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Congratulations Michi Vojta – Lifetime Presidential Volunteer Service Award Rrecipient

i Sep 28th No Comments by

Wake Audubon is fortunate to have a lot of fantastic volunteers. Our Treasurer Michi Vojta’s volunteer service is so extensive that she recently was awarded a Lifetime Presidential Volunteer Service Award (PVSA). Congratulations, Michi!

Michi volunteered to serve as our Treasurer, a critical and demanding officer position, in 2020. She does a great job of staying on top of our finances and keeping the rest of the board informed while finding time to be involved in other ways from conservation activities to community outreach. In addition to her boundless energy, Michi shares insightful feedback and creative ideas about how we can do our work better. We cherish her contributions and are delighted that she’s being recognized for her service.

Recipients of the Lifetime PVSA have donated over 4,000 hours of their time in eligible volunteer service. Michi has selflessly given more than double that during the last 30 years. Here’s what Shannon Robinson, PVSA Coordinator for Cary Homeschoolers, shared about Michi at a recent award ceremony:

“Michi Vojta served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Kenya from 1993-1996 as the local forester/agroforestry specialist.  In addition, she organized field days on Solar Cooking and other fuel efficient stoves, built mud stoves, organized and hosted free eye clinics with a nearby hospital, and implemented a penpal exchange program involving around 60 students from 8 Kenyan schools and 30 students from Oregon.

After returning to the US, she volunteered over 1000 hours with the 1999 Special Olympics World Games here in Raleigh and coached youth soccer, moving up with the same group of girls through 5 or 6 seasons.  In 2005, she served again with Peace Corps Response, working in New Orleans with those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Michi still volunteers regularly in her community, through City Parks, local public schools, Wake County and NC Senior Games.  She has been a recipient of the silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award for the past 5 years, averaging 344 hours of service per year.

During the past year alone, here some of what she’s been involved with:

Michi helped paint a mural in downtown Raleigh to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9-11.  She participated in litter pickups at Lake Johnson and Crabtree Creek.  On one day, her team collected 905 pounds of litter!  She planted trees, daffodils, and tulips at Pullen Park.  She volunteered at the Dorothea Dix 5K, the Raleigh Parks Fall Festival, and several special events at the NC Museum of Natural Science, including Bug Fest and Darwin Day.  Michi worked extensively with the West Raleigh Citizen Advisory Council, attended monthly Tree Advocacy meetings, frequently assisted the Friends of the Athens Drive Community Library, and served as Treasurer on the board of the Wake Audubon Society.  Michi spent many hours monitoring and caring for wild bird boxes.  She distributed food via the Food Ark and helped with numerous staff appreciation events at Ligon Middle School.

I contacted some of the organizations that Michi works with to offer them an opportunity to send their thoughts, and the response was overwhelming.   Here are some of their comments.

Mary Abrams, the President of the Wake Audubon Society, said  “Michi brings her endless energy to our conservation activities and community outreach”

Aleix K Murphy from Ligon Middle School emphasized “Michi is a rock star!!”

Yevonne Brannon from the Athens Drive Library offered “You can always count on Michi to be front and center in any effort to help neighbors.”

Sheila B. Jones from Wake County Soil and Water Conservation said “Michi’s community spirit and passion for embracing sustainability is unmatched!”

Representatives of the West Raleigh Citizen Advisory Council shared their thoughts, too!

Jane Harrison said “Michi has an encyclopedic knowledge of issues that matter to her neighbors.”

Don Procipio offered “Michi has been a dedicated, conscientious and key contributor to the West Raleigh CAC for many years.”

Laura Ritchie said “Michi is an integral part of our community, we admire all her hard work!”

Michi has logged a staggering 10,070 hours of service, though we all know the real total is much higher.  As Joe Hartman said, “Michi’s energetic commitment to the whole community’s common good is one-of-a-kind.”

I am deeply honored to announce that Michi has been named a recipient of our highest distinction, the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michi, thank you for all that you do in our community.  Congratulations!”

We couldn’t have said it better–we’re grateful for your service and proud to have you on our team!

Purple Martin Rescue

i Jul 18th No Comments by

Authored by Courtney Rousseau, President, North Carolina Purple Martin Society, member, Wake Audubon

It was Friday, June 17th at 6:55pm. We had completed a hot but successful day of banding martins at Prairie Ridge Ecostation and University club. I had just finished dinner with my kids and we were watching TV at our home in Holly Springs, NC. Outside, a violent thunderstorm with high winds had just passed overhead. I was a bit nervous when I heard the winds swirling around, and looked outside at my purple martin gourd rack and pole. It had swayed a little bit but was undamaged. Our power flickered a few times, but stayed on. The chance of rain and storms that day had been low, so this one was a surprise. We counted ourselves lucky and settled in for an evening of Star Trek while my husband was away. Suddenly, I got a notification on my phone from a lady we had just met at our banding event that morning. It was Andrea Miller. She was frantically messaging me that the worst possible scenario for a martin landlord had occurred: the poles at University Club in Raleigh had blown down in the storm. Shocked, I asked her for a photo. Soon thereafter, I got an email from James Ivankovitch, the general manager out at University Club. He, too, informed me that the poles had blown over.  I Felt panic rising in my stomach as I pictured gourds full of eggs and helpless young martin nestlings on the ground. I wondered how many had been hurt. My two sons and I went to the garage to gather up materials we might need for a rescue, and we started the 30 minute drive over to University Club from our house. While I was driving, I instructed my older teenage son to text the first people I could think of to help in this situation. In turn, those folks contacted others. When we arrived at University Club, we hurried over to the martin colony site to assess the damage. My worst fears were confirmed: Both poles were broken, gourds were in disarray, the house was on its side, and martin eggs and featherless young were on the ground. Upset adult martins circled above the housing. Nests had been tossed around inside gourds, and nestlings were buried under nest material. They were cold and weak. Two gourds were broken; fortunately, one of them was unoccupied at the time. All of the eggs on the ground were broken with the exception of one, which seemed to be hatching. I put it aside for a little while on a small towel, and as folks started to arrive to help, we broke into triage teams to work on individual tasks.

Storm-damaged Purple Martin Colony at University Club, Raleigh. Photo by Phil Doerr.

Damaged Purple Martin housing

Some folks cut away the mangled owl caging. Others untangled gourds and set them right side up so that their occupants could be counted and checked against the nest check data sheets. Another group discussed how to put the broken poles upright again, and some folks brought personal items to help, such as flashlights, headlamps, and Hot Hands, which were used to keep featherless nestlings warm through the night. It began to grow dark. Andrea moved her car over to the course and turned on the headlights so we could continue to work. Surprise helpers showed up in the form of the Hastings family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, just down the street from the University Club. They asked what they could do to help, and brought Gorilla tape, some more Hot Hands, and tools from their store. Armed with a sawzall, Mr. Hastings was able to cut off part of the damaged pole of one rack so that it could be removed and set upright again on a surviving ground stake. The other pole on which the Lonestar house and gourd rack was mounted had a section which was completely mangled and had to be removed. The remaining length of pole was then put upright again on a pole connector. Both poles were now upright again, thanks to the lifting power of so many helpers.

We then began the task of returning nestlings to their gourds and verifying the contents of all of the gourds. I held the hatching egg in my hand during this process. As it began to warm up, the hatchling inside became more active and pushed its way out of the shell. We tried to find a gourd in which to place it, but the gourd that had the smallest young seemed to be empty now, until John Gerwin started to comb through the nesting material. Eventually, we found the two tiny occupants of the gourd. We placed a Hot Hands packet just under their nesting material and placed the young on top of it, to keep them warm. The broken gourd with 4 feathered occupants was temporarily taped and wired closed and hung back on its proper spot on the rack. Purple martins are very particular about their nesting spot; they remember the compass orientation of their nest cavity and will expect to see the cavity they recognize pointing in that same direction when they return, so ensuring the gourds and house were in the proper position was essential to help prevent the adults from abandoning the nest. After all gourds and house compartments were checked, we began the process of moving the wrecked owl cage and pole section debris to the side for later removal. We cleaned up our tools and headed home.

We did not realize how much time had passed; we were all there for a united purpose, which was to save these martins that depend on us for survival. I left University Club around 11:10pm and arrived home shortly before midnight.  I didn’t sleep much that night, wondering if the adults would return to their nests in the morning, and if the nestlings would survive the night. The next morning, I made my coffee extra strong and headed out the door. When I arrived, a happy sight greeted my eyes: adult martins were swooping around and feeding their hungry nestlings. The tiny hatchling from the previous night was snuggled with its nestmates. A passerby on the golf course had stopped to watch the martins with his young son. I explained to him what had happened the night before, and he thanked me and all the other volunteers who cared enough to save these birds. Some of these volunteers gave up their family time, and others missed their dinners that night. Their efforts were an amazing testament to what can happen when we come together to accomplish a conservation goal.

Why did this accident happen? The two inch square poles had been in place at University Club for over 15 years and had survived many storms. However, the owl cages, which were added last year out of necessity, probably overburdened the poles just a bit. We tried to keep this weight issue in mind when doing nest checks, and never raised the racks more than two thirds of the way up the pole, but it may not have been enough. We will be replacing these poles for next season with stronger, larger 3 inch square poles with thick walls to better withstand storms and support owl caging.

I want to thank the following people who came out that night:

Tommy Hastings, Jeff Hastings, and their family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, Phil Doerr, Anne Miller,John Gerwin, Laura Eason, Bob Oberfelder, Andrea Miller, James Ivankovitch
and my two sons Graham and Lee Rousseau, who gave up their Friday night to step up!

We could not have done it without all of you!

2022 Volunteer and Conservation and Environmental Education Awards

i Apr 14th No Comments by

We are happy to announce the recipients of our two awards, created to recognize individuals who have contributed to Wake Audubon’s mission through their service as volunteers and through their work in conservation and education.
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteers with the Paulette Van De Zande Volunteer Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Erla Beegle
Erla Beegle has been a devoted volunteer with Wake Audubon for over 10 years. She has selflessly shared more than 1,000 hours of her time leading bird walks, working on conservation projects, tabling, and organizing our calendar and Meetup group. Engaging within and beyond Wake Audubon, she builds community around birds by sharing her unflagging enthusiasm, mentoring fledgling birders, and inviting everyone into the group. She has also contributed countless hours to science by recording daily eBird checklists and recording NC Bird Atlas data across the state.
 
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteer educators with the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Courtney Rousseau
Courtney Rousseau is the President of the NC Purple Martin Society. She has unselfishly cared for a Purple Martin colony at the University Club for over 15 years and has advised and helped Wake Audubon install Purple Martin houses at Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and Yates Mill County Park. A respected educator, she has trained folks from Wake Audubon, the NC Museum of Natural Science, and park staff to monitor these and other colonies, protect them from predators, and maintain their homes. Her public engagement and passion fuels the fascination that so many people have for these birds.
 

Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve:  An Educator’s Perspective

i Nov 8th No Comments by

By:  John I Connors

 One Field Trip

In the fall of 2019, I led twelve High Schoolers from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps on a hike at Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. This program serves youth from Southeast Raleigh based at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Wetland Center, but our field trip was to learn about the unique natural features found at this north Raleigh preserve. Within the first hundred yards we crossed paths with a Rough Earth Snake. At twelve inches it might easily be confused with a nightcrawler except for the eyes and flicking tongue. For many this was their first “hands-on” interaction with a snake.

Farther along we coaxed a Marbled Spider out of her curled leaf retreat by tossing a small grasshopper into her orb web. A blotchy yellow arachnid with orange legs- perfect Halloween colors. As the group became more comfortable observing one pointed at a small green dragonfly that was following us. It was a female Common Pondhawk, attracted to the insects stirred by our feet. I caught her in a net, carefully pinched her wings closed and demonstrated the workings of her jaws- she will bite a blade of grass when offered. Next, we surprised a five-foot long Black Racer which decided to dash to its hideaway across the trail, right through the middle of our group. We jumped as it “raced” between us and had a lot to talk and laugh about afterwards. A two-snake day field trip is memorable in any city park. But Horseshoe Farm is one place that consistently delivers.

Protection

There was a time in the early two-thousands that the fate of Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve was in question. Some wanted the pastures to be graded into ball fields. But a large irrepressible group headed by People for Parks and the Wake Audubon Society recognized the obvious. There just aren’t many places like this.

Horseshoe is named for the large granite dome buried beneath much of the park which forces the Neuse River to flow the long way around while continuing its journey east. From the air the river’s bend resembles the curvature of a horseshoe. Soils covering the dome are sandy rather than clay, and much of it is maintained as a wildlife meadow. Below the dome, in the floodplain forest, there are flats and ridges of deposited sand which form natural levees- something unique enough to be recognized by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. There are three seasonal floodplain pools here which collect rainwater in winter.

The Resources

This unique combination of geologic elements influences the flora and fauna of the park. The meadow is alive with insects, especially grasshoppers, dragonflies, and butterflies. Extensive beds of Common Milkweed attract Monarch Butterflies and they are featured on an interpretive sign. Bird watchers are drawn to the numerous species using the meadows. In summer there are Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroats and the Yellow-breasted Chat- an elusive bird best recognized by its strange habit of singing throughout the night. There are five species of swallow foraging over the meadows in June, and in winter eleven species of sparrow have been tallied. Only the NCSU farm fields in southern Wake County boast a greater diversity. There are River Otters by the Neuse, Groundhogs by the meadow, and Coyotes hunting rodents throughout. The night skies are dark and star filled.

The floodplain pools are probably the most noteworthy feature, as they are the breeding site for an impressive array of reptiles and amphibians, insects and other creatures. Perhaps the most unusual is the Eastern Spadefoot Toad- a species that spends much of its life buried under the sand but bursts forth to breed during flooding rains. Its breeding voice is loud and carries across the park. Horseshoe is the only place in northern Wake County where we know they exist. This past spring the WakeNature Preserve Partnership helped organize a bioblitz at Horseshoe Farm and in addition to two state-listed plants, scientists found a strange and rare species of Terrestrial Leach. The floodplain pools are an especially fragile environment, and along with the floodplain itself, are subject to erosion and pollution from unwise development. I have taken my grandkids there many times searching for salamander larvae and tadpoles.

Master Plan

When the City Council made the decision to protect Horseshoe Farm more than fifteen years ago, they authorized the development of a Master Plan and funded Phase 1. This provided for a small parking lot, a picnic shelter, and a Clivus Multrum composting toilet. Future phases include a Nature Center, but until that is realized the preserve remains an unstaffed satellite of Durant Nature Preserve. Many people do not know what a special place it is. Unfortunately, this leaves the Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve vulnerable.

Most great nature-oriented parks seek ways to protect their natural resources while also defining and enhancing the visitor experience that depends on them. This means having staff to inventory resources, and then to develop programs and manage visitors coming to the park. These protections do not currently exist at the park today. Because we remain in an early Phase of park development, we do not yet know what the true visitor experience will be. Part of that will be determined by the resource richness when the next Phase begins. And that is dependent on actions taken to protect them today.

Threats

The resource base, particularly the plants and animals, depend on having a stable or at least predictable environment. Planning staff and elected officials can influence this through zoning decisions. Most great nature-oriented parks protect their resources and the visitor experience offered by providing a buffer of land around the park where low density development is encouraged. This is what currently exists at Horseshoe Farm.

Which brings us to this moment …  High density development adjacent to this nature-dependent park risks diminishing the opportunity of the future park visitors to enjoy the highest quality experience they were promised when Horseshoe Farm was set aside as a nature preserve. Approving the proposal to add over three hundred apartments adjacent to Horseshoe Farm will contribute to the diminishment of the visitor experience. There will be increased noise, and light pollution, and congestion, and pet waste, and soil erosion, and flooding events. Numerous scientific studies have shown that wild animals avoid trails with heavy dog traffic, and apartment dwellers will understandably use the Horseshoe for their daily dog walk. And there will be fewer birds, and it will be harder to hear those that remain, and the flora and fauna of the entire floodplain can be expected to diminish. Even the visitor experience of floating on the Neuse River in a canoe will be diminished as the route will feel more urban and less remote.

Conclusion

There are thousands of places across the City of Raleigh where a large apartment complex can be built without having a deleterious affect on a nature park. But there is only one Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. Its fate is now in our hands.

For further details on Horseshoe Farm Park and Wake Audubon’s opposition to Rezoning Case Z-40-21: https://wakeaudubon.org/initiatives/advocacy/horseshoe-farm-park/, Facebook and Instagram.

Five Tips For Keeping Your Children Connected To Nature This Fall

i Nov 3rd No Comments by

By Kate Newberry

Algebra homework, music lessons, youth group, and choosing the perfect Halloween costume. Fall seems to pass even faster than the leaves fall to the ground. After a slow and relaxing summer and before the harried holiday season, autumn is a great time to pause the chaos and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Encourage your kids to put down the technology, head outside, and enjoy the autumn calm. Especially in a time when the average child’s mental health is suffering, connecting with nature is more important than ever. Here are a few ways to get your kids excited about heading out.

Reserve Time for a Preserve

One way to help young ones connect with nature is by allowing them to learn and experience their environment first-hand. With several outdoor centers and countless trails, Raleigh’s nature preserves offer the space to learn about nature. Pull up a list of native plants on your phone and go on a scavenger hunt. A cell phone picture can’t compare to an actual cardinal flower or purple coneflower.

The first dedicated reserve in Raleigh, Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve, spans 157-acres along the southern shores of Falls Lake. If you’d like to take Fido along for the adventure, pick up his leash and head over to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.

Lace-up the Tennis Shoes

Hitting the trails for a bike ride or a casual hike is an easy way to combine nature and physical activity. This duo is a great way to help kids relax and beat the stress of a new school year.

With three miles of trails and 140-acres of vegetation, Hemlock Bluffs is a great park for a family ride. William B. Umstead State Park offers 22 miles of trails, as well as horseback riding and mountain biking trails. These are great options for older children. To keep everyone happy on the trail, pack a few snacks and make sure you have plenty of water.

Pitch a Tent

Camping is one of the best ways to connect with nature and carve out quality family time. From watching the stars appear to waking to the sounds of nature, there’s no better way to commune with the outdoors. While just the prospect of a family camping trip might be exhausting, there’s a simpler solution: keep it local.

Backyard camping is just as much fun for kids and comes with the added benefit of your own bathroom. Build a bonfire and share favorite memories, jokes, and stories while roasting marshmallows. Listen for owls, watch for bats, and talk about how mosquitos are a necessary nuisance. Leaving the technology indoors will give your kids a chance to enjoy the serenity of a North Carolina evening.

Go on a Friendly Hunt

Kids love animals, and animals love autumn. Spend a little time learning about native animals and go on a hunt to spot them. Whether you try your luck with bird watching or turn over rocks to see the worms, kids of all ages love spotting wildlife. (Isn’t it a universal reflex to say “cows!” when passing a field?)

Little ones will enjoy the opportunity to explore and get dirty. Consider buying a bug house or pair of kids’ binoculars, packing some trail mix, and documenting your finds through photos. Focusing on wildlife will allow you to talk about colors and textures with little ones, or diet and habitat with older children. And, if you don’t know much about Raleigh’s critters, take a minute and learn about your finds together.

Keep it Simple

Raleigh offers myriad community events throughout the fall, many of which take place outside. Pausing for a moment of cloud watching is all it takes to appreciate your surroundings. If you have older kids, or ones especially interested in the arts, catch a matinee at Theatre In The Park. After the show, take a stroll and discuss the performance.

Connecting with nature doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Pick up some sandwiches to eat at your neighborhood park and talk about the sights and sounds around you. Take a few books or even a board game outside and settle in beneath a tree. Getting kids outside might even be as simple as signing up for soccer or another outdoor sport. Just enjoying the fresh air and warm sun is enough to help your child feel connected to nature.

In an age of digital learning and endless Zoom calls, it’s even more important to limit screen time. Helping your kids connect with the outdoors now will set them up for a positive relationship with nature in the future.

 

Kate Newberry writes about camping and hiking for several publications. She and her family have hiked everything from the Big Dalton Canyon in California to Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. (although her kids claim the Smokey Mountains are just “small hills.”)

September Chimney Swifts

i Sep 14th No Comments by

Authored by John Connors

Chimney Swifts were the object of study during the 1930s to 1950s, when volunteers and scientists teamed together and banded 550,000 swifts at nest and roost chimneys. Much of the effort was centered in Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia. We learned that only one pair will nest in a chimney, and that the pair will often return to nest in same chimney year after year. They raise 4-5 young who remain in the chimney for 4 weeks after hatching.

In August the birds abandon the nest chimneys to gather in flocks which roost at night in large industrial-sized chimneys as they prepare for migration. The roosts grow as northern birds join them, so by September many roosts in the south can host as many as 7500 swifts. These roosts allowed for the large banding efforts that took place – the swifts would be caught in netted cages placed atop the chimney mouths as the swifts emerged from their roost. Ultimately we learned that Chimney Swifts winter in the upper Amazon region of Peru.

Here in Wake County, the roosts have begun to assemble. Transfer Food Hall has more than 100 birds and you can hear the recordings we play there to attract them. Carnage MS, Hunter Elementary and Fred Olds Elementary all have roosts, as does the Dept of Motor Vehicle office (now closed) on New Bern Avenue. The downtown N&O roost does not appear to be materializing this year, so like last year there may be a Peregrine Falcon harassing them. That roost may have moved to Oberlin MS (formerly Daniels MS), which might be the best place to view swifts. Last September there were up to 4,000 swifts roosting there.

Chimney Swift in flight. Photo by Kimberlie Dewey

Heads Up For Lights Out

i Aug 16th No Comments by

Authored Pam Diamond, Lights Out Raleigh Volunteer

Some of my fondest memories of growing up in the Southeast are long summers filled with swimming, horseback riding, watermelon seed spitting contests and catching fireflies — or lightning bugs as we called them — at night. Don’t worry, we caught and released them after experiencing the mystery and thrill of watching them light up in our hands.

Jumping forward another couple decades I got to experience the magic of synchronous fireflies in the mountains. Though you can plan a visit to catch the annual experience, I stumbled upon them by accident while primitive camping. My friend and I set up our tent in a clearing away from the forest’s edge. Thankfully — and she still thanks me 25 years later — she accompanied me in the middle of the night when I was too nervous to go out alone to relieve myself. It was then in the dark of the night that we saw what looked like thousands of Christmas lights in the trees. It was a sight to see!

And I do so hope that our generation and the generations to follow will continue to be able to experience the phenomenon. Unfortunately, artificial lights, or light pollution, are taking a toll on the fireflies. According to a study done in 2019, fireflies are attracted to bright LED lights, but the lighting reduces courtship behaviors and also reduces mating success. Fireflies rely on ambient light cues to know when to start courtship flashing, but it becomes a problem when the environment is always lighted. Courtship behaviors go down and breeding success is also likely to go down. That means fewer fireflies for us to marvel over.

Fireflies aren’t the only creatures affected by light pollution. Our migratory birds are, too. Every year, billions of birds migrate north in the spring and back south in the fall. I only recently learned that most of them make this remarkable and perilous journey at night, many using the stars in the night sky to set their course. Isn’t that AMAZING?! However, as they pass over big cities on their way, they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, which can cause them to collide with buildings or windows.

What really is light pollution? Most of us are familiar with pollutants in our air and water, and the garbage polluting our land, but light can also be a pollutant. Simply put, it’s an excessive or inappropriate use of artificial light that can harm human health, animal health, and ecosystems. Most of it comes from outdoor lighting, advertisements, and streetlights. Another major source is indoor light from large buildings like office towers.

Raleigh City Lights

Obviously, I’m a concerned citizen. I’m also a volunteer with Lights Out of Wake Audubon working with the City of Raleigh and hopefully soon the Town of Cary in Audubon’s national effort to reduce the problem of light pollution. It’s commendable that more and more cities are wanting to act and make a difference that helps our environment and protects our wildlife. How about we start in our backyards?

I know many homeowners have lights in their front and back yards. I suspect that most think the lights are a safety feature against crime. However, according to the International Dark Sky Association (darksky.org), “There is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting deters crimes. It may make us feel safer but has not been shown to make us safer. The truth is bad outdoor lighting can decrease safety by making victims and property easier to see.”

The fact is, most property crime occurs in the light of the day. I know from my experience years ago writing for a Florida newspaper that brazen daytime home burglaries were reported more frequently than nighttime incidents. And some crimes like vandalism and graffiti actually thrive on night lighting.

This doesn’t mean you have to abandon all lighting in your yard and on the exterior of your home. “A dark sky does not necessarily mean a dark ground. Smart lighting that directs light where it is needed creates a balance between safety and starlight,” says the International Dark Sky Association.

Here are some steps that we can readily take to contribute to Lights Out and reduce light pollution in our neighborhoods, which ultimately helps migrating birds, fireflies, and helps us to see the starry night sky. (Oh, did I mention that I’m a stargazer, too?!)

  • Evaluate the way we use outdoor lights and avoid over-lighting.
  • Use outdoor lighting fixtures that are fully shielded and prevent light from falling on places where it’s not needed.
  • Direct lights downward and eliminate those directed upward.
  • Use dimmers and motion sensors on outdoor lighting, if possible.
  • Put exterior decorative lighting on a timer to go off by 11 p.m. each night.
  • Use warm-white, shielded LEDs and compact fluorescents.
  • Pull shades and blinds to block inside light at night.
  • Turn off indoor lights at night and after leaving an empty room.

Light pollution is a waste of energy and money and affects each of us. Thankfully, concern about light pollution is rising among homeowners, environmental groups, scientists, and civic leaders. Join me in doing our parts to combat this problem, starting in our own backyards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Volunteer Awards

i Apr 20th No Comments by

Authored by Mary Abrams

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we say “THANK YOU” to all of our volunteers! Of course, we are always grateful for everyone’s contributions, but it’s important to set aside time to crow about the folks who make Wake Audubon great.

This year, we kicked off our celebration early by announcing the first recipients of two special awards that Wake Audubon created to recognize extraordinary volunteers. These awards honor the legacy of two long-time leaders in our chapter, John Connors and Paulette Van de Zande. You can learn more about them and their contributions here (link to awards page).

Marti Kane is the inaugural recipient of the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award. Marti is one of the most energetic, dedicated, and selfless volunteers we know. She has dedicated her life to conservation and education and readily shares her knowledge and love for birds with the community.

In 2020 alone, Marti took over caring for the Bluebird Trail at Wil-Mar Golf Course where she installed predator guards and repaired, replaced, or relocated many existing Bluebird boxes. Overall, she monitored 55 nest boxes between Wil-Mar, Mordecai Historic Park, Durant Nature Preserve, and Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. Marti also volunteers with the American Wildlife Refuge cleaning cages and rescuing and transporting raptors. She enjoys educating others on how they too  can help birds and is a popular speaker with the Wake Audubon Education and Outreach Committee reaching communities across the county. Marti recently retired from a career in environmental education and conservation culminating as the Director of the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park in Raleigh, but she’s still working as hard as ever!

Keith Jensen is the first recipient of the Paulette Van de Zande Volunteer Award. We selected Keith because he creates fellowship within the chapter and surrounding community through his hard work and love of birds.

A Research Technician at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Keith works with many organizations and connects people with birds through several outreach programs. He has served on the UNC Wilmington Painted Bunting Observer Team studying the decline of these colorful birds along our coast and banding birds with his brother. He has mentored WAS Young Naturalists and provided outdoor learning experiences for backyard bird lovers and underserved youth through the Smithsonian Neighborhood Nestwatch program. If you’ve been to a banding demonstration at Prairie Ridge, Keith was the early bird who prepared everything in advance and then shared that special experience with everyone there. Similarly, when we host in-person meetings, he covers all of the logistics including inviting our guests into the Nature Research Center. He is quite an artist too, and his carved Brown-headed Nuthatches and Chimney Swift display have raised community awareness across the Triangle of these declining species.

Please join us in thanking Marti and Keith for all that they do when you see them!

Photo credits: Marti Kane’s photo is by Anne Runyon. Keith Jensen’s photo provided by Keith Jensen.

Bird Counts in Robeson County

i Apr 10th No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas and Liling Warren.  All photos by Liling.

On March 27, board members Erik Thomas and Liling Warren traveled to Robeson County to conduct some bird counts.  The bird counts were for two projects, monitoring of the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) and the NC Bird Atlas.  The Lumber River IBA has pre-designated stops along local roads at which counters list all birds seen or heard within a ten-minute period, with notes on how far away each bird was and when during the ten-minute period the bird made itself known.  All of these stops lie in the lower part of the watershed of the Lumber River.  The NC Bird Atlas, conversely, has all of North Carolina divided into rectangular blocks of land whose edges are several miles long.  The aim of the NC Bird Atlas is to document breeding and wintering birds found in each block.  One sixth of all the blocks are designated as “priority blocks,” those in which a more concerted effort is to be made in order to complete a thorough inventory of birds that dwell there.  Observations of breeding behaviors are especially important.  The ten-minute time limit does not apply to NC Bird Atlas counts.  However, counting for the NC Bird Atlas will take place from March, 2021, through February, 2026, whereas the Lumber River IBA is a continuous project with no set termination.

The two counters spent the morning counting at Lumber River IBA sites.  Because these spots all lie in bottomland areas, the birds that occur there are those that occur near water, along rivers or in swamps.  We found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest, frescoed with lichens as is typical of that species.  White-eyed Vireos were already back from the tropics and singing.  We did exceptionally well with warblers, coming across eight species: Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, and Prairie.  It was surprising to see Prothonotary Warblers so early in the spring, but apparently they now reach the southern part of the state, where Robeson County is situated, in late March.

In the afternoon, we shifted to counting on upland sites for the NC Bird Atlas.  Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds were plentiful.  We also encountered a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes and a Horned Lark.  The most exciting find of the day, however, was a Swallow-tailed Kite that was heading northward as we stood in the Marietta Cemetery. Swallow-tailed Kites are magnificent birds—and virtually impossible to mistake.  You can enjoy some of Liling Warren’s fine camera work of the kite and other birds here.  For the entire day, we completed 21 counts, 10 of which were at Lumber River IBA sites.  We entered all 21 in the NC Bird Atlas, and of those, 12 were in priority blocks.

Using nature to mitigate flooding in Downtown Raleigh development

i Mar 11th No Comments by

By Olivia Merritt, Undergraduate at North Carolina State University

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Many families are flocking to Raleigh from around the world making the City of Oaks the second fastest growing city in the United States. In order to account for its growing popularity, more infrastructure is needed to house and provide for future Raleighites.  One such project that was recently approved is Downtown South, located by the intersection of I-40 and South Saunders. This area surrounds the Walnut Creek floodplain raising environmental challenges including flooding, habitat destruction, and pollution. The developers have proposed many innovative circular designs to decrease flooding and preserve natural spaces but there is still room to improve.

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Downtown South is a large development project that was given the go-ahead by Raleigh’s City Council last month. The project will include a soccer stadium for the NC Courage pro soccer team and space for retail, apartments, hotels, and offices.  The area will be a very walkable and bike-friendly area, with “pocket parks” to preserve some natural space and provide residents green space for mental health. While these features make it a very appealing place for people to move and work, there are lingering ecological and social issues that need to be addressed.

Out of three large sections of the project, two fall within floodplains.  Floodplains are flat areas surrounding a river that are subject to frequent flooding making them a risky place for development.  The floodplains also house over 5,000 species of animals that could face death with unmitigated encroachment upon their territory.

Local environmental leaders have voiced their concern for this project while also praising some of the approaches taken by the developer, Kane Realty. Partners for Environmental Justice and the Wake Audubon Society expressed concern over stormwater management and the impact on the animal population. Two out of the three sections of the development are within a floodplain, and there have always been issues with flooding of residential areas in southern Raleigh. So, what has Kane Realty done to address these concerns?

From https://www.tristatewaterworks.com

From https://www.tristatewaterworks.com

Partners for Environmental Justice publicly stated its approval of the stormwater and flood prevention measures that Kane Realty has proposed.  The measures considered by Kane include rainwater harvesting, green roofs, planters, and permeable sidewalks.  All of these methods provide circular solutions to water runoff by providing ways that water can serve the community and ecosystem without transporting pollutants from the road to the river. This regenerates nature and designs systems that eliminate pollution.

The overall impact of Downtown South is a mixed bag. South Raleigh is a historically poor area, and the developers have not granted nearly as much affordable housing as the community has requested. This means that poor people who have been able to afford living in the area in the past will be forced out because of rising housing prices. On the circularity side, flood mitigation, park creation, and innovative stormwater management practices are balanced by lingering environmental concerns which cannot be ignored.  Check out our article on natural overpasses for additional ideas on how nature and urban environments can harmonize.

Unless otherwise noted, this is the source for the article’s information.