Chapter of the Month- Pearson Society: Bluebirds, Nuthatches and Native Plants

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

This month, we get to know the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society. Read on to learn more about our chapter serving Guilford County.

By Ann Walter-Fromson and Stella Wear

The T. Gilbert Pearson chapter oversees several ongoing conservation projects, and we have recently added a special focus to a statewide campaign: Bird-Friendly Communities. Under the initiative, our chapter is educating our community on the importance of installing nest boxes for nuthatches and growing native plants for birds.

Monitoring at the Bluebird Trail has been a long-standing project, for Pearson chapter members. We have successfully activated volunteers monitoring 12 boxes positioned beside the stream buffer along N. Buffalo Creek and one of its tributaries in the Lake Daniel Park Greenway each week from April through July. This park is the perfect place for a bluebird trail, with grassy areas adjacent to a stream buffer that was restored using native plants. (The restoration by the city was the result of a 1996 -1998 TGPAS StreamGreen/StreamLife study of the benefits of stream buffers.)

Last year, the bluebird trail project involved 30 people from the neighborhood who recorded 45 Eastern Bluebirds fledging from the nests. We’ve been helping Eastern Bluebirds for many years, and this year, as part of the Bird Friendly Communities initiative, our chapter is also lending a hand to Brown-headed Nuthatches!

Nest Boxes for Nuthatches

Motivated by our September program, “Brown-headed Nuthatches in Suburban Environments” by Mark Stanback, our members enthusiastically joined the Audubon NC Home for Nuthatches project.  We have distributed 95 boxes in our area: Audubon NC and the Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon grant provided 80 boxes and the Pearson chapter purchased 15 boxes.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Nest Box

Nuthatch Nest Box

Awarding boxes through drawings held at the September, October, November and January meetings, we gave boxes to those members who were eager to monitor nests for these squeaky little birds. After one Pearson member gave a presentation to the Burlington Bird Club and shared nest-monitoring information at a Piedmont Bird Club meeting, five boxes were given to each club for their members.

In addition to the 65 boxes being placed near individual homes, we have installed 30 in public areas: Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Kathleen Clay Edwards Library at Price Park, Audubon Natural Area in Greensboro, Southwest Park, Piedmont Environmental Center of High Point, North Carolina Zoological Park, Bur-Mil Park, Bog Garden, Bicentennial Garden and Haw River State Park.  Most of these areas are sites on the North Carolina Birding Trail.

A NestWatch certification training session was held for our members in March as nesting season was set to begin.  Even though we have no data to report yet, we look forward to learning more about this bird that we have offered to help.

Native Planting in the Piedmont

Another way the Pearson chapter is helping birds is to fill our yards with native plants that provide food and shelter for our birds.  The native plants that evolved in the Piedmont region are well suited to the birds that live here or migrate through our area. Some natives like the Coral Honeysuckle bloom in March just when the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are returning to us from their wintering grounds. Other plants, such as Spicebush, provide high-fat fruits to fuel migration in the fall.

Breeding birds rely heavily on native plants such as oaks, willows and birch trees that host many caterpillar species. Given that 96% of land birds feed insects to their young in the nest, planting natives that support insects can contribute to the survival of our birds.

Invasive exotic plants originate in other parts of the world; they lack pest predators and pathogens; they outcompete native plants, and many have escaped to natural areas such as Price Park in Greensboro. Last November, a Pearson chapter member presented a workshop on invasive plants, followed by a workday with teen volunteers and scouts. We partnered with Piedmont Land Conservancy’s stewardship coordinator to remove two invasive plants (Eleagnus shrubs and Oriental Bittersweet) along the tree line in Price Park using the “cut and paint” method.

TGPAS Display

To educate folks about the importance of native plants, our chapter presented a program on bird-friendly yards and urban corridors, which described what birds need; how native plants help birds by providing food, shelter and places to nest; and which plants we should avoid. We distributed the new “Native Plants for Birds: Piedmont” brochures published by ANC and the Bird Friendly Communities initiative to all attendees. Copies of the brochure have also been given to our local Sierra Club, Native Plant Society, Wild Birds Unlimited stores, Guilford Garden Center, Bicentennial Garden and the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.

Chapter of the Month- The T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

This month, we get to know the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society. Read on to learn more about our chapter serving Guilford County.

By Jack Jezorek

 “Our mission is to foster appreciation, knowledge and enjoyment of birds and nature and to preserve our natural heritage at the local and global level”.

The Pearson chapter was founded in 1971 by several Greensboro residents including a few faculty members at UNC Greensboro. You can say we followed in the footsteps of the Audubon Society of North Carolina, which was formed by Thomas Gilbert Pearson in 1902, on the same campus! It was only natural that the new chapter would be named for him.

Pearson went on to help form the National Audubon Society, becoming its second president, a position he held for 20 years. He was responsible for many of the early bird protection laws passed in North Carolina and nationally, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The chapter was then, and is now, dedicated to furthering Pearson’s bird and habitat preservation efforts.

Legacy of Conservation:

Pearson Audubon, from its inception, has organized monthly programs and field trips for our members, and over the years, have also mounted several projects where habitat protection or conservation was the main goal.

  • In the 1970s we partnered with other groups to oppose a large sewer project that would have opened all of northern Guilford County to intense development. Our efforts forced the project to scale back and allowed development to occur at a more measured pace.
  • In the mid-1970s we saw an opportunity to help preserve about 11 acres of urban habitat owned by the Moses Cone Memorial Hospital. The T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Natural Area was created after the chapter worked with the city to produce an agreement to manage it as a nature preserve.
  • 1990 marked the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and we were one of three local groups that organized The Celebration of the Earth. For our role in that event we received the Best Single Project Award from Greensboro Beautiful.

Work Day at the Audubon Natural Area

Work Day at the Audubon Natural Area

Community Partnerships:

Soon after the Celebration of the Earth event, our chapter began a 10-year effort for the City of Greensboro to cease mowing creek banks on city-owned parkland allowing the banks to grow up naturally. Partnering with the Westerwood neighborhood, a pilot project was established in Lake Daniel Park along the N. Buffalo Creek Greenway to plant hundreds of native trees and shrubs.

The chapter also conducted an inventory of flora and fauna, including birds, along the newly buffered N. Buffalo Creek that showed a marked increase in numbers as a result of the shade and cover the buffer provided. The maturing buffer along N. Buffalo Creek was found to have attracted many Bluebirds, and so in the late 1990s, the chapter installed a Bluebird Trail along the edge of the stream buffer that has been monitored by chapter members along with many neighbors from the Westerwood community to this day!

This StreamGreen/StreamLife project has resulted in its stream buffer practices being adopted by the City of Greensboro, applied to streams on all public lands in the city. The Pearson chapter received the Earth Defender Award from the National Audubon Society in 1994 for its StreamGreen project, articles which appeared in Audubon magazine and other national publications.

Currently, we are proud to be a partner in the Audubon North Carolina Bird Friendly Communities program. We are providing nest boxes for Brown-headed Nuthatches and mounting efforts to educate the local community about using native plants in their yards.

Best Birding Spots:

The Pearson chapter oversaw the construction of the Audubon Wildlife Overlook at Southwest Park in Guilford County, and the installation of more than a dozen interpretive wildlife signs at the overlook. The overlook is a good place to look for soaring raptors, nuthatches attracted to the pine woods nearby, and Great Blue Herons and Kingfishers associated with Randleman Reservoir, which is just a stones throw from the overlook deck.

Our chapter’s area covers a section of the piedmont of North Carolina, so upland birds are most commonly seen here. Several reservoirs in Guilford County even attract their share of wintering waterfowl. The Bog Garden, a Greensboro park, is on the NC Birding Trail, as are the nearby Haw River State Park and the Caswell Game Lands, our chapter’s adopted IBA [link to iba post].

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Join this chapter:

Pearson Audubon members enjoy all these great birding places. We are working hard to help save the habitat our birds need to survive and to educate the public about what they can do for our birds as well. Check us out on our web site: www.tgpearsonaudubon.org.

Our chapter currently has 250 members from the greater Greensboro area, High Point and throughout Guilford County. For more information or to join the Pearson chapter, see our membership page or visit the chapter on Facebook.

Help Protect North Carolina’s Forests

Photo credit: Erin Singer McCombs

Photo credit: Erin Singer McCombs

Audubon is currently engaged in the forest plan revision process. This lengthy process will chart the course for management of the forests for the next few decades.

Audubon supporters can help shape the way our state’s forests are being managed. By submitting comments and questions during comment periods you can influence the future of our forests. Your comments and questions can influence everything from access to trails and roads, to how much timber is harvested, to what designations special areas receive. Submit your comments to the U.S. Forest Service contact information below.

If you have more detailed questions or want to know more about our approach to the process, please contact Curtis at csmalling@audubon.org.

PRESS RELEASE FROM U.S. FOREST SERVICE:

ASHEVILLE, N.C., April 10, 2014 – The U.S. Forest Service is encouraging people to submit comments by April 28, 2014 on the Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. The NOI, published last month in the Federal Register, is part of the next phase of revising the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan.

Comments or questions about plan revision can be sent by email to NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us. For those who prefer regular mail, written comments can be mailed to National Forests in North Carolina, Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision, 160 Zillicoa St. Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801.

A Walk Through NC’s IBAs- Jordan Lake

North Carolina has 96 Important Bird Areas across the state that support wildlife in very special ways while offering a recreational playground for birds and people alike. In this special blog series, each of Audubon North Carolina’s 10 chapters will take a walk through their IBAs to give readers a glimpse of what can be enjoyed in our own backyards.

Mary Alice Holley is a communications consultant with Audubon North Carolina, recent transplant to Raleigh, and a self-proclaimed nature nut. She jumped at the opportunity to explore an IBA in her backyard and feature it on the ANC blog.

“The B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake is located in central North Carolina, with much of the state’s human population living within a 120 km (75 miles) radius of the project. The Jordan Lake Project preserves thousands of hectares of natural lands in the midst of an expanding urban area. Of this total, 4,239 ha (10,475 acres) have been flooded to form the lake, and 10,025 ha (24,772 acres) are being managed for recreation and wildlife management.” – National Audubon Society

One of the many perks of working with Audubon North Carolina is learning about the conservation programs at work to keep our state a destination for birds and a support system for all wildlife. With the Important Bird Area program, ANC and their partners have identified 96 IBAs comprising 4.9 million acres across the state that provide essential habitat for bird. They continue work to support education and advocacy efforts in each of the IBAs continues.

My favorite part about living in North Carolina is that there is no shortage of outdoor destinations to explore. Whether in the mountains of Western North Carolina, or right here in the piedmont, the next adventure is only a stone’s throw away. Many of Audubon’s IBAs offer more than a sanctuary for birds; they also include hiking and biking trails, overlooks to take in a stellar view and so much more.

Many of these exciting places are also located right in our own backyards!

Jordan Lake by Mary Alice Holley.

Jordan Lake by Mary Alice Holley.

This weekend, armed with my camera and my copilot Hazel, I drove the short distance (20 minutes to be exact) to Jordan Lake to enjoy an afternoon hike and take in the emerging plants and wildlife peaking out after a long winter. I chose the New Hope Overlook trail for its 5.4-mile loop and the promise of sweeping lakefront views. Jordan Lake offers recreational activities for everyone including hiking and biking trails, and areas for a picnic or overnight camping destination.

If you haven’t stopped by the New Hope overlook, I highly recommend it for birders and nature nuts alike. While Hazel took a dip in the water (which is a requirement of every hike), I sat and watched a pair of birds soaring through the sky.

 

New Hope Overlook by Mary Alice Holley.

New Hope Overlook by Mary Alice Holley.

We are only beginning to see the April showers, so my hike didn’t capture many May flowers, but I was delighted to find small pops of color along the trail with these bright pink buds poking out on a few tree limbs. I look forward to returning as the woods are fully in bloom, as the Jordan Lake IBA will be filled with wildflowers and more native plants.

Redbud taken by Mary Alice Holley.

Redbud taken by Mary Alice Holley.

As I made my way up the hills and around the loop, I was surrounded by bare pines and fallen limbs; the result of a harsh winter. But I also found the beauty in knowing this dreary scene is a dream home for the Brown-headed Nuthatch and other cavity nesters looking for the perfect knot to nest and raise their babies. Here’s just a sneak at one of many cavities I came across during my stroll.

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I even paused to listen to a busy bird family high in the trees. Can you name that chirp?

What to Expect

The lake and surrounding forests support great diversity of birds, and none is more prominent than the Bald Eagle. Up to four eagle nests have been documented in a single breeding season at Jordan Lake, and as many as 71 eagles have been recorded. Jordan Lake is one of only two nesting sites for Double-crested Cormorants known in North Carolina. This is a great place for a bird walk, as you may also spot a Wood Duck, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Cliff Swallow or Wood Thrush making a home along the lake. To find out more about recreation at Jordan Lake or any of North Carolina’s parks, visit ncparks.gov.

Thank you for inviting Hazel and I to share our IBA walk with you! We hope you consider taking your next bird walk through a local IBA.

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For more information about North Carolina’s IBAs, click here. To get involved with an IBA in your region, consider joining the Adopt an IBA program with Audubon North Carolina.

Bahamas Piping Plover Surveys Locate Birds and Strengthen Partnerships

Sometimes the simplest questions to ask are the hardest to answer.

For years, researchers and conservationists didn’t know where many Piping Plovers–tiny sand-colored birds that landed on the endangered species list in 1986–spent their winters. The question wasn’t just academic. Piping Plovers spend about eight months of their lives away from their nesting grounds, and must survive migration and wintering in order to return to breed the following summer. Knowing what places they use in the winter is the first step to protecting them year-round.

Tantalizing reports hinted that there might be good numbers of Piping Plovers wintering in the Bahamas. So, in 2011, Audubon helped to lead a multi-agency team to survey the island nation for the year’s International Piping Plover Census. The count turned up 1,075 Piping Plovers, about 13% of the world’s population, and pointed us toward additional survey and conservation work. As part of that ongoing effort, Audubon staff from across the Atlantic Flyway returned to the Bahamas to survey additional sites this January and February. They were joined by staff from the Bahamas National Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, making the work again a true partnership.

Biologists from Audubon Connecticut, Audubon Florida, Audubon New York, Audubon North Carolina, and Audubon Vermont took turns visiting Andros, Crooked and Acklins, Grand Bahama and Long Island. And I was one of the luck participants! The goal of the surveys was to check new sites that hadn’t been surveyed yet for Piping Plovers and other species of shorebirds, and assess whether they should be prioritized for inclusion in the upcoming 2016 International Census.

Kerri Dikun (Audubon New York), Denny Moore (Bahamas National Trust), and Philip Cartwright (Long Island fishing guide) put a flock of 18 Piping Plovers in their scopes. By Lindsay Addison

Over 25 new sites were visited, and a new high count of Piping Plovers was recorded for Long Island and new plover sites were uncovered on Grand Bahama. Large flocks of additional species were also recorded, including 900 Sandwich Terns on West Andros and almost 300 Least Sandpipers on Grand Bahama.

For me, the best part of the experience was getting to work with colleagues from across Audubon’s Atlantic Flyway team. Kerri Dikun from Long Island, New York, was assigned to canvas the Long Island in the Bahamas–no coincidence. We met up with Denny Moore of Bahamas National Trust and Philip Cartwright, a local bonefish guide, to explore the extensive system of cays (small islands) and flats west of Deadman’s Cay, one of the many small settlements that run the length of Long Island. No survey team had been able to spend enough time to really dig into the area, and we were able to search sandy beaches, mangrove creeks and large mudflats for two days, finding 33 Piping Plovers in all, including two banded birds. Kerri and I were also enchanted with the sight of Short-billed Dowitchers, another species of shorebird, roosting in red mangroves–in the U.S. these birds wouldn’t be caught dead in a tree!

Short-billed Dowitcher roosting in a red mangrove. By Lindsay Addison

After Long Island, Kerri and I island-hopped to Andros, where we met up with Marianne Korosy from Audubon Florida and Tavares Thompson of the Bahamas National Trust. We spent four days exploring the middle of Andros. We did not find as much suitable Piping Plover habitat–much of the area is comprised of stunted mangrove forests, great for young fish and other marine life, but not as attractive to shorebirds. But in a few pockets we turned up good numbers, including a flock of 38 plovers tucked away in an idyllic corner of Big Wood Cay.

Also in the Big Wood Cay area we stumbled across a Reddish Egret’s nest containing two growing chicks, one a light morph and one a dark morph. Their watchful parent gave us the stink eye until we pulled the boat away. By now the chicks will be large enough to have clambered out of their nest and be starting to stretch their wings.

We capped our time on Andros by accompanying Matt Jeffery, deputy director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program, and members of Audubon’s and Bahamas National Trust’s boards and senior staff on an excursion to the Joulter Cays–winter home to the largest known concentration of Piping Plovers in the Bahamas. There, we enjoyed sharing the sight of more than a thousand shorebirds, including over 100 Piping Plovers with the group.

Reddish Egret chicks on Andros. By Lindsay Addison

Another highlight was catching up with some banded Piping Plovers and learning from where they had migrated. It’s believed that most of the Piping Plovers wintering in the Bahamas are from the Atlantic coast breeding population–smaller numbers hail from the Great Lakes and Great Plains. The banded birds we found on Andros and Long Island bear that out. On a remote bonefish flat west of Long Island we found two little New Jersey breeders feeding among a flock of 17 Piping Plovers and more than 150 Least and Western Sandpipers. Of the 11 banded birds we saw on Andros, five nest in Massachusetts, two were from New Jersey, and one each from Rhode Island, Maryland and New York. The eleventh bird was a Great Lakes plover. I wonder what she’ll be thinking as she wings her way back to Michigan over mountains and rolling hills–landscapes as foreign as possible for a species that clings to strips of sand along coastlines.

Piping Plovers roosting on Sandy Cay, Long Island. By Lindsay Addison

Following the field work, two exciting developments occurred indoors. First, the Bahamas National Trust, the NGO tasked with managing the nation’s national parks, renewed its fifty-plus year relationship with Audubon by signing a memorandum of understanding pledging the two organizations to work together for bird and other environmental  conservation. Then, the Bahamas National Trust proposed to make the Joulter Cays the Bahamas’ newest national park, a move that would not only protect 4% of the Piping Plover population, along with 2% of wintering Short-billed Dowitchers and thousands of other species of shorebirds, but also preserve the area for traditional use by local fishermen.

All of this would not have been possible without first asking that simple, hard question:

Where are Piping Plovers in the winter?