Chapter of the Month: High Country Audubon- Helping Birds by Saving their Habitats

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

This month, we get to know the High Country Audubon Society.

Location, location, location…Or, in the case of our birds: habitat, habitat, habitat!

Without good habitats, many birds are unable to find nest sites, locate enough food or have places to hide from predators. That’s why High Country Audubon Society members have been working to protect and improve bird habitats in the High Country.

Janet Paulette pulling garlic mustard - Jesse Pope photo.

The Valle Crucis Community Park (VCCP), located along the North Carolina Birding Trail, provides a good habitat to many birds migrating through or spending the summer in the mountains. Unfortunately, we noticed that there were large patches of Garlic Mustard in several parts of the park and smaller patches throughout the area. Over the last few years, chapter members have volunteered their time VCCP removing Garlic Mustard growing throughout the park.

This shrub is an aggressive Eurasian plant that was introduced to the US and has spread quickly. Like many non-native plants, Garlic Mustard grows well along the edges of roads, trails and in disturbed areas. Unlike other invasive species, it can also grow in wooded areas and can thrive in shade. As it spreads, it releases a chemical that inhibits many native plants from reproducing, eventually changing the entire composition of the site as native species die out.

During our first year at VCCP we teamed up with volunteers from Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC), a local land trust that holds an easement on part of the park. Together, we pulled about 20 large garbage bags full of Garlic Mustard. The amount we have found since has decreased each year, but in 2014 we still managed to find enough Mustard to fill three bags. With seeds remaining viable for up to seven years, the plant is a tough invasive species to remove.

Curtis Smalling photo - Pulling garlic mustard.

We hope to finish up at this site sometime around 2020.

As the work at VCCP has decreased, we have added the Meat Camp Environmental Studies Area to our list of places to rid of invasive species. This is another NC Birding Trail site containing a wetland and a portion of Meat Camp Creek. We have had two successful years pulling invasive plants, and this year we added a weed eater to our arsenal in order to keep them from producing seeds. Even though this is just our second year at this new site, we have already noticed a reduction of plants in areas where we pulled last year. Our hope is to have the invasive plants of the Meat Camp Environmental Studies Area under control in another few years.

After that is finished, who knows where we will volunteer our time next? Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a shortage of sites in the area that need our help.

Curtis Smalling photo - Pulling garlic mustard with BRC.

HCAS has also partnered with Blue Ridge Conservancy on field trips to significant bird sites that BRC has protected. We hope that these combined walks will encourage our members to recognize the importance of protecting habitats. Additionally, we hope BRC members hear of the work that HCAS is doing and become members, join our walks and attend our meetings.

To learn more about native and non-invasive plants in the mountain region, piedmont or coastal plain visit our Bird-Friendly Plants page. Audubon North Carolina oversees statewide conservation projects year-round. To donate to this and other efforts protecting birds, click here.

How you can help, right now