Nature Studies on the Rise 

Courtesy of Skidaway Audubon 

Lifelong learning has become a natural way of life for many Skidaway Island residents. The wildlife-rich barrier island has given rise to a growing group of citizen scientists who are helping to make a difference on the island and beyond. 

Whether it’s due to a new hobby, a lifelong passion, or a professional interest, these residents are putting their skills to use as they contribute to a variety of environmental initiatives, from local projects to national academic studies. 

For example, Skidaway Audubon volunteers participated in a nationwide monarch butterfly health study conducted by the University of Georgia. They netted monarchs, collected cells from their abdomens using a sticky disc, and then released them back into the environment. The discs were sent to the UGA Odum School of Ecology where doctoral students processed the samples to identify and ultimately stem the growing number of pathogens on monarchs that may be contributing to their population decline. More than 1,000 volunteers from 43 states sampled 45,000 monarchs for Project Monarch Health. 

Skidaway Audubon volunteers at Sparrow Field also assisted with the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project. This involved monitoring monarch habitats and completing data sheets over time, to help researchers understand better their needs throughout their lifecycle, and how best to protect their habitat. 

Fitz Clarke has spent many years documenting the natural world at Sparrow Field and is among the local residents who have contributed spectacular images to, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. With iNaturalist, citizens worldwide upload photos of any plant, animal, or fungus, and the app, or other naturalists, will identify it. The photos can help detect the prevalence or changes in the geographic range of all sorts of plants, animals, and insects. 

Clarke says the layout of the pollinator garden at Sparrow Field is ideal for a science-friendly outdoor classroom or for curious observers of all ages, and citizen scientists as well. It runs north to south with the sun at one’s back in the mornings and has an adjacent pathway that allows golf carts to creep along the 152-yard berm, within three feet of the garden. 

“The pollinators prefer a temperature of approximately 62+ degrees to activate the large muscles located within their thorax,” said Clarke, noting his preference for the morning hours. “These large muscles drive the wings and legs. As the temperature rises, you will observe the appearance of a beautifully colored array of insects.” 

Richard Wolfert, who enjoyed a 30-year career as a science and computer teacher before moving to The Landings, recently started a nature and science group on It already has attracted 30 members interested in sharing information about Skidaway’s fascinating flora and fauna. 

“This is a natural extension of everything I’ve always done, and I’m loving it,” said the retired teacher, who also is one of the more than 200 island residents who have contributed to Skidaway’s own iNaturalist section --  The Landings/Skidaway Island, GA. 

Skidaway Audubon volunteer Rick Cunningham has put his extensive technical knowledge to use spearheading several Audubon initiatives, including The Landings Bird Cam. The livestreamed nesting site is a joint project of Cornell University and Skidaway Audubon that provides insight into the critical life stages of raptors. 

Cunningham also is involved with Georgia Tech scientists and engineers who are planning to develop a network of internet-enabled sea level sensors across Chatham County. The objective is to give emergency planning and response officials real-time data on coastal flooding and help regional planners quantify the risks associated with sea level rise. 

If it’s true that a key to longevity is keeping the mind engaged, then these along with the many other studious residents in The Landings may be adding years to their lives as they delve into the natural environment right outside their door. 

For more information about Skidaway Audubon projects, or to become a supporter, visit


This article was originally published by The Landings Association on their website.

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