Audubon in Action
People, efforts, and victories of the National Audubon Society.
Melanie Driscoll is in the thick of the oil spill.
A week after oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, Melanie Driscoll raced to Venice, Louisiana, to lend her expertise. A month later Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Louisiana program, reflected on the challenges of rescuing birds and coordinating an army of volunteers.—Alisa Opar
More than 13,000 people signed up to volunteer with Audubon. Have you contacted them?
We’ve mostly reached out locally because there’s no housing, no food setup. Folks have been willing to do kind of crazy things. We’ll say, we need you to drive an hour from your home to pick up a bird that was dropped off in a strange place, then drive four hours up the delta and back down another loop to the wildlife rescue center to deliver it, and then drive home. That’ll be 10 hours of driving and $40 worth of gas. A lot of the volunteer work is not glamorous, and a lot of it’s not direct. It may be chopping up sardines in a blender for a rescued bird. These actions are helping just as much as washing a bird.
How are the recovery efforts affecting birds?
Because so many people are out looking, birds injured in the course of life that would normally recover on their own or die are being detected and rescued. Birds are also being killed and injured because of the protective efforts. So many more people are driving around, hitting birds on the road. Dump trucks are driving on bird habitat, dumping sand into breaches on islands to prevent oil from going into the marshes. The National Guard is dumping sand bags from helicopters to shore up islands. We’ve heard of Wilson’s plover chicks separated from adults by a boat with a boom. There’s so much disturbance it’s hard to say what is protection and what is harm. That human instinct to rush in to rescue can put more pressure on areas and birds, and well-intentioned efforts can cause harm, so we’re trying to help direct volunteers so that their impact is beneficial.
What happens after the oil spill is cleaned up?
Audubon and its partners are planning for long-term monitoring, to see how this impacts populations now and how they respond as we continue to work on habitat restoration. In the very long time frame, we have the Mississippi River Initiative. We’re in a unique position in that we have a powerful river with a lot of sediment. We can create habitat in the Mississippi floodplain and delta with the right types of management, and that’s rare. We have a lot of opportunity, and we need to be poised to take advantage of that.
A Garden Fit for Birds
Eat local. That’s the theory behind the Bedford Audubon Society’s bird-friendly vegetable garden, planted first in 2009 and doubled in size to 2,400 square feet this year. “If we can grow our own food and, of course, do it without pesticides, it may be the most practical thing people can do to combat climate change,” says Jim Nordgren, executive director of the chapter, located in Katonah, New York. Gardeners use natural repellents (think smelly herbs) and companion plantings, where, for example, a corn stalk acts as structural support for nearby beans. They plant dill, hyssop, and other pollinator attractors, and teach what Nordgren calls “beneficial borders,” using mint and wormwood to deter plant eaters. Last year the garden attracted 14 pairs of nesting birds and generated more than 200 pounds of produce for the local food bank. “It’s not about growing as much as we can,” Nordgren says. “It’s about learning the process.”—Michele Wilson
Purple Martin Majesty
What’s 50,000-strong, spends an hour each night swirling and churning in the air and making the sky appear fluid, then swoops like a tornado and collapses into the trees? It’s a purple martin staging colony on an island in Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita. Recently Audubon Arkansas noticed growth in an already established roost, potentially the state’s last of significant size. With support from Audubon and other organizations, studying and documenting these birds has become the pet project of high school and middle school students from Mountain Pine, Arkansas. The teens have already counted the birds eight times—numbers at the site increased to 50,000 in 2009 from 8,000 in 2008, possibly because high waters in a different roost drove birds to the Lake Ouachita island—and successfully lobbied for state funding. They’re also pushing to attain Important Bird Area status for the roost. “It’s not a class project,” says Mike Vincent, the students’ supervisor and a teacher at Mountain Pine High School. “This is something that’s a real-world deal.” Next up, if funds come through, the students will band the birds and track their migration to South America.—M.W.
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