Skidaway Audubon News: Nature in Full Bloom on Skidaway
Summer is blossoming throughout Skidaway Island -- if Skidaway Audubon’s burgeoning wildlife projects are any indication. The pollinator garden is buzzing with activity, the island’s treasured terrapins are laying their eggs, and closely-watched nest boxes are brimming with baby birds.
At the Sparrow Field pollinator garden, volunteers have nurtured a host of flowering plants that have brought color and life to the 152-yard berm, located off Bartram Road. The plants are labeled for identification, and all residents are encouraged to visit anytime to learn which plants thrive in this coastal environment, and which attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that are essential to plant life. Local photographers and nature lovers have identified at least 30 butterfly species at the garden.
“We are particularly thrilled to have Painted Buntings frequent the bird bath and the new bird feeder,” said Skidaway Audubon President Dawn Cordo, adding that new recruits are always welcome to join the crew of volunteers who maintain the garden. The gardeners meet at Sparrow Field every Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. No experience is needed and tools are provided.
The Landings has the largest monitored birdhouse trail in the Southeast. The Dave Scott Bluebird Trail is comprised of nearly 200 nesting boxes bordering The Landings’ six golf courses, and in select public spaces, including Tidewater Square. It was established by former Landings resident Dave Scott in the 1990s to give the bluebird population a needed boost.
Audubon’s dedicated volunteers monitor the birdhouses weekly during the summer-long nesting season. The monitors record the number of nests, eggs, nestlings and fledglings, and clean out the houses after each baby has fledged.
So far, this season has been quite busy, with not only bluebirds but chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice all using the bird houses. Plans are underway to similarly bolster populations of Swifts, whose numbers have been steadily declining. Bird Trail Co-Chairs Sarah Lucas and Brenda Ecken will lead the start-up of this project and will need volunteers for the successful development of the program, which is supported by a generous grant from Landlovers.
Terrapin Rescue Project
Many years ago, diamondback terrapins were harvested by the hundreds of thousands for soups and as pets. Restoring the population has been a challenge. Skidaway Audubon runs the largest terrapin rescue project on the East Coast. Volunteers rescue terrapin eggs from the golf course sand traps to save them from hungry predators. The turtle eggs are then placed in two hatcheries for incubation here on the island, and later the baby diamondbacks are released into the marshes. Last year, with help from residents the rescue team successfully released more than 3,500 hatchlings.
With their pale blue volunteer flags on their golf carts, volunteers are out at dawn looking for female terrapins laying their eggs. Volunteers can be seen throughout the nesting season, which runs from early April through early August, at Terrapin Point golf course holes 3,8,9,10, and 15.
“We are already off to a great start,” reports Terrapin Rescue Project Chair Lisa Isenhour. In the first few weeks, more than 100 nests have been discovered, which is a sizable increase over the same period last year.
In addition to their hard work, the volunteers have conducted environmental education programs for children in four, first grade classes this spring, and will schedule several community outreach events in The Landings and at Skidaway Island State Park later in the year. Last year, the group received national recognition for its educational initiatives and conservation efforts that have saved more than 23,000 diamondback hatchlings in the past 13 years.
Bird Cam Project
The Landing Bird Cam has provided a literal bird's-eye view of nesting raptors since its installation in 2014. Bald eagles, great horned owls, and osprey have raised their young in the massive nest, to the delight of online observers worldwide. As the nest, located on the Palmetto golf course along the eastern marsh, is presently vacant, plans are underway to replace one of the cameras, reinforce the nest supports and camera mounts, and possibly adjust camera angles to provide better views of a second nest nearby. The bird cam is a cooperative effort of Skidaway Audubon, Cornell University, and other partners.
Volunteer gardeners, fondly nicknamed Garden Gnomes, planted and maintain several butterfly gardens along out-of-play areas of the golf courses, as part of Audubon’s Nature Notices initiative. Signs identify these areas as critical habitat for the dwindling number of monarch butterflies. There also are signs in other, naturalized, out-of-play areas describing the wildlife they support.
Tallow Trees Project
Skidaway Audubon’s merry band of chainsaw-wielding warriors continue their fight to eradicate the invasive Chinese tallow trees on the island. The “Tallow Terrors” have eliminated nearly 62,000 tallow trees in the past 15 years. Tallows are a fast-growing species that can quickly crowd out native trees, destroying critically important habitat. The skilled team recently removed a cluster of tallows in the Marshwood section in response to a resident’s call, and urge other residents and all golfers to notify them when a tallow is spotted.
Tallows are identified by heart-shaped leaves that turn orange in the fall. The “Tallow Terrors” continue to scout the nature trails and around the lagoons and along McWhorter Drive and OSCA roads, for remaining tallow trees, under the direction of John Taylor.
Skidaway Audubon’s Continuing Education Committee, chaired by Mary Lee Beach, wrapped up its successful speakers series this spring. Presentation topics included shorebirds, right whales, coyotes, raptors and reptiles. The committee has already begun planning another series of interesting guest speakers scheduled to get underway in the fall.
A 501(c)(3) organization, Skidaway Audubon relies on its volunteers and donors to continue its good work. The popular bird cam require high-tech maintenance, butterfly gardens require additional plantings, bat houses require poles that can withstand hurricane-force winds, bluebird nesting boxes and turtle hatcheries need yearly maintenance, and the annual live animal presentations – a community favorite – are a significant cost to the organization.
“We need the support of caring donors, as well as the time and energies of our hard-working volunteers, if we are to continue to protect, enhance and enjoy the natural beauty and wonders that make this island so desirable,” said Cordo, adding that as an all-volunteer nonprofit with no overhead or staff, every penny donated to Skidaway Audubon helps enable the continuation of its conservation and education programs.
Residents or businesses interested in donating to Skidaway Audubon’s conservation and educational missions can visit SkidawayAudubon.org and scroll down to the Donate Now button to make an instant online donation. Donations are tax deductible and can be made anonymously or in honor of a loved one. Monthly autopay donations are an easy and popular option. For more information, visit SkidawayAudubon.org.
A Gulf Fritillary emerges from its chrysalis at the pollinator garden at Sparrow Field off Bartram Road. This photo was taken by Amy Collings
This article was originally published by The Landings Association on their website. Visit landings.org to read the original article. https://landings.org/news/2023/06/01/skidaway-audubon-news%C2%A0nature-full-bloom-skidaway