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Archive for April, 2013

Guest post by Rick Mashburn.

The warblers are here. If anybody needs me, I’ll be on Bethabara Greenway.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warblers can be found along the Bethabara Greenway. Photo by David Disher.

Most folks go to Reynolda for their warblers. But if you don’t do hills or mulched walkways or paths through woods and fields, then Bethabara is the place to be. It’s flat and paved, and the Magnolia Warblers and Black-throated Blue Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos are just as gorgeous as they are up at RJR’s house.

I have found so much bird joy along Monarcas Creek that for years I was willing to make the hair-raising crossing of Old Town Drive from the gravel parking lot to the entrance to the flat, paved stretch of Bethabara Greenway. Not only are there two blind curves, but the rough shoulder required me to roll my wheelchair along the road for a few hundred feet. Every time I made that treacherous passage I wondered which birds were worth risking my life for.

Common Yellowthroat at Bethabara Park

David Disher photographed this Common Yellowthroat along the Bethabara Greenway.

One day Ron Morris called. He said he was writing a newspaper column about the thrills of birding on the greenways. I told him about the thrill of crossing Old Town Drive. Soon after, a woman I mistook for someone else stopped me at the farmer’s market and said, “I read about how dangerous it is for you to get on the Bethabara Greenway. We’ve got to do something about this. It’s just not right.”  She was Susan Jones, then president of Forsyth Audubon (FA). I told her I wasn’t much for raising a stink. She pointed out that the crossing was dangerous for everybody, not just me. She said she would help raise the stink if I wanted. I don’t really know why, but I took her up on the offer.

For three years Susan and I talked with the City of Winston-Salem about a sidewalk and a proper pedestrian crossing. Our initial encounters were encouraging, but over time we moved through impatience to frustration, then cynicism. (One of us lost his or her temper at a certain point, but I refuse to say who.) We told ourselves that we had one thing going for us: tenacity. We were not going to give up, not ever. Then we were told we’d made it onto the list of approved sidewalk projects, but that the list was two-hundred projects long.

Earlier, Phil Dickinson had also been concerned and had lobbied the City for safer access when he was FA President. He and Ron Morris (by then FA president himself) had another idea. Why not shift to the other end of the flat, paved segment, where Indiana Avenue dead ends and there was only a short stretch of rough but cleared land to the greenway? What a good idea that was. Carol Gearhart, FA member and veteran of civic bureaucracy, joined the team. We went back to the City with Plan B.

And poof! A beautiful new flat, paved and safe entrance to the greenway appeared.

Well, not exactly poof, but close enough.

Bethabara before planting

The Greenway access prepped for planting. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

And did I say beautiful? Scratch that altogether. The site was hideous. Raw, bare land and two very ugly metal barricades. Bethabara Moravian Church, just next door, had generously offered their parking lot to anyone using the new entrance. They have a beautiful, well-kept landscape, and we’d created a blight on the neighborhood. Something had to be done.

Getting started on planting day.

Getting started on planting day. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

FA member and landscape architect Bill Davis drew up a simple, elegant plan using native plants. The FA Board generously agreed to cover the cost of the plants and to carry out the installation. Shelley Rutkin oversaw the project with the expert assistance of Susan Andrews and Kim Brand. The City delivered a load of mulch. A big crew of FA members, neighbors and friends showed up one Saturday in October to put trees and shrubs in the ground. Shelley and Susan diligently watered through a very dry fall.

Bethabara - hard at work

We worked hard to plant seven Serviceberries and two dozen other plants. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Everything is thriving today.

What we created is not just pretty. It’s a birdfood farm: the Serviceberry trees, Inkberry Hollies and Spicebush will all provide sustenance for Bethabara’s resident birds and migrants. The spot has already become a model for how we can all incorporate an attractive bird-friendly landscape into our own yards.

Bethabara - hard at work

The Bethabara Greenway access at the end of planting day. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

As may be obvious by now, this is a big long thank-you note to the members and leadership of Forsyth Audubon, including current president Jeremy Reiskind. There are many others to thank as well. From the City of Winston-Salem: Matthew Burczyk, Myra Stafford, Tim Grant, Alan Hine, Mike Koivisto, Mickey Boone, Troy Galloway and Keith Finch. From Historic Bethabara Park, director Ellen Kutcher. From Bethabara Moravian Church, former pastor Rev. Trip May and church member Phillip Sapp. Landscaper Andy Lawson. And, on planting day, the hearty neighbors of Old Town Road.

What I have been talking about here is just a little path from a street to another path, but for me it represents so much that is good and caring about the community in which we live. Come check it out. Bring your binoculars. I’ll see you there.

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In last week’s post, I mentioned that I got to go to Panama because of the Wood Thrush. Here’s how.

Since I joined the board of Forsyth Audubon four years ago, we’ve been looking for a way to make a big difference for birds. Could we buy and restore a marsh threatened by development? No, land here is too expensive. Could we help a declining species that breeds in our area? We considered the Wood Thrush, and Katherine Thorington and I led a pilot study on Wood Thrush nesting at Historic Bethabara Park, but it still wasn’t clear how we could help in a big way.

Wood Thrush on nest with chicks.  Photo by Katherine Thorington.

Wood Thrush on nest with chicks. Photo by Katherine Thorington.

It didn’t occur to us that we could help the Wood Thrush anywhere but right here, where we live. But Audubon’s new strategic plan is all about whole life-cycle conservation and flyways. Knowing that, plus hearing about the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville giving all their Birdathon donations to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve in Colombia, got us thinking a little bigger.

The idea came into focus at the Atlantic Flyway meeting in Baltimore, last March. Of the 100 or so Audubon people there, I was one of a handful of chapter members there to share chapters’ perspective. I met John Beavers, director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program. John is a good person to talk to if you want to think big.

John showed me the hemispheric picture and helped me see our chapter’s connection to Central America – through the Wood Thrush. He said conservation groups in Latin America are a lot like chapters, with similar struggles and goals, and they need chapters as partners.

Aha! Since our local conservation projects require mostly sweat equity and very little cash, we could direct most of our Birdathon money to help our birds on their wintering grounds, where research and conservation are badly needed and where our money would go farther than it could at home. (Note: Forsyth Audubon will continue to give $1,000 each year to Audubon North Carolina coastal sanctuaries.)

Thrush Wood singing in Bethabara Park.  Photo by David Disher.

Wood Thrush singing in Bethabara Park. Photo by David Disher.

Back home, Forsyth Audubon board members were excited about helping the Wood Thrush at the flyway level. Everyone already knew the Wood Thrush is in steep decline. It’s OUR bird. We know and love its song, we know where it breeds, we know how to find its nests. Now we knew how we could help in a big way.

We made the largest financial commitment of our 40-year history: $7,500 over 5 years. And we discovered a new sense of purpose. We will partner with Belize Audubon. Travel there to do field work. Our donations will pay for geolocators, training, whatever is needed to make conservation happen. At a hemispheric scale.

The day before Thanksgiving last year, Heather Starck, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, called me to ask whether I’d like to share my chapter’s story, about helping the Wood Thrush through an international partnership, in a five-minute presentation to the National Audubon board… in Panama. In February. Why yes I would!

The board meets three times a year. I was lucky to be invited to this meeting in particular, since it was the first time in nearly two decades that it was held outside the United States. It was exciting to meet David Yarnold and hear his vision for Audubon becoming a major movement with one million members. And learning more about international collaborations between Audubon and partners like BirdLife International and Panama Audubon Society strengthened my commitment to our own fledgling international partnership with Belize Audubon.

After the three-day meeting and giving my presentation, I went on the optional field trip to the Chiriqui Highlands in western Panama. Fifteen of us were on the trip: some board members; Audubon staff members – including former executive director of Audubon North Carolina Chris Canfield and his wife Kate Finlayson; Panama Audubon Society executive director Rosabel Miro; and our guide, Guido Berguido (Advantage Tours Panama). No more meetings. This was all birding, all the time. You can read more about birding in Panama in my earlier post.

According to the latest annual chapters report, 66 chapters now have some connection to an international site. Ours is the first to partner with the International Alliances Program, harnessing the power of the Audubon network in a new way, aligned with flyways and the strategic plan. We’ll have more exciting developments to report soon!

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