Stories from the Forest: Audubon Partners

Thanks to many landowners and public and private agencies, Audubon NC is helping birds and people in Working Lands in western North Carolina.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy – Land Trust

Audubon North Carolina is working with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, one of the country’s oldest land trusts, to restore early successional habitats that are home to Golden-winged Warblers as well as small mammals like weasels and the Appalachian cottontail. The groups hope to attract the colorful warbler to sites they once inhabited and are encouraged by recent field work that doubled the known Golden-winged population in the Roan Highlands.

“Our partnership with Audubon enables us to do more than we could possibly do alone. SAHC has more of a land perspective while Audubon has this great science expertise and is well-connected with the research community. Their knowledge helps leverage our land management work. They provide quality work and have a great reputation. And Curtis Smalling is an outstanding resource. I would recommend that landowners work with Audubon not only because of their knowledge but also because they can help people find funding to manage their working lands to benefit priority species. Even projects that are focused on helping one priority species, like the Golden-winged Warbler, are vehicles to protect habitats for a suite of other species.”

- Chris Coxen, Field Ecologist, SAHC

See this partnership in action

Hampton Creek Cove

Little Hump area

Shady Grove Gardens and Nursery – Private Landowners

Susan Wright and Brent Cochran own 76-acre Shady Grove Gardens and Nursery, a cut flower farm located on the slopes of 'The Peak' in the Amphibolite Mountains of Ashe County. The farm’s open meadows, early successional forest, streams, and mountain bogs provide diverse habitats for numerous bird species. Curtis Smalling helped the couple connect with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Natural Resources Conservation Service and obtain guidance and funding to help manage their property to benefit Golden-winged Warblers.

“Both of us are birders so we were already familiar with the habitats and birdlife on our property but Curtis confirmed that Golden-winged Warblers were nesting here and suggested how we could manage our property to help the species. This initial contact with Audubon helped give us the energy to manage the property for Golden-winged Warblers.  He also provided us with a video about the species’ habitat that gave us some ideas about what we wanted our property to look like. And he nominated our farm to be included on the N.C. Birding Trail. So now birders from all over the state and the country visit our farm! They’re usually interested in seeing Golden-wingeds, but we have a pretty extensive bird list so there are lots of other birds to see as well.”

-  Susan Wright and Brent Cochran, Private Landowners

See this partnership in action

Blue Ridge Parkway – Public agency

Audubon North Carolina has been working with the Blue Ridge Parkway for several years on a variety of projects, including a study of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and an ongoing project to manage agricultural fields to benefit birds and butterflies. The partners are planting a field with native warm-season grasses in an effort to recreate some of the grasslands historically found in the area and to provide habitat for grassland species that are declining, such as meadowlarks.

“Working with Audubon benefits the Parkway in several ways. Curtis Smalling’s knowledge about birds and bird habitats allows him to look at our land from a bird perspective. As well, a private nonprofit has more flexibility than we do in finding different sources of funding and handling some of the logistics that would take too long for us to do, such as doing bird transects or hiring a local farmer to plant grasses. Audubon’s expertise really enhances our conservation efforts.”

- Bob Cherry, Wildlife Biologist, Blue Ridge Parkway

See this partnership in action

The field conversion project is open to the public and is located in Price Park about 5 miles south of Blowing Rock at Milepost 296.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Park at the cable gate (don't block the gate) at the large red barn on the south side of the parkway. The field is about 3/4 mile down that road.

Curtis Smalling – Director of Land Bird Conservation, Audubon North Carolina

When we tracked down Curtis for a quick interview, we found him rambling along a chilly mountainside thinking about, you guessed it, birds. He shared his perspective on how landowners can take small steps that make a big difference for birds.

I often think about Emily Dickinson’s poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers” when I think about the lives of birds. It’s just mind-boggling to think about what some birds are capable of doing, like flying 8,000 miles from the Tropics to North Carolina and then raising their young. Some years they have offspring that survives and some years they don’t. But they keep at it because giving up is not an option.

Many migratory birds have what we call site fidelity, meaning they return to the same site every year to spend the winter or to breed. It gives you a new perspective when you talk about working on your land or your yard because all the little things we do matter to the birds that live here too. The same Scarlet Tanager has nested in my yard for the past eight or nine years. In a way, my yard is his yard too! What if he came back here one spring and I’d cut down all my trees?

Everybody makes hundreds of decisions every year about how they manage their property or their backyard, from deciding what to plant to deciding when to mow. And if a significant portion of those decisions started to be made with birds or wildlife in mind it could really make a difference. If you do a few little things like planting native plants that offer migrating birds a safe resting place and high quality food, you essentially give the birds one more day to make it to their next destination.  Those days add up to higher survival and more baby birds over the course of their lives.

- Curtis Smalling, Director of Land Bird Conservation

How you can help, right now