Isabella, give me hope for our future.
Isabella was part of AUE during the 2017-18 school year. She enjoyed it so much that she signed up again for 2018-19. If you’re not familiar with the program, AUE is an 8-month program offered by Atlanta Audubon, Blue Heron Nature Preserve and The Amphibian Foundation. These groups, along with other sponsors, collaborate to offer students in grades 8 through 12 an exciting glimpse into the world of wildlife conservation. By visiting different venues in the metro area, participants gain a diversity of experiences that include going behind the scenes at Zoo Atlanta, banding wild birds, and exploring Arabia Mountain's rich ecological systems. Each session is led by professionals who facilitate the learning and expose students to a variety of conservation and environment-based career pathways.
Isabella was fortunate to connect with Tixie Fowler, though Tixie argues it’s the other way around. Regardless, Tixie and Isabella were neighbors living within easy walking distance of Johnson Dean Forest, a small remnant pocket of forest located near bustling downtown Norcross. Joining them on a recent chilly morning walk through the forest, the camaraderie between the two was evident.
Tixie is the Executive Director of Gardens for Growing Community, a non-profit dedicated to connecting youth and nature. Despite the age difference, Tixie and Isabella hit it right off, and Isabella became Tixie’s “right hand helper” for many of the local workshops and community presentations that she organizes. “Isabella has always been very willing to jump in and help with all the details that go into setting up and running our conservation workshops,” says Tixie. “She also is an avid and hungry learner, and even when the content was on an adult level, she would sit patiently and fully engaged, soaking up every word. Her love for birds and her ability to identify them by song as well as shape and color totally amazes me–I wasn't a birder before I met Isabella, but she opened that world up to me.”
As an environmental educator, Tixie is actively involved in organizing community outreach activities, workshops and presentations. Isabella was usually seen at her side helping set up and manage events. They partnered with the Atlanta Coyote Project in an effort to calm their neighbors' fears about urban coyotes. Isabella helped the Norcross Garden Club conduct a “Bats as Pollinators” workshop and was a huge help at the club's annual plant sales. She also provided Tixie with valued insight into making activities more interesting for kids.
“Isabella was my assistant with the Kids in Conservation summer workshops during which youth spent the day outside exploring the forest learning about various areas of conservation, sort of a mini, localized AUE,” says Tixie. “If anything was boring or confusing, she would suggest ideas on how to make it better for kids.”
“She was also a great help with the other younger participants,” continues Tixie. “Although Isabella doesn't generally talk a lot, when the subject is about birds, wild animals and nature, her whole face lights up, and both kids and adults listen very respectfully to what she has to say. And the AUE instructors love her because she asks great questions!”
Isabella and Tixie are both active with the Friends of Johnson Dean Forest, a group of local conservation-minded volunteers who created and continue to maintain the trails and nurture natural habitat within the 11-acre city preserve. This work, inspired further by what she learned in the Kids in Conservation workshops, motivated Isabella to solicit the Norcross City Council last fall for a mayoral proclamation formally recognizing Johnson Dean as a valuable community asset. She also asked them to commit the funds needed for signage that would designate the preserve as an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. Isabella was assisted by 7-year-old Abby Maguire, another nature enthusiast she met in the Kids in Conservation workshops.
For their presentation to the City Council, Isabella and Abby laid out Audubon's requirements for certification Wildlife Sanctuary and explained why protecting native birds and plants is important. They engaged (and in some cases stumped) Council by asking several questions such as “what are the four things that wildlife need to survive and thrive?” and “why are birds important?” Taking the request very seriously, Council members asked the two girls several questions in return, and were impressed by their thoughtful and knowledgeable answers.
“After much discussion about protecting native birds and plants, the Mayor asked the girls to name their favorite bird,” recounts Tixie. “Abby instantly replied ‘the flamingo’, which cracked everyone up and basically sealed the deal on the decision to support the girls’ request.”
Fast forward to fall, when Atlanta Audubon certifiers visited the property and, agreeing with the young girls' assessment, officially certified it as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. By this time, Isabella had been invited to serve on Sustainable Norcross' Bee City USA Committee, and asked to help develop a Youth Advisory Committee for the Sustainable Norcross team. Keep in mind, Isabella IS ONLY 13 YEARS OLD!
Unfortunately, Isabella is unable to continue these commitments because her father accepted a new position in south Florida, and Isabella's family relocated just before the first of the year. This ended her involvement with the City of Norcross and broke Tixie’s heart in the process.
“She was my nature buddy—I feel like an essential part of me is missing,” says Tixie. “But her mother recently sent me a video showing the siblings playing in the new pool, while Isabella was totally absorbed in exploring their new backyard and making some well-thought out decisions about where to hang her bird feeders. She truly and deeply loves wild things.”
While we’re all sad to see Isabella move to Florida, we can only imagine what conservation issues she will find to get involved with in her new home. Tixie assures me that they are keeping in touch, and that she will send us updates.
In the meantime, Tixie is helping Isabella sell her bird-themed note cards back here in Atlanta (did I mention that Isabella is also an accomplished artist?) The cards are available in the Atlanta Audubon store, with proceeds split between helping Isabella keep her birdfeeders full of tasty seeds and suet and supporting the Atlanta Audubon programs that have given Isabella the confidence and resources to make a difference in wildlife conservation. You may purchase sets of Isabella’s notecards in the Atlanta Audubon online store.
On Friday, February 8, the Atlanta Audubon Society officially recognized Briarlake Forest Park, in DeKalb County, as an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. The certification was a collaborative effort between Atlanta Audubon and the Friends of Briarlake Forest. The designation is a fitting tribute for the friends group that has worked tirelessly to protect and restore this 21-acre old-growth forest located near Northlake Mall.
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.
“Atlanta Audubon is thrilled to partner with the Friends of Briarlake Forest Park to add this beautiful old-growth forest to our network of more than 500 certified wildlife habitats in Atlanta and north Georgia,” says Melinda Langston, Atlanta Audubon board member and Wildlife Sanctuary Program Coordinator. “The welfare of birds and other wildlife is directly linked to the quality of food and shelter available to them. The hard work of the friends group has not only created valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife, but has also preserved this wonderful forest located in central DeKalb County for future generations.”
The 21-acre Briarlake Forest Park was acquired by DeKalb County’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs in 2015. The Friends of Briarlake Park have worked with DeKalb County to remove invasive plant species, such as privet and English ivy, and to add native plant species, including native azaleas, autumn fern, blueberry bushes, and native grasses that benefit birds and other wildlife. With multiple trails for public use, Briarlake Forest Park boasts more than 60 specimen trees, including a 250-year-old white oak that stands near the house on the property and several magnificent beech trees. Future plans call for the old homestead to be developed into an education center for the community.
“The friends group for Briarlake Forest Park wishes to thank Atlanta Audubon for recognizing the significant habitat that we have been able to save and protect for the future of our community,” says Margo Reynolds, a member of the Friends of Briarlake Forest Park and Chair of the Grounds, Trails, and Maintenance Committee. “Our goal is to maintain an environment that encourages protection for all of our bird species and other wildlife within the forest for generations to come and to educate our children about the value of having green space in our neighborhoods. Having a 21-acre old growth forest in the middle of an urban community is a rare and beautiful asset and having the bird population that the forest supports is a testament to nature that is a joy to behold.”
For more information on certifying a property as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, visit https://www.atlantaaudubon.org/wildlife-sanctuary-certification.html.
Atlanta Audubon Society is committed to building places where birds and people thrive. We create birds -friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
Mark your calendars and make plans to attend Atlanta Audubon’s 4th Annual Atlanta Bird Fest, which will run from April 13 through May 19, 2019. The Southeast’s largest bird and nature festival, Atlanta Bird Fest features a full month of activities, including field trips to Georgia’s best birding hotspots, nature-based workshops, and guest speakers. Events are tailored to all levels of bird, nature, and outdoor enthusiasts—there’s something for everyone!
The 2019 Atlanta Bird Fest will kick off with an event featuring Noah Strycker. In 2015, Strycker set a worldwide record for his Big Year of Birding, spotting 6,042 of the world’s estimated 10,400 bird species in a continuous journey spanning all seven continents from January 1 to December 31. Strycker will be in town the weekend of April 13 and 14 leading birding trips and giving the keynote address at the Atlanta Bird Fest Opening Celebration on Sunday, April 14, at the Trees Atlanta Kendeda Center.
Over the subsequent four weekend, there will be a variety of events for bird and nature enthusiasts ranging from a bird walk and luncheon at Serenbe, a Wine and Warblers Trip to north Georgia, a bird walk followed by a coffee and chocolate tasting on the Atlanta BeltLine, a field trip to see Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, a Shorebird Trip to the Georgia coast, and more.
The month-long event will end with a Closing Celebration at Sweetwater Brewery on Sunday, May 19, featuring Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Geography, the director of the UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences program, and past-president of the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Shepherd is a leading international expert in weather and climate. His TedX Talk on “Slaying the Climate Zombies” is still one of the most-watched lectures about climate change on YouTube. X Atlanta talk on "Slaying the Climate Zombies is still one of the mos
Early registration will begin on March 1, 2019, for Atlanta Audubon Society members and will open to the general public on March 8, 2019. For a complete listing of events or to register, please visit www.atlantaaudubon.org/atlanta-bird-fest.
Atlanta Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.