The Big Year

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
September 2017

Welcome to our new season. Many of you are here supporting us all year, and also many will be returning to our beautiful Florida. Our sphere of influence at Pelican Island Audubon to keep our Florida natural has widened, with new activities, funding sources, and opportunities for members and volunteers. This is, one of our best, truly, “The Big Year!”  

Richard Baker, George Glenn, Darlene Halliday, & Bonnie Swanson receive a $50,000 check from Jeffrey Pickering of the Indian River Community Foundation for the Audubon Advocates.

Our third year of our Audubon Advocates program is off to a great start.  Last year, our 96 fifth graders from four Title I county elementary and charter schools showed a marked interest in being good stewards of our community by wanting to preserve our environment, removing invasive air potato plants by collecting bulbils and cleaning litter from spoil islands.  Advocates hiked trails, kayaked the Lagoon, waded in mangroves, climbed trees, and learned about the plants and animals, even mosquitoes, spotted birds via binoculars, and snakes in Indian River County. Introduced to scientific techniques for collecting data, students engaged in hands on specimen collection from crab and tree holes, oyster beds, mangroves, bromeliads and examining them under microscopes.  Students documented their experiences with journaling and GoPro cameras, and educated their parents, siblings and guests at their year-ending graduation presentations about our habitats.

Covering two years, PIAS received the following grants to support our Audubon Advocate and other chapter programs:

  • $62,500 – Indian River Lagoon Council National Estuary Program.
  • $20,000 – Indian River County Children’s Service Advisory Council (another $20,000 is coming for a second year).
  • $50,000 – Indian River Community Foundation (see photo of presentation).
  • $35,000 – John’s Island Foundation for a new15-passenger GMC van to transport our Audubon Advocates to and from their school to the Audubon House.  This allows us flexibility and new opportunities for expanding field trips.
  • $1000 – National Audubon to partially support the new 49. X 12 ft. mural at Audubon House by artist Deanna DeRosia.
  • $1,500 – FPL for Butterfly Garden plants.
  • Fundraisers: we hosted a Taste of Honey from Around the World; Partnered with Dr. Jorge Cruz’s the Magic Birding Circuit for an Ecuador Trip Raffle; Yard and Native Plant Sales; and startedthe Lagoon Business Alliance, a new PIAS Business Membership for a healthy Lagoon. Armstrong Global Holdings and Dr. Rick Root are our first two members. Please ask businesses you frequent to join!

Bringing science and reaching out into our communities:

  • Developed Spoonbill Watch, a National Audubon Climate Change Initiative, citizen-science project, to monitor Spoonbills on two small islands at the Stick Marsh in Fellsmere and successfully advocated for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to declare the islands as a Critical Wildlife Area. Held a Spoonbill training course for 26 prospective volunteers.
  • Ongoing Osprey Monitoring: 306 occupied nests at Blue Cypress Lake, the largest population in the world.
  • Monthly monitoring of other local birds at three sites (Indian River Club, Vero Beach Country Club, and Habitat Golf Course in Brevard County) and participated in Audubon’s Eagle Watch and Jay Watch.
  • Developing & Monitoring Indicators with Gifford, Wabasso, and Fellsmere communities, to measure environmental, economic, and social progress and/or concerns.
  • Public Education: booths, exhibits, and children’s games at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve Festival, Environmental Learning Center EcoFest, and Pelican Island Elementary School Festival.
  • Annual Audubon Holiday Party with 225 Audubon Advocates, their parents and sibs, and Audubon members and a Spring Dinner Graduation Party for our 2nd term Audubon Advocate class for 100 students, parents and special guests.
  • Volunteer Nature Stewardship Classes partnered with University of Florida/IFAS/FMEL: 30 students.
  • 3rd Annual Intensive Birding Course for 32 students by Dr. Juanita Baker and David Simpson, one of Florida’s best birders.
  • Square Foot Gardens: continued in14 elementary schools and developed two Garden Clubs in county schools.
  • Pelican Island Elementary School partnering to develop an Ecological Scrub Recovery Project to restore and add new trails at the adjacent Pelican Island Audubon Society’s Martha Wininger Reflection Park.
  •  Art@Audubon: abeginning art and sketching class for youth, taught by Elise Carter.
  • Ten Florida-friendly Landscape UF/ Audubon workshops for Master Gardeners and the general public.
  • Art of Digiscoping Workshop by Clay Taylor from Swarovski
  • The Great Air Potato Roundup and Contest: 28 attending, removing over 320 lbs. of invasive air potatoes, and seeing biological agent (the air potato beetle) doing its job.
  • North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Census Monitoring: 2 Sessions.
  • Audubon Adventurers Spring Camp for 12 Hope for Families resident children
  • FPL Solar Initiative: designed and recommended native plants around two new solar farms.
  • Florida-Friendly Landscaping Initiative: Met with 16 of 17 HMO Moorings development community leaders to discuss using less fertilizer with more native plants and thus to reduce N and P in the surrounding Lagoon.
  • FAU/ Harbor Branch Indian River Lagoon Symposium: poster presented on our Roseate Spoonbill & Osprey citizen community science projects.
  • CD: Developed and distributed “Pelican Island Audubon presents the National Audubon Climate Report, The Future of North American Birds.”  Funded by National Audubon. *Invite us to present this to your organizations.
  • Volunteer Involvement: opened new trails at ORCA, and improve maintenance and invasive plant removal.  Built new landscape gardens at Audubon House, rain (lagoon), and butterfly gardens, a native plant nursery, and led public tours at various habitats.
  • Open House with county officials, speakers and ribbon cutting. Recognized our Audubon volunteers who opened the new trail at ORCA.
  • Received National recognition from “In The Garden With Laura” by Laura Callaghan who spent 4 days with us at our Audubon House.
  • National Audubon’s Plants for Birds program: participatedtoinstall rain (lagoon), and butterfly gardens that obtained Monarch Watch certification as A Monarch Waystation
  • PIAS Online catalog:  use our website to see what books we have in our 2,000+ volume library.
  • Educated and Advocated against IR County’s conservation lands in Sebastian becoming a bus terminal.
  • Invasive Plants of Central Florida Brochure: developedwith support by the Friends of the St. Sebastian River, Florida Native Plant Society, City of Sebastian, and Minuteman Press
  • The Florida Urban Forestry Council’s Trail of Trees presentation by Tim Womick to four elementary schools explaining the importance of trees, offered in collaboration with the City of Vero Beach
  • Continued our outdoor growing healthy square foot gardens programs at 14 elementary schools to teach students where their food comes from and how to grow their own, while learning the importance of pollinators. The vegetables are then taken home and/or shared with other students.
  • Continued public, monthly membership meetings at Vero Beach Community Center, North County Library in Sebastian, River House on the beach side and six presentations at Indian River Estates and one at Timber Ridge.
  • 26 birding field trips.
  • Met twice with each County Commissioner to present our conservation priorities.
  • Outdoor Educational mural of 70 plant and animal species at the Audubon House by artist Deanna DeRosia. *Come to the Grand Opening Gala on October 13th 6-8 pm. Your $50 donation to Pelican Island Audubon will go towards supporting wonderful projects like the mural painting supported!

This Big Year, the great work is due to the many dedicated volunteers and PIAS board members who serve without pay, but put in many hours carrying out the above events and projects including maintaining and cleaning our Audubon House and folding the Peligram.  Each contribution is important! 

Many thanks to our great staff this last year and the new staff that have joined us this season:

  • Bob Montanaro, Office Manager
  • Kristen Hanson – Outdoor Education Coordinator (last year)
  • Ken Gonyo, ORCA and Landscape Volunteer Coordinator
  • Debby Jeffries – Education Coordinator
  • Katheryne Nix – Environmental Educator (Our new staff Audubon Advocate leader)

Special thanks to the dedicated teachers at the IRC Public Schools and folks in the community for working with us the last 2+ years: Cari Berwick, Sonja Jones, Erica Garcia, Heather Smith, Zacharia Trahan, Dustin Strate, Rebecca Marr, Teresa Baird, Kim Slade, Laura Weaver, Maria Maul, Elise Carter, Susan Lovelace, and Nancy Hatcher.

Let’s work together to have another BIG YEAR!  Join us!  Volunteer! Advocate! Educate! Make the public aware!

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