Every June, AAS board members attend a lengthy meeting to discuss and decide the next year’s initiatives and financial decisions. Some projects are new, while some are continuing. The resulting initiatives guide us through our next year of activities.
ALACHUA AUDUBON SOCIETY 2023-2024 INITIATIVES
Summary of Initiatives:
- Connecting Kids with Nature – Young Birders Club
- College level Education – Internship Program
- American Kestrel Nesting Program
- Bird Banding Lab at Prairie Creek Preserve
- Native plant garden
- Observation tower at ACT’s Tuscawilla Preserve
- Fall Birding Walks
- Holiday Social
The Board of Directors of the Alachua Audubon Society just completed a very successful annual planning meeting where we mapped out how and where we plan to direct our funding and support for the upcoming 2023/2024 fiscal year. Similar to previous years, AAS will focus our efforts and resources on environmental education and conservation related projects. However, this year marks an undertaking of more projects, more complicated projects, and more expensive projects. This greater investment into our local community is possible through many generous donations, the high energy investment of the all-volunteer, 19-member Board of Directors, and numerous other volunteers who contribute their time and effort to AAS-related initiatives.
Introducing and connecting kids with nature continues to be a high priority of the Alachua Audubon Society. We have ramped up our support and involvement by expanding the successful birding program at Rawlings Elementary School – a Title 1 school that serves underrepresented kids in east Gainesville. We are doubling our funding to bus 4th graders throughout Alachua County to Morningside Nature Center and Sweetwater Wetlands Park where they will engage in nature-based programs. We continue to support the Gainesville High School Birding Club and their recently expanded native plant garden. And our new dynamo board member, Kate Hellgren, has prepared a very flexible birding program that she enthusiastically presents to a wide age range of students.
AAS is starting a new chapter of the state-wide Florida Young Birders Club (FYBC) for those middle and high schoolers who want to expand their birding interests and opportunities. This new chapter will receive support at the state level. Please refer any enthusiastic birding students ages 9-17 to Alachua Audubon so we can connect them with Florida’s newest chapter of the FYBC.
Audubon’s environmental education programs extend up to the college level where we have just expanded the very successful college internship program to now include the summer semester. We anticipate supporting 10 college interns during the 2023/2024 school year and exposing them to a wide range of avian-related projects, including netting and banding birds, monitoring nesting kestrels and Prothonotary Warblers, monitoring migrating Common Loons, assisting with the native plant garden, and other Audubon-supported projects.
Started 30 years ago by our longest-running board member, Bob Simons, Alachua Audubon’s Southeastern American Kestrel nesting program expanded this past breeding season when we partnered with Dr. Ken Meyer with Avian Research Conservation Institute (ARCI) to band and add transmitters to soon-to-fledge kestrels. Little is known about where and how far this threatened species ventures after fledging and their associated survival rates. Hopefully, data collected will offer more insights into the dispersal patterns and survival of this small falcon, a subspecies that has seen a precipitous population drop throughout its breeding range.
The Prothonotary Warbler (PRWA), another local breeder that has also experienced a population decline, is the target of Audubon’s newest conservation project. AAS board member Zach Holmes convened a group of 40 UF student volunteers, and together they constructed 40 PRWA nest boxes and installed them around the floodplain of Newnans Lake. This spring marked the beginning of a multi-year monitoring program to assess the nesting success of this stunning yellow “swamp warbler” which is one of only two cavity-nesting warbler species.
Audubon’s Bird Banding Lab at Prairie Creek Preserve is entering its sixth year of operation, and the data set that is being generated is becoming more robust and more informative with each subsequent year. Interestingly, this information is confirming the high wintering site fidelity of multiple species – Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, Hermit Thrush, Song Sparrow, House Wren, and others – which have returned to the same few acres in subsequent winters. Netting and banding rarities is always exciting and has included a Golden-winged and Cape May Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrow. College interns have gained valuable experience each fall and spring semester, mist-netting and banding birds, and this internship experience has been a pivotal point for many in their college careers. Join an Audubon-sponsored field trip to the
banding lab this fall or winter to see the banding lab in action and meet the dedicated AAS volunteers and interns.
Located next to the bird banding lab is Audubon’s native plant garden. The garden has transformed from a bahiagrass pasture into colorful circles of attractive and wildlife-friendly native species. Directional signs were recently installed in key locations to bring awareness of the AAS gardens to visitors of ACT and Prairie Creek Preserve. More information-based signs and website entries are currently being designed and should be completed by this fall.
Alachua Audubon will once again provide funding support for the Osprey cam that will be installed next to an existing nest at the top of the UF baseball stadium lights. While the original cam reached well over 70,000 viewers, it was struck by lightning and became inoperable. A replacement cam will be installed in early 2024, well before the next nesting season, and hopefully, lightning won’t strike twice in the same location.
You may wish to search for birds or simply enjoy the lovely expansive views from Alachua County’s soon-to-open observation platform. AAS provided a 50% match to Alachua Conservation Trust to construct an observation tower at ACT’s Tuscawilla Preserve in Micanopy. This preserve has always been a super birdy location and now the opportunity exists to more easily view those distant birds.
It is probably too early to be thinking of the holiday season, but this December looks very promising for AAS to resurrect its hugely popular Holiday Social. This annual event was formerly held each December at the Mill Pond clubhouse until 2020 when Covid intervened. But stay tuned – the holiday social will likely return, although to a larger venue to accommodate the increased number of local birders who have gotten hooked on birds.
While the popular Birds and Brew field trip continues through the summer on the first Sunday afternoon of each month, more field trips of all types will start up in September. Wednesday bird walks at Sweetwater Wetlands Park; weekend outings to search for migrants, winter residents, and rarities; birding classes through Santa Fe College Continuing Education; and periodic weekday rambles. Lots of local volunteers are all contributing to provide a smorgasbord of bird learning and enjoyment opportunities. We welcome your attendance, involvement, and support with the Alachua Audubon Society.
By Debbie Segal, President