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.
By Steve Phenicie
Everyone else writes to you at this time of year, so a birder should too. Here are some things that the friends of the feather-clad would like this year:
I know this list is a pretty tall order, Santa, but you’ve been known to be very generous.
Atlanta Audubon elected three new members to the Board of Directors at their annual meeting on Sunday, December 9 at Manuel’s Tavern. Leslie Edwards, Evonne Blythers Lapsey, and Ellen Macht were elected for three-year terms, beginning January 1, 2019.
In addition to new board members, Atlanta Audubon welcomed a group of Advisors committed to the mission of the organization who bring unique skill sets, perspectives, and demonstrable leadership, knowledge, or interest in the fields of conservation and ornithology. Advisors include: Marcia Bansley, founder of Trees Atlanta; Giff Beaton, author of Birding Georgia; Mark Berry, Vice President of Environmental and Natural Resources at Georgia Power; Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Dr. Robert Cooper, Professor of Wildlife Biology at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; Stacia Hendricks, Naturalist Manager at Little St. Simons Island; and John Pruitt, Retired Anchor, WSB TV.
“We are excited to welcome Leslie, Evonne, and Ellen to the Atlanta Audubon Board of Directors and to add this new group of Advisors to our organization,” says Esther Stokes, board chair. “These individuals bring a wealth of talents and experiences to the Board that will help Atlanta Audubon fulfill its mission of building places where birds and people thrive.”
Dr. Leslie Edwards holds a PhD in geography from the University of Georgia and has retired after serving on the faculty of the Department of Geosciences at Georgia State University. She is the lead author of The Natural Communities of Georgia and wrote “The Land, Climate, and Vegetation” portion of The Georgia Breeding Bird Atlas, both published by the University of Georgia Press. Leslie has served on the boards of several conservation-related organizations, and is currently active in Atlanta Audubon’s wildlife sanctuary certification program.
Evonne Blythers Lapsey is currently a Park Ranger/Naturalist with DeKalb County Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs and the Director and founder of the Edge of Night Camping Club (ENCC). Formerly, she was an Environmental Education Coordinator for the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA). Evonne has been a passionate Girl Scout leader for nearly 20 years, and a very strong advocate in getting families outdoors. Her latest accomplishment, visiting all 65 Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. Evonne is an enthusiastic participant in Atlanta Audubon’s Taking Wing teacher professional development.
Ellen Macht is one of the founders of Food Well Alliance that exists to unite the local food movement to build a healthier local food system together. She has more than 30 years of experience in corporate and investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, nonprofit management and as a nonprofit board member. Currently, Ellen is the immediate past chair of Georgia Organics and board member and Treasurer of the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative.
Additional Atlanta Audubon board members include Craig Bell, Charles Bowen, Gina Charles, Linda DiSantis, Roarke Donnelly, Angelou Ezeilo, Shannon Fair, Jairo Garcia, Melinda Langston, Charles Loeb, Ellen Miller, Rusty Pritchard, David Scaefer, Esther Stokes, Bowen, Gina Charles, Ellen Miller, Charles Loeb, Rusty Pritchard, Michael Wall, and Amanda Woomer.
Atlanta Audubon Society is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
By Melanie Furr
“Southern Arizona in July? Why?” was the typical reaction I received from friends when I mentioned my excitement about leading Atlanta Audubon’s first guided birding trip to the Southwest this past summer. Granted, I had my own concerns about traveling to the desert during the hottest time of year, but our guide, Ken Blankenship (a Georgia native and former Atlanta Audubon field trip leader who relocated to Arizona a few years ago to pursue his dream of leading birding tours), assured me that we’d find ways to beat the heat. “We’ll follow the cooling monsoon rains and bird at higher elevations during the hottest parts of the day,” Ken promised. And with the promise of seeing not only several species of birds found nowhere else in the continental United States, including several species of hummingbirds, I was willing to sweat a little.
No one could have predicted that the day my fellow Atlanta Audubon adventurers and I arrived in Tucson would be the hottest day of the year (and the hottest day I’ve ever experienced)—109 degrees! But, eager to start adding birds to our life lists, we stopped for a quick, delicious lunch of authentic Mexican tamales, then headed to the Sonoran Desert Museum, where we could explore the outdoor exhibits of native plants and animals while looking for birds and staying close to air-conditioned buildings. I don’t think we had ventured more than a few hundred yards on the winding path leading through the museum grounds before a few folks retreated to the visitor center, while the rest of us continued on, seeking whatever small patches of shade the bushy cholla and ocotillo cactuses along the path would provide. Cactus Wrens, Phainopeplas, Gila Woodpeckers, and Costa’s Hummingbirds didn’t seem too bothered by the heat, however, and although we didn’t continue on much farther, all of us had added at least a few lifers to our lists before we called it quits.
No one objected to returning to the hotel earlier than planned to rest and clean up before dinner, but as soon as we arrived, we spotted Greater Roadrunners running through the parking lot and a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers in a large tree by the swimming pool. I dumped my stuff in my room, took a quick shower, and headed back outside to look for an interesting sparrow I had noticed earlier—a Rufous-winged Sparrow. Before long, everyone was out in the parking lot with binoculars, approaching monsoon clouds providing a cooling breeze as we watched fledgling roadrunners chase their parents around the hotel grounds.
The worst of the heat behind us, we got an early start the next morning to make the most of our time around Tucson during the cooler morning hours. Our first stop was Agua Caliente Park, situated around a perennial warm spring that provides habitat for an exceptionally rich mix of plants and animals. Jonathan Lutz, Executive Director of Tucson Audubon, met us for some birding and talked to us about some of the work being done by Tucson Audubon Society. Although we found lots of beautiful and interesting birds at the park, including species rarely seen outside of Mexico such as Broad-billed Hummingbirds and a Northern Bearded-Tyrannulet, what actually stands out most to me about our visit was learning, in passing, that Jonathan’s girlfriend works as a forensic anthropologist studying the belongings and remains of people who have tried to cross the United States border through the Arizona desert. Looking out across the rugged mountain landscape and remembering the punishing heat of the afternoon before, I can’t imagine the desperation that would drive someone to attempt the passage. Birds crossing the border, however, are another story, and soon we were back in our van driving to the top of Mount Lemmon and pointing out Mexican Jays.
The 27-mile Sky Islands Scenic Byway to the top of Mount Lemmon, the highest point in the Santa Catalina mountains and a Tucson summer retreat, winds through Sonoran Desert at the base and ascends to cool, shady Rocky Mountain forest near the top. As the landscape changes, so does the bird life. Acorn Woodpeckers, Mountain Chickadees, Pygmy Nuthatches, and Western Bluebirds were no less delightful to watch because they are common in the area, but finding more elusive species like Grace’s Warblers, Plumbeous Vireos, and Cordilleran Flycatchers was also fun. At some feeders across the street from our lunch spot in Summerhaven, near the summit, several of us added Black-throated Grosbeaks and Hepatic Tanagers to our life lists, with a bonus Cassin’s Kingbird on the power-line overhead. For me, though, the highlight of the day was at Rose Canyon when a small darting motion caught my eye just in time for me to witness a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird alighting on her nest. Having never seen a nesting hummingbird before, I could barely contain my excitement and quickly alerted the others. Everything else that day was just “gravy.”
We started the second full day of our trip with a rare Five-striped Sparrow in Box Canyon. The morning was breezy and cool—I even needed a sweatshirt! Although we only got fleeting glimpses of the sparrow as it foraged in the low vegetation, seeing the rarest breeding sparrow in the continental United States was exciting. With a small range in Western Mexico that extends only into far southern Arizona, Five-striped Sparrows wait to nest until mid to late summer, after the onset of the monsoon rains. After a couple more stops in scenic Madera Canyon, including a stop at the hummingbird feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, and a refreshing lunch stop in the artsy town of Tubac, our next target was a family of rare Rose-throated Becards.
Aside from the miserable heat on the first day, the only other time on the trip that I was really bothered by the heat was on that short trek to find the becards. As we tramped down a brushy dry riverbed, monsoon clouds looming, I mused at the odd, out-of-the-way, and sometimes uncomfortable places that birders find themselves. (Landfill? Protein plant, anyone?) I’m sure we didn’t walk as far as it seemed when we came upon the becards’ huge globular nest suspended from a high tree limb. A scan around the area yielded no birds, however, and only insects were calling. Wilting, we assured Ken that we wouldn’t be too disappointed if we didn’t see the becards, even though they can only be found only along a few streams in southern Arizona and Texas outside of their range in Central America. Certainly, the branchling Gray Hawks we’d seen moments earlier were worth the trek. Before long, however, Ken heard the call, and soon a beautiful male flew into view carrying food. Everyone was elated, and somehow, our walk back to the van seemed shorter and cooler. We wrapped up the afternoon with a relaxing stop in Patagonia to see several species of hummingbirds at the Paton Center, where Wally and Marion Paton began inviting birders to sit at the feeders outside their home in 1973. Tucson Audubon took over the care of the property in 2009 after their deaths, and it is still open to visitors free of charge. (Donations to the “sugar fund” are appreciated.)
After spending the night in Sierra Vista, our third full day was spent exploring Fort Huachuca, home of the United States Army Intelligence Center. After getting our passes at the checkpoint, we drove up narrow canyons where prehistoric pictographs adorn rock walls and Painted Redstarts and Red-faced Warblers flit through the pines. The most exciting birds of the day, perhaps, were a pair of Elegant Trogons, another rare specialty bird along the fringes of the southwest. Although we heard their calls regularly as we walked along the path, the female stayed obscured in the trees and only once did the male come into clear view. (Unfortunately, I missed the getting the shot while pausing to take a cute photo of Ken pointing out the bird with his characteristic enthusiasm and excitement.) After a full day exploring around the Fort, we winded down at the hummingbird feeders at Ash Canyon Lodge, where we had five species of hummingbirds including dazzling Lucifer’s and Rivoli’s Hummingbirds. We didn’t get to see the Montezuma’s Quail that had been frequenting the spot, perhaps because of the Northern Goshawk that flew over us three times.
With one final day to explore the Sierra Vista area before heading back to Tucson for our departure the next morning, we did some more birding around the canyons, adding the striking Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Bridled Titmouse to our trip list, among others, and on our drive back to Tucson, we stopped in some grassland habitats where we saw some familiar species like kestrels and shrikes in addition to new species like Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows. During a quick detour to a Prairie Dog colony (where a few folks also had a glimpse of a coyote), we were fortunate to see Cassin’s Sparrows doing their display flights, flying straight up and floating down while singing, a behavior called “skylarking.”
On the final morning, eager to enjoy some final desert birding and scenery, a few of us headed to Saguaro National Park for a quick outing before our noon flight. No trip to Arizona would be complete without taking time to appreciate the saguaro cactus. Growing as tall as 60 feet and living up to 200 years, the saguaro is one of the defining plants of the Sonoran Desert, providing food and shelter to a great diversity of life. Hummingbirds, bats, and insects feed on nectar from the blossoms, and ripening fruit provides moisture and an energy-rich food for birds, bats, mammals, reptiles, and insects. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers excavate nesting cavities that later become homes for other birds, and birds of prey use them as hunting platforms and build stick nests among their branches. Looking out across the landscape dotted with these remarkable towering cactuses, I felt reverence and a bit of magic.
We returned to the van to drive to the airport just as the temperature started to get uncomfortable. It seems fitting that we should end our amazing trip in a sweat, just as we began--but every last bird was worth it. And as another wet, cold winter in Georgia approaches, a little hot desert sunshine doesn’t sound half bad.
Atlanta Audubon will return to Southeast Arizona to host a guided birding tour led by local guide Ken Blankenship from August 6 to 11, 2019. Registration is now open. For a full itinerary and registration information, please click here.
by Lillie Kline, Habitat Conservation Program Coordinator
Outdoor, free-roaming cats are a hot button and widely controversial issue that unfortunately often pits organizations and neighbors against one another. Just as non-native English ivy and Chinese privet reduces both plant and animal diversity, invasive mammalian species like free-roaming domestic cats and stray dogs can devastate our ecosystems and prey upon our already-threatened native wildlife. Non-native species like domestic cats not only impact wildlife populations, but also face many dangers outdoors themselves. This is why Atlanta Audubon is strongly in favor of keeping cats safely indoors, in line with the Humane Society’s recommendations for pet care and wildlife protection. No matter your stance on this important issue, we can all agree that the health and safety of our pets and our wildlife are of the utmost importance.
The good news? There are many ways for your cat to enjoy the great outdoors without endangering wildlife or themselves. “Catios,” an enclosed play area similar to a hen house, are a great option for unsupervised outdoor time. Cats can also play outside in a fenced backyard with a pet parent nearby to make sure no one gets eaten and that kitty doesn’t squeeze through the fence. Don’t have a yard? Take a page out of Lisa Tantillo’s and Zack Callaghan’s book and train your cat to walk on a leash.
You may know Lisa and Zack better as Calou Calay, the talented artist duo who painted our Chimney Swift Tower in Piedmont Park. When they are not making art, however, the two spend their free time walking their rescue kittens Django and Pavi around the Blue Heron Nature Preserve. Lisa’s family had three cats growing up, the first of which was an outdoor cat that was allowed to roam freely. Sadly, Lisa tells me that their first cat “ended up eating poison because he was unsupervised. We found him dead under our house.” After that painful experience, the family decided to keep their cats indoors.
Lisa, however, believes that cats are meant to be outside, so when she and her fiancée Zack adopted a pair of kittens this past year, it was important to them to find a way for Django and Pavi to experience the joys of being outdoors while keeping them safe from dangers like cars and coyotes. “We wanted to be able to go outside with them and for them to eventually be hiking adventure cats. We follow organizations like AdventureCats.org, which shows people traveling with their cats almost like dogs, and it seems like an awesome way to spend more time with their cats doing things they love. I want to keep wildlife safe from cats, but I also want to keep the cats safe from dangers,” says Lisa.
For those who are interested in ways to keep both their pets and wildlife safe in the great outdoors, Lisa recommends harness training, but cautions that patience is key, and starting cats young is your best bet. “People underestimate how trainable cats are, especially if you work with them when they are hungry. They are very responsive and intelligent.” Lisa and Zack’s favorite outdoor cat resources include AdventureCats.org, Puppia harnesses, and Jackson Galaxy, who Lisa calls a “cat whisperer.” She tells me that he “has good videos on getting older cats used to a leash. He has some tutorials that are really great.”
When talking to neighbors with free-roaming outdoor cats about keeping them inside, Lisa emphasizes the importance of being respectful and cautions against an approach that condemns the cat owner. “I would be concerned about the welfare of their cat, as there are a lot of predators like coyotes that could kill your cat, in addition to lawn chemicals that can poison the cat. I would bring it up from that cat safety perspective. I would gauge the person’s response and then also mention the environmental impact.”
With so many wonderful options that keep pets and wildlife safe, enjoying the great outdoors with your cat has never been easier. With 432 species of North American birds in need of urgent conservation action, talking to your neighbors and making conscientious choices for wildlife has never been more important (State of the Birds, 2016).
by Dottie Head, Director of Membership and Communications
On Friday, October 19, 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 Bureau of Watershed Management (DWM). The McDaniel Branch Wetlands is the first of three properties that will ultimately be certified as Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries. The other two, Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Nature Preserve and Herbert Greene Nature Preserve, are working to complete the certification process.
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 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,” 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 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.”
The McDaniel Branch stormwater project was designed to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff in and around Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods. The constructed wetlands central to this project mimic natural systems for managing stormwater. Over the past year, the planting 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 designation of the McDaniel Branch Wetlands as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary underscores the City of Atlanta’s commitment to implementing innovative stormwater solutions while preserving and protecting native ecosystems through green infrastructure,” said DWM Deputy Commissioner Todd Hill. “Our collaboration with the Atlanta Audubon Society will ensure that this natural greenspace will be experienced by a broader audience of Atlanta residents, students, and visitors.”
As a way to help hold the stream banks of the McDaniel Branch Wetlands in place DWM’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 that will allow native plants to thrive and avoid harming ground nesting birds and other wildlife during the spring and summer nesting season.
For more information on certifying a property as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, visit https://www.atlantaaudubon.org/wildlife-sanctuary-certification.html.
Vote Yes on Amendment 1: The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act is An Historic Opportunity to Protect our Waters and Lands
By Dottie Head
On November 6, Georgians will head to the polls to cast their votes for a new Governor, Congressional Representatives, and other state and local officials. Much is at stake in this election as we have witnessed countless attacks on long-held, successful conservation programs, such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, clean air and water programs, National Parks, and much more. But there is one amendment on the Georgia ballot this year that can have tremendous positive impacts for birds, wildlife, and public lands here in Georgia. Amendment One, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment, or GOSA, would dedicate a portion of the existing sales tax on outdoor sporting goods to land and water conservation without raising any taxes or creating new fees. This is not a new tax, just a reallocation of existing tax revenue to land and water conservation.
If passed, this funding would:
Funds would also be made available as grants to cities, counties, or nongovernmental organizations, to help secure and expand access to properties, both rural and urban, that are critical to Georgia’s wildlife and supporting more opportunities for people to recreate.
If passed, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment would dedicate up to 80% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor sporting goods to the protection of the state’s lands, water, and wildlife without raising or creating any new taxes or fees.
Over $20 million would be dedicated every year for the next ten years. This funding could not be used for any other purpose and would be subject to strict accountability provisions and public disclosure. Only projects consistent with the state’s established goals for conservation would be approved.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment is supported by a coalition of leading conservation organizations including The Nature Conservancy, the Georgia Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Park Pride, and many others.
GOSA will be the subject of our October 28 Monthly Meeting at Manuel’s Tavern (see the announcement on the back of this newsletter), where Thomas Farmer, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy, will share information on this amendment and answer questions.
Atlanta Audubon encourages members to learn more about GOSA at www.GeorgiaOutdoorStewardship.org and to vote Yes on Amendment One.
by Selu Adams
Selu Adams was the 2018 recipient of the Edward Barnsley Scholarship for Youth offered each year by Atlanta Audubon. The scholarship covers the cost of registration and airfare for one teen, between the ages of 14 and 17 to attend Audubon’s Coastal Bird Studies For Teens Camp on Hog Island, Maine. The scholarship application for the 2019 Camp will open in early 2019.
Last June, thanks to Atlanta Audubon Society, I had an amazing opportunity to attend Audubon’s Coastal Maine Bird Studies For Teens in Bremen, Maine. Using the 330-acre Hog Island as our base, 19 other teens and I spent about a week birding and learning about conservation.
Our first birding outing was a boat ride around Hog Island in the Muscongus Bay where we spotted Common Eiders, Surf Scoters, Black Scoters, and the first of many Black Guillemots and Double-crested Cormorants. The highlight of the trip was seeing three Long-tailed Ducks—a male and two females—gracefully gliding through the water as everyone scrambled to one side of the boat to get a good look at them. Later, we watched a banding demonstration and learned the how’s and why’s of bird banding as well as what equipment is needed. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was caught right before our eyes. We watched, fascinated, as Sandy Lockerman, a master hummingbird bander, carefully banded the hummingbird and explained modifications to the banding process for hummingbirds, such as using much smaller than normal bands. After the banding demonstration, we returned to the mainland for a short visit to Mad River Decoy, a bird decoy shop that made the puffin decoys used on Eastern Egg Rock, the site of Audubon’s puffin restoration efforts. It was interesting to learn how decoys are made, and how effective they can be in attracting birds in conservation efforts around the world.
The next morning we woke up early to look for thrushes that had been banded by one of the instructors at last year’s camp. Although we weren’t able to get close enough to any thrushes to tell if they were banded, we did find some other birds along the way, including Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. After breakfast, we gathered in the Queen Mary Lab, a small building near the dock and the artist-in-residence on the island, Jennifer Anderson, gave us some tips on drawing birds. One of the instructors, Courtney Brennan, talked to us about study skins. Courtney, who prepares birds specimens for a museum by turning them into study skins, explained to us that study skins are a form of taxidermy where instead of preparing the birds for display, they are prepared for scientific research. Measurements and details such as how much fat is on the bird or what is in the stomach are recorded on a slip of paper, and after it is completely prepared, researchers can use the collected data and examine the birds for additional information.
Although most of our time was spent on Hog Island, we did spend a day birding on the mainland. We stopped on a small gravel road, finding Black-throated Green, Canada and Nashville Warblers, as well as Northern Waterthrushes. I was especially struck by a Veery we heard, whose song brought to my mind a falling maple samara (seed) spinning round and round until it gently lands on the ground. At another one of our locations, we spotted an Alder Flycatcher, a lifer for many of the other campers, including me. We joked about how funny it seemed that we all were trying to catch a glimpse of the flycatcher, a drably colored bird compared to a nearby bright orange Baltimore Oriole that seemed to be showing off its meticulously woven nest.
My favorite experience of the week was visiting Eastern Egg Rock, an island where Project Puffin had successfully restored the Atlantic Puffin population. Earlier in the week, Stephen Kress, who began Project Puffin, told us how Atlantic Puffins had disappeared from Eastern Egg Rock, and how he and his team have been able to get them back. Following the colonial days, hunting on Eastern Egg Rock decimated the puffin population, as well as other seabird populations on the island. But, in the early 1900’s, several bird protection laws that were passed, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1916). This coupled with the addition of Audubon wardens helped increase seabird populations. However, these protections alone weren’t enough for the puffins because they usually return to the island where they hatched at for nesting, and since no puffins were on the island, none would come back. Starting in 1973, Kress and his team transplanted puffin fledglings from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock and placed them in artificial sod burrows where they were fed every day. The puffins were banded before they left for 3 to 5 years on the ocean before returning to nest. Kress and his team also had to deal with the threat of the gull population on the island, since gulls are predators of puffin eggs and chicks. They set up tern decoys, hoping to attract terns to the island because terns could keep the gulls away and make the island a more attractive place for puffins to nest. The tern decoys worked, and puffin decoys and mirrors were also set up to encourage puffins to explore the island’s nesting habitat. Finally, in 1981, puffins were observed nesting on the island for the first time in nearly 100 years. Last year, 172 nesting pairs were observed on the island!
Eastern Egg Rock was a 45-minute boat ride away from Hog Island. After meeting the interns who were conducting research and living on the island for the summer, we carefully made our way to where the interns were based, keeping our eyes peeled for the well camouflaged tern eggs on the rocks. The interns had warned us about how terns would dive bomb our heads (or the highest point they saw), so I held a stick up into the air to avoid getting hit by them. We gathered in front of a small shelter that the interns used before splitting off into three groups. An intern led me to a 3 x 3 foot blind from which I saw a spectacular sight. I was surrounded by hundreds of nesting terns, mainly Common Terns. Every few minutes, a large flock of them flew up into the air, each loudly sounding off kip or kee-ar calls, before landing back onto the ground. Closer to the water, Black Guillemots hopped from rock to rock, and beyond them, I spotted a couple of puffins in the water! They stayed pretty far out on the water for the most time I was in the blind, but the puffins flew closer towards the island a few times, letting me get a better look at them.
One of the best things about the camp for me was being able to meet and talk to other people in working in the field of ornithology. It was interesting to hear about what got them into birding, and the instructors and guests also gave insightful programs about current problems and efforts concerning birds. Meeting the other young birders at the camp was very inspiring, and it was great to get to know more young people as enthusiastic about birds as I am! I can’t thank Atlanta Audubon Society enough for making it possible for me to have a once in a lifetime experience!