by Dottie Head, Director of Membership and Communications
On Thursday, April 11, the Atlanta Audubon Society officially recognized the Jean and Elwood Wright Environmental Education Center in Cobb County as an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. A collaborative effort between Atlanta Audubon and the Cobb County Master Gardeners, the Wright Center is the first Cobb County Park to be added to the network of more than 500 Atlanta Audubon-certified Wildlife Sanctuaries across the metro area and north Georgia.
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 Cobb County Master Gardeners to add the Wright Environmental Education Center to our network or certified sanctuaries, and we’re particularly thrilled to add our first public park in Cobb County,” 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, and the Cobb County Master Gardeners have done a wonderful job of adding and highlighting a variety of plant species native to Georgia’s Piedmont region to this acreage. With the onsite education center and a nice trail system, the Wright Center is a wonderful resource for the community.”
Located at 2661 Johnson Ferry Road, in Marietta, the Jean and Elwood Wright Environmental Education Center belonged to the Wright family from the mid-1940s until 2003 when it became a Cobb County Park. The Wright’s were committed to adding native trees and plants to what was then a nearly barren landscape, and the property is now boasts a wealth of large trees and native, understory plants. The Cobb County Master Gardeners have spent countless hours clearing invasive plant species and adding additional native plants to the landscape. In addition, Cobb County has renovated the house on the property with classrooms, restrooms, and a small kitchen for use by school, scout, and other groups. The trail system meanders through the entire property passing through towering oaks, tulip poplars, and other mature trees. Many plants native to Georgia thrive in the park, some listed as unusual by the state. A unique feature of the center is a “plant jail” created by the Master Gardeners. The plant jail is a selection of non-native, invasive plants that have been removed from the property and replaced with native Georgia species.
“The Master Gardeners believe that Jean Wright, the original owner of this property, would be delighted with the Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary designation,” says Judy Beard, one of the Cobb County Master Gardeners who spearheaded the effort to certify this property. “This certification represents her deep love for birds and wildlife of all types and her lifelong desire to make her home into a natural habitat for wildlife.”
For more information on certifying a property as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, visit https://www.atlantaaudubon.org/wildlife-sanctuary-certification.html.
Atlanta Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
Atlanta ranks high in the threats to birds from window collision related deaths, according to a recently released study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. During fall migration, Atlanta ranks number four. In the spring, Atlanta ranks number nine for collision-related deaths. Atlanta Audubon is studying bird-building collisions and taking steps to reduce bird fatalities through its Project Safe Flight Atlanta and Lights Out Atlanta programs.
The Cornell study ranked metropolitan areas where, due to a combination of light pollution and geography, birds are at the greatest risk of becoming attracted to and disoriented by lights and crashing into buildings. The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It combines satellite data showing light pollution levels with weather radar measuring bird migration density.
Chicago, Houston, and Dallas ranked one through three during both fall and spring migration. Because many birds alter their migration routes between spring and fall, rankings of the most-dangerous cities change slightly with the season, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. During spring migration billions of birds pass through the central U.S, therefore cities in the middle of the country comprise the most-dangerous list for that season. Fall bird migration tends to be more intense along the heavily light-polluted Atlantic seaboard, which is why four eastern cities make the list in autumn.
Each year, an estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds die in the U.S. after colliding with buildings. In Atlanta, Project Safe Flight Atlanta volunteers patrol selected routes during peak bird migration periods collecting birds that have died or been injured after colliding with buildings. Since the program began in 2015, volunteers have collected more than 1,200 birds of 100 different species.
In an effort to reduce the number of bird-building collisions, Atlanta Audubon launched the Lights Out Atlanta Program in spring 2017. A voluntary program, Lights Out Atlanta encourages building owners and residential homeowners to turn off or reduce lighting from midnight to dawn during peak bird migration periods. Participants pledge to reduce non-essential lighting during peak migration periods of March 15 to May 31 (spring) and August 15 to November 15 (fall). The pledge is available on the Atlanta Audubon website at www.atlantaaudubon.org/loa. Since Lights Out Atlanta launched in spring 2017, nearly 300 homeowners and 16 commercial properties have pledged to turn the lights out to help birds.
“We were saddened, but not terribly surprised when we received a call from Cornell letting us know about this study and sharing that Atlanta ranks high in the number of bird-building collisions,” says Adam Betuel, Director of Conservation for Atlanta Audubon. “The Atlantic flyway is a major migration path for many birds, and millions of birds pass through Atlanta each spring and fall on their way to and from wintering grounds in South and Central America. We hope to use this data to help us enact meaningful programs, like our Lights Out Atlanta Program, to reduce the number of collisions and educate the public about ways they can help. Cornell estimates that a quarter-million birds die from collisions with houses and residences each year, so homeowners in the metro area can play and important role through simple steps, like turning out the nighttime lights during spring and fall migration.”
For more information on Project Safe Flight Atlanta and Lights Out Atlanta, please visit www.atlantaaudubon.org/project-safe-flight-atlanta or www.atlantaaudubon.org/loa.
Atlanta Audubon Society is building places where birds and people thrive. We create birds -friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
by Kiana Leveritte, WIldlife Sanctuary Program Intern
Margaret Stephen, affectionately known as Maggie by those close to her, has been a wonderful helping hand with the sanctuary program as a certifier for the past four years. She was drawn to the idea of property owners finding new and inventive ways to change their gardens and landscapes to fit their personal style while keeping the environment in mind. Since being a certifier, Margaret has completed more than 16 visits, four of which resulted in sanctuary certifications. Giving homeowners their official Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary signs is the part of the job she enjoys the most. This also inspires her to further encourage those who are still on their way to being certified. Maggie has been there to lend a helping hand in more ways than one when it comes to promoting the program to prospective sanctuary owners, including volunteering at a number of tabled events to provide information. Her help is always appreciated.
In addition to being a certifier, Maggie has also been a member of the Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) for more than 10 years. She loves plants. The lady’s slipper is her favorite because of its rarity and ephemeral beauty. She is also a master birder. Like most bird lovers, Maggie does not have a particular favorite, but instead takes the time to appreciate all the species around her and their existence. Always enjoying challenging herself since retiring from four careers, Margaret Stephen finds the time to volunteer in her community on a regular basis as a way to give back. A great example is her work with the Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC). She lends a hand in their Unity Garden (and has since its inception), where they propagate both rare and commercial plants. Maggie can also be found assisting with plant rescues and plant sales.
Maggie offers this tidbit of advice to certifiers: “ The most important thing is to enjoy it and like interacting with people. Don't be intimidated by the criteria—that will come. Education is an important part of saying ’no’. There is often a gap between a pristine lot with birds, feeders, nursery plants, and a beautiful lawn and the need for native plants—plus the elimination of invasives. The key is to help them understand why it is important to provide a true sanctuary and outline the steps they can take to make it happen.” The Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Program is grateful to Margaret Stephen for all that she does for the program not only as a certifier, but also as an inspiration to future certifiers.
by Ellen Honeycutt, Georgia Native Plant Society
The Eastern Bluebird is a native, year-round bird in Georgia, and I know it’s one that encourages a lot of us to learn more about the birds in our landscape. I am thrilled each spring to see a pair build a nest in one of my boxes. During the winter, I put out suet for them and a few mealworms, especially on very cold days, but during the spring and summer I let my plants provide for them.
Insectivores like the Eastern Bluebird eat insects primarily as adults and exclusively when still in the nest. A diet of insects includes flies, spiders, bees, beetles, wasps, and caterpillars. A recent study of breeding Carolina Chickadees found that the adults provided as many as 9,500 insects to a nest of four chicks over a two-week period. I certainly never realized that I had 9,500 insects in my garden, but the birds manage to find that many for their babies as well as more for themselves.
Growing insects for your resident (and visiting) insectivores is not hard to do when you use native plants as the backbone of your garden. Native insects evolved with native plants, and they flourish when those are available, creating lots of offspring for the birds to eat. Entomologist Doug Tallamy helped us to appreciate the closeness of this relationship with his book Bringing Nature Home. The book included a list of the native plant groups that support the largest number of insect herbivores (those that eat plants as part of their life cycle), such as butterflies and moths.
Fortunately, the number one plant group is the mighty oak (the scientific genus Quercus). It supports more than 550 different species of insects. Most of us have oaks in our landscapes already, and these native giants are in parks and along roadsides, attracting female insects to lay eggs and feeding insectivorous birds in the process. We didn’t even know, did we? The trees aren’t defoliated by these insects because the birds keep the insect populations in check.
Oaks can’t do it alone because many insects use something else, so let’s see what else is on Dr. Tallamy’s list. Number two is the family that includes native cherries and plums (the scientific genus Prunus). The black cherry that dropped tiny fruits on the driveway supports more than 450 insects, so it’s worth keeping. Additional trees and shrubs that support high numbers of insects are willow (Salix), birch (Betula), crabapple (Malus), blueberry (Vaccinium), maple (Acer), elm (Ulmus), pine (Pinus), hickory (Carya), and hawthorn (Crataegus).
Perennial plants are hosts for insect herbivores too. We all remember the relationship that monarch butterflies have with milkweed, right? At the top of the list for perennials is goldenrod (Solidago), a group of plants that has many well-behaved members that bring beauty to our fall gardens; it supports more than 115 types of insect herbivores. Other plants in the list include aster (Symphyotrichum), sunflower (Helianthus), Joe Pye weed and boneset (Eupatorium), violet (Viola), geranium (Geranium), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), and iris (Iris).
Most of these plants also have beautiful flowers that bring in the other insects that birds eat, such as bees, beetles, and butterflies as well as the predatory (and just as tasty to birds) arthropods like spiders. Using native plants in your garden brings a veritable smorgasbord of insect meals for your bluebirds, warblers, and many others. Spring is a great time to add native plants to your garden. Some of the best native plant sales happen in late March through April. Make your list of insect-growing plants now and rest easy all summer long while your garden feeds the birds for you.
By Melanie Furr, Director of Education
I first met Kimberly Johnson four years ago, when she invited me to present a program about the common birds of Atlanta to her gifted students at Hightower Elementary, a Title I school in DeKalb County. Like most students I interact with, her students were enthusiastic to learn about birds, but I remember thinking her class was exceptionally attentive and knowledgeable. After the program, she showed me a beautiful display of bird-themed books she had created in the school library. Little did I know that afternoon that Kimberly and I would have several opportunities to work together to connect students with birds and the natural world around them.
The following spring, when Kimberly applied for a spot in Atlanta Audubon’s summer professional development workshop for teachers, Taking Wing, from a new teaching position at Hutchinson Elementary (in the Atlanta Public Schools district), I didn’t immediately recognize her name, so I was thrilled when she reminded me we’d met previously at Hightower. An eager and enthusiastic workshop participant, Kim incorporated new teaching ideas from the training when the school year resumed, getting her students even more involved in bird study, writing a grant and receiving binoculars for her class, and putting up feeders and nest boxes. When Atlanta Audubon received funding to support our Connecting Students to STEM through Birds program, which provides bird-friendly native plant gardens, classroom resources, and binoculars to Title I schools in metropolitan Atlanta, in addition to training for teachers and programming for students, collaborating with Kimberly and Hutchinson Elementary was an obvious choice.
In the spring of 2017, about 30 teachers, students, and parents from Hutchinson showed up after school to help with the installation of Hutchinson’s native plant garden, led by our partner, Daniel Ballard, of Convivial Gardens, LLC. Before the planting started, Daniel and I talked to the students about the connection between birds and plants and explained that we were about to create a buffet for wildlife. Daniel pretended to eat a caterpillar, which made all of the children laugh. We planted about 90 plants, including trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, all selected to provide food and cover for birds and requiring minimal care. In spite of a hot afternoon and tough digging conditions, everyone couldn’t have been more enthusiastic or helpful. Several older boys eagerly volunteered to dig the big holes for a beautiful river birch and a pair of wax myrtles, while younger children worked in pairs to plant smaller perennials like purple coneflower, beautyberry, goldenrod, and little bluestem. At the end of the afternoon, when Kimberly hung a nectar feeder on a newly installed post, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird showed up within minutes—a perfect ending to our efforts.
Recently, Conservation Program Coordinator Lillie Kline, Conservation Program Intern Kiana Leveritte, and I had the opportunity to return to Hutchinson Elementary and certify it as an official Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. Although the native plants in the school garden require minimal maintenance, students and teachers have done an excellent job tending the garden and keeping it free of invasive plants, and I was amazed to see how much everything had grown and filled in. The goldenrod, barely knee-high when planted, is now taller than most of the students, who, in spite of a bitter cold wind on the day of our visit, were excited to show us around. They were especially proud of the kiosk with informational flyers they had made, highlighting birds and plants found in the garden. Kimberly reports that they have recorded 31 species of birds on their campus, which sits just a stone’s throw from I-75 in the southwest corner of Atlanta, noting that students have been particularly amazed by flocks of Cedar Waxwings that have visited the past couple of winters. Her students are currently studying migration patterns of birds that pass through Georgia, using eBird to create maps of their routes.
Visiting Hutchinson is a great reminder that beautiful birds can turn up anywhere. Providing quality habitat, even on a small scale, can make an important difference for birds. Where birds are thriving, people also flourish—just like the smiling students showing off their garden at Hutchinson Elementary. We are grateful for Kimberly’s partnership and her dedication to sharing the joy of birding and nature with her students, and we look forward to our next opportunity to visit Hutchinson. We can’t wait to create more certified bird-friendly gardens in Atlanta-area schools.
by Melinda Langston, Wildlife Sanctuary Program Coordinator
A place of beauty and refuge, the home and garden of Jennie and Wayne Richardson stand out as an urban oasis on Atlanta’s eastern edge, where thousands of commuters are ushered in and out of the city on Ponce de Leon Avenue along the undulating lines of the Olmstead Parks. In the truest sense of the word “sanctuary” and in keeping with the mission of Atlanta Audubon, the Richardsons have built a place where people and birds thrive.
Much of the Richardson’s sanctuary is devoted to growing daylilies and other plants sold at plant sales benefitting the various conservation organizations with which Jennie is involved, including Lullwater Conservation Garden and the Olmsted Linear Parks Alliance (OLPA). With OLPA, Jennie leads walks describing the trees, identifying plants (native as well as invasive species), and retelling the rich history of the Druid Hills community. She is well-versed in the design principles of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who planned the string of linear parks along Ponce de Leon Ave on Atlanta’s east side (Springdale, Virgilee, Oak Grove, Shadyside, Dellwood and Deepdene). With her knowledge and insight, Jennie has helped ensure the original designs of Olmsted are adhered to in both selection and placement of native plants as these parks are restored.
When asked what motivated her to learn so much about native plants, Jennie’s response was quick and easy: “My grandmother, Melba Edwards Mitcham,” she said. As her story goes, when Jennie was three years old, her grandmother bought a cabin in Dahlonega, near Camp Glisson. Visits to her grandmother’s house were all about the great outdoors—no cozying up under feather comforters. “We were outside, built campfires, and slept under the stars.” Grandmother Mitcham, a master judge in the Garden Club of Georgia, had a great influence over Jennie’s desire to know everything there is to know about native plants and their many uses, including as food (for people and wildlife), medicines, dyes for fibers, face paint, and more. The giant, soft absorbent leaves of the mullein plant were once used to diaper babies.
Some of the more exciting happenings in the Richardsons’ sanctuary included watching a Barred Owl swoop into a large azalea bush where Jennie knew Blue Jays were nesting. “It was like an earthquake in there,” she said. “A whole lot of shaking was going on before the Blue Jays chased the owl away and their babies were safe.”
Another time, a Great Blue Heron was fishing their pond from its perch high on the neighbor’s roof. “Let’s just say the heron won that round,” Jennie said, and is now the subject of a painting overlooking the fishless pond. Another notable and harmless guest to their garden pond was the turtle, a yellow-bellied slider with its rough overlapping plates, perhaps visiting from nearby Lullwater Creek.
Musicians both, Wayne and Jennie add their classical tunes to the ever-present musical sounds of the garden—murmuring water, songbirds, wind chimes. Wayne plays classical guitar, and Jennie plays flute, harp, and keyboard. Art is created there as well. Jennie is a prolific artist, finding her inspiration from nature within her garden and beyond. She has painted a series of images depicting the famous Druid tree in Shadyside Park in different seasons and varying conditions.
This sanctuary boasts a large and mature tree canopy of oaks (Darlington, water, and white), maples, and an understory of yellow wood, dogwood, redbud, oak-leaf hydrangeas, and scores of azaleas.
The Richardsons sanctuary is graced by a large and varied collection of 35 or more colorful, fragrant native American or hybridized azaleas, including Rhododendron alabamense, arborescens, austrinum (Florida), calendulaceum, canescens, flammeum (Oconee), prunifolium, periclymenoides, and vaseyi (Pinkshell), with the yellow “Choptank” being Jennie’s favorite.
The Richardsons are very generous with their sanctuary. Early each spring Jennie places a sign in the driveway welcoming friends, neighbors, and passersby to wander their garden, take photos, and enjoy the fabulous displays of blooming plants, primarily daylilies and native azaleas.
Jennie has spent 25 years growing, propagating, and displaying a great variety of daylilies: Dominic, Mountain Violet, Becky Sharpe, Fountain Tune, Little Business, Peach Magnolias, Spider Daylily, Mighty Saga, and Pink Sleigh. All are descendants of the “orange ditch lily.” Jennie describes her current favorite name-variety as hemerocallis “Nancy Bray.” “She is several shades of mauve with a yellow throat. She is not a new day lily, nor a particularly expensive one. I like the subtle colors and the lack of over-the-top frills. She is just simply beautiful. Some years back, and quite by accident, I got to meet a relative of the woman, Nancy Bray, for whom this daylily is named. Nancy Bray is no longer alive, but her gorgeous namesake lives on.”
Although much time and garden space are devoted to azaleas and daylilies, Jennie’s all-time favorite flowers are these wildflowers of North Georgia: pink lady’s slippers, trillium erectus, Catesby’s trillium, and bloodroot. Many are found in her yard or in nearby Deepdene Park.
Jennie and Wayne Richardson’s garden, now a certified Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, joins a growing network of wildlife sanctuaries in Atlanta. Along with close-by applicants for certification, this section of Georgia’s capital is well on its way to become a leader in bird and wildlife-friendly places in metro Atlanta.