The Audubon Observer, October 2021
FREE THE OCKLAWAHA RIVER
The Ocklawaha River in Putnam County is the largest tributary to the St. Johns River, but since the late 1960s the natural flow of the Ocklawaha has been blocked by the Kirkpatrick Dam (more commonly known as the Rodman Dam), a remnant of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project, which was halted in 1971 due to the severe environmental damage that would be caused by completion of the project. Since the abandonment of the canal project, the Rodman Dam has no function other than to create a huge pool of water, drowning at least 20 natural springs and submerging 16 miles of the river and thousands of acres of forest under the massive pool. Debris and vegetation build up behind the dam, and the state of Florida regularly spends millions of dollars treating invasive aquatic vegetation in the pool. In addition, the gates of the dam must be opened every three to four years to draw the water level down to further control the excess vegetation.
We are now at a critical juncture: the dam is reaching the age where the structure either needs to be completely renovated, or breached to drain the pool for good and allow the natural flow of the Ocklawaha to be restored. The St. Johns River Water Management District is conducting a survey of Florida residents, available through October 22, 2021, about the fate of the dam. Almost certainly, the majority opinion from this survey will determine the outcome (simply put, to breach the dam or repair it), so your input is critically important. We encourage you to learn about the history of the dam and the long-running controversy surrounding it, and then complete the survey at https://floridaswater.formstack.com/forms/rodman.
Our chapter, along with Audubon Florida, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, Sierra Club Florida, Florida Native Plant Society and many other environmental organizations, supports breaching the dam and returning the Ocklawaha River to its natural channel. Over time, this would restore many thousands of acres of currently submerged or stressed floodplain forest. It would release the many freshwater springs that are currently suppressed under the weight of the Rodman pool (sometimes referred to as Lake Ocklawaha). It would create a discharge of at least 150 million gallons of fresh water a day into the St. Johns River, improving water quality in the St. Johns and helping the river resist saltwater intrusion from sea level rise. Birds and wildlife native to the area would return, as this part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor would be restored. Manatees would again be able to swim unimpeded all the way to Silver Springs from the St. Johns River. Fish that go from the ocean to inland rivers to spawn could do so unimpeded.
Repairs to the current dam are estimated at $14 million, plus $400,000 in annual maintenance costs, all funded by Florida taxpayer dollars. If the dam is breached, the cost of drawdowns and chemical treatment of invasive aquatic vegetation control would be largely unnecessary. While the pool has long been a popular fishing spot, it is projected that a free-flowing Ocklawaha River would provide even more recreational opportunities than the current pool. You can learn more about the projected benefits from breaching the dam at FreeTheOcklawaha.com.
Please find the time to fill out the St. Johns River Water Management District survey. Sample questions and suggested responses to help you prepare are available here. The more Florida residents who express their preference for breaching this long-disputed dam, the more likely it will finally happen. Thank you!
~ Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director for Duval County & Carol Bailey-White, Chapter President
FALL MEMBERSHIP CAMPAIGN
Fall in Northeast Florida is a great time to enjoy cooler weather (finally!) and delight in the birds migrating through or just arriving in our area for the winter. It's also a great time to join our chapter if you are not already a member. Our Fall membership campaign is going on right now, and you can be the lucky winner of our membership campaign drawing!
When you join Duval Audubon Society, you also become a member of the National Audubon Society as well as Audubon Florida, and your membership supports the efforts of all three organizations. Audubon is one of the most respected conservation organizations in the world, and our local chapter is an all-volunteer non-profit group that works hard to protect the birds we love and achieve our mission of connecting people with nature.
Why join Audubon? So many reasons:
All new members in Clay, Duval, or Nassau counties who join Audubon from now through October 16, 2021 will be entered into a drawing for our customized Duval Audubon ball cap and a copy of the Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, so don’t delay, join today!
If you are uncertain of your membership status, please reach out to our Membership Director Christine Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OCTOBER BIG DAY
If you are already an eBird member, you probably already know about eBird's October Big Day, happening this year on Saturday, October 9th. If not, now is a great time to join eBird (it's free!) and contribute your bird sightings to eBird's worldwide database along with millions of other birding enthusiasts across the country and around the world. Your bird sightings will contribute to the knowledge of bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends, and help to concentrate conservation efforts where they're needed most. Not only that, but eBird is a fabulous way for you to keep track of the birds you've seen, and alert you to birds you might want to see in a particular area. Use eBird's Explore features to discover great birding spots as well as what species you might see at different times of the year. You can spend hours poring over all the fascinating data that eBird has to offer.
Participating in October Big Day is simple. Just join eBird if you haven't already done so, go out on October 9th and watch birds anywhere you want for at least 10 minutes (even your backyard!), and report your sightings at eBird.org or on eBird's free mobile app. It's that easy!
To make your October Big Day birdspotting even more fun, download the free Merlin Bird ID app on your phone and use it to help you identify birds by sight or even sound. You can also upload photos or audio recordings of the birds you see or hear that day to your eBird checklist, and watch as the sightings come in on eBird's Live Submissions map.
New to eBird? Check out their Help Center for lots of great info on how to get started. Happy birding!
NEW EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT AT CROSBY SANCTUARY
Over the Labor Day holiday, prospective Eagle Scout Rohan Jones and his dedicated team of helpers installed new fencing around our native garden AND a beautiful wingspan sign at our Crosby Sanctuary nature preserve in Orange Park. The fencing will help protect our native garden from deer and other critters that like to nibble on the tender new shoots, which has been an issue since the inital planting of the garden in March of 2019 with a generous grant from the Ixia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.
The lovely wingspan sign is located at the beginning of the swamp trail and features wingspan silhouettes of some of the bird species that have been spotted at Crosby, from the biggest (Bald Eagle, at about 8 feet) to one of the smallest (Prothonotary Warbler, at about 8 inches!) The colorful sign will be a fun attraction for visitors to the preserve.
Speaking of visitors to Crosby, we hope to see you at our next monthly Open House event, 8 am until noon on Saturday, October 23rd! No need to sign up in advance, but please check our website for the location and other specifics as well as our recommendations for a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.
Many thanks to Rohan and team for these beautiful new enhancements to Crosby Sanctuary!
WELCOME NEW BOARD MEMBERS!
We're thrilled to introduce our two newest board members, Melissa Patterson and Marie Chappell.
Melissa joins us as our Recording Secretary, a position that has gone unfilled for quite some time, so we are especially grateful to bring Melissa on board. In addition to being a Florida Master Naturalist, Melissa has been a high school science teacher for 17 years. Melissa also works part-time at the Argyle Forest Wild Birds Unlimited store. She tells us that she applied to join our board of directors because, "I want to work with an organization that shares my values as well as my love for song birds and the environment." Welcome, Melissa!
Marie will serve as our Education Director, and is a recent graduate of Cornell University, home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She has been a birder since her early teens, and over the years she has been privileged to participate in opportunities like surveying the breeding bird populations of a naval submarine base, assisting in a captive breeding program of the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, recording bird sounds in both Australia and China for the Cornell Lab, and researching the vocal differences of eastern and western Yellow-breasted Chats. She currently works with the Merlin team at the Macaulay Library, where she trains Merlin Sound ID and serves as a public interface to help with any Merlin-related questions. She also volunteers as a regional eBird data reviewer for Duval and Nassau Counties. We are so happy to have you with us, Marie!
Many thanks to both Melissa and Marie, and to all of our board and committee members, for volunteering your time and expertise to help our chapter achieve our mission of connecting people with nature.
We were thrilled to be able to resume birding field trips in September and so far they are going beautifully. Participants in our September Crosby Sanctuary Open House event enjoyed exploring the beauty and biodiversity of the swampy wetlands, pine flatwoods, and oak hammock ecosystems that comprise the 510-acre nature preserve, and as mentioned above, you will have another opportunity to explore the sanctuary on October 23rd, so we hope you can join us for that.
Our September program, held virtually via Zoom, featured a fabulous presentation by author and conservationist Paul Baicich about the incredible birds of Cuba. In case you missed it, you can still catch it on our YouTube channel.
Our October program, "Light Pollution and Birds," will be presented on October 18th by Dr. Natasha Vanderhoff of Jacksonville University and Mike Taylor, Curator of Herps, Birds, and Others at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Their presentation will focus on the dangers of light pollution for birds and other wildlife, and describe how a local initiative is working to reduce those hazards in Northeast Florida. Registration for this virtual program is available here.
Here are our upcoming activites for October:
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Duval Audubon Society, Inc.