Video from celebration (coming soon)
Forsyth Audubon’s 50 years of service to birds
By Ron Morris
Published by the Winston Salem Journal April 15, 2022
For many people interested in birds or nature generally, the more interesting parts of the grand estate of tobacco magnate R. J. Reynolds are not the lovely Reynolda House, its formal gardens, nor the Museum of American Art, but a 16-acre wetland and an unassuming trail that traverses the adjacent woodlands. This mixture of habitats in the heart of Winston-Salem attracts to a wide variety of birds and, consequently, lots of birders.
But on the evening of April 7th, well over a hundred people, mostly birders and conservationists, gathered, not in the woodlands, but in the museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Audubon Society of Forsyth County, also known as Forsyth Audubon.
In 1971 a small group of avid birders decided to make the leap from informal bird-lovers to an official chapter of the National Audubon Society.
You may be checking my math about now and thinking that 2022 minus 1971 is actually 51 years, not 50, but then it won’t surprise you that the celebration was delayed for a year by a nasty bug known as COVID-19.
Currently one of nine chapters in North Carolina, Forsyth Audubon not only survived the pandemic, but continues to thrive.
Most of the chapter’s activities still focus on the enjoyment of seeing birds, and these include highly popular activities such as local bird walks, daytrips that are farther afield, and twice-annual weekend birding trips to destinations such as the Outer Banks and Smokey Mountains National Park.
But many of the chapter’s members also participate in community science projects such as Christmas Bird Counts, bird surveys that National Audubon has been sponsoring for 122 years.
The chapter has partnered with the Conservation Fund, Piedmont Land Conservancy, and Winston-Salem Recreation and Parks to plan the development of the city’s newest park, Long Creek just east of Bethania.
It has aided Forsyth County Recreations and Parks and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission on a native grass meadow at Tanglewood Park, and a series of high-quality signs that interpret the habitats of the park and the birds that occupy them.
It has advised W-S Recreation and Parks on native plant improvements at Miller Park and installed well over a hundred brown-headed nuthatch nest boxes throughout Forsyth County. These nuthatches are found only in pine forests in southeastern US.
Forsyth Audubon President Don Lendle counts the chapter’s work with Habitat for Humanity as among the most substantive initiatives. Its volunteers collaborated with new homeowners in under-served communities to install native plants and erect bird houses. As Don says, there’s a symmetry with this program that goes beyond mere symbolism.
At the event, Education Chair Wendy Hawkins touted the chapter’s Lights Out program when she and Audubon NC Engagement Director Kim Brand addressed the problem of migratory birds crashing into downtown buildings. Many migratory birds migrate at night, and they can become confused and disoriented by the lights of tall downtown buildings and crash into them, usually with fatal results. Wendy and other chapter volunteers approached building managers and urged them to turn off building lights during the most crucial times – 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM during peak spring and fall migration. Upon monitoring the results, the volunteers found a 30% decrease in bird fatalities as a result of these efforts.
Forsyth Audubon pioneered the program in North Carolina, and it has been expanded to Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro.
Audubon NC Executive Director Andrew Hutson applauded Forsyth Audubon’s many works to promote the appreciation and conservation of birds over its first half century and pointed to its leadership in many areas.
Jamaal Nelson, National Audubon’s Chief Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion officer spoke of the importance of engaging all communities in the pursuit of protecting birds and the places they need.
All these endeavors and many more were highlighted at the anniversary celebration. But the prevailing sentiment throughout the ceremony was clear: the glue that holds the membership together is the friendship, the camaraderie felt by all. It’s all about sharing a common passion – a love of birds and all of nature.
The evening’s celebration culminated in a festive reception on the terrace of Reynolda House, a beautiful and fitting setting for this auspicious event.
You can continue Forsyth Audubon’s good work while experiencing the joy of birds by going to forsythaudubon.org and signing up.
Photos by Barb Borucki