Audubon Florida News

Topic: Citizen Science,Florida Scrub-Jay,Land Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

Audubon Jay Watch Partners to Restore Rare Scrub Habitat

Audubon Jay Watch, FWC Ridge Rangers, and Highlands Hammock Park staff team

Timberrrr” calls were heard near and far on the morning of January 9th in the Tiger Branch area of Highlands Hammock State Park.  A lone pair of rare Florida Scrub-Jays calls this area “home” but the overgrown habitat could host many more birds if restoration is successful.

Paul Ahnberg, Jay Watch volunteer, cuts a sand pine sapling in a recently burned scrub zoneTwelve Audubon Jay Watch volunteers, 18 Ridge Rangers, a volunteer corps of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, three Park rangers, and three additional volunteers felled 1,891.5 sand pines up to 12 feet tall in 3 hours’ work using chain saws, pole saws, hand saws, and hand loppers.

That number, again: 1,891.5 sand pines cut. “I ran out of gas for my chainsaw while cutting the last tree,” quipped Jerry Burns, one of the three volunteers there that are both Jay Watchers and Ridge Rangers.

Audubon provided a hearty lunch for the hardworking volunteers and Park staff after a morning of cutting pines in 10 acres of scrub burned within the past year and another 27 acres planned for near-future burns.

Prescribed burn in scrub habitat; Photo by Chris Becker, Florida Park ServiceWhy spend the time and effort to cut sand pines? Years of fire suppression causes sand pines to become both tall and numerous. Sand pines have seed cones that are opened by fire, producing a new generation of saplings that create dense sand pine forest patches within overgrown scrub.

Sand pines hide fast-flying Cooper’s Hawks from the view of unsuspecting Scrub-Jays and pine stands also provide predator cover for small mammals and bird egg-loving snakes. Cutting the pines and leaving the downed wood to dry out before setting a prescribed fire prevents the cones from opening to release seeds.

Florida Scrub-Jay; Photo copyright: Susan Faulkner DaviThat’s why the sweat equity invested by 30 volunteers and Park rangers was vital to habitat restoration – work that, according to Park staff, would’ve taken them three or months to accomplish alone.

With a wave of their wings, the resident Florida Scrub-Jays say “THANK YOU” Jay Watchers, Ridge Rangers, and all who made this event possible with smiles and hard work.




Audubon Celebrates Jay Watch Volunteers in Lake Wales

posted on November 13, 2013 in Citizen Science,Florida Scrub-Jay,Volunteering

Safari Minnie helped Audubon's Jacqui Sulek greet volunteers at the registration table.Now in the second year under Audubon Florida’s umbrella the Jay Watch program is thriving as evidenced by the big turnout this past weekend.  On Saturday, Nov. 9, 75 Jay Watch volunteers from around the state came together at Bok Tower Gardens to celebrate their efforts in 2013.

Special guest, Disney’s Safari Minnie, and Audubon’s Jacqui Sulek shared registration duties and distributed the gorgeous new Jay Watch hats.  The program was kicked off by Marianne Korosy, Audubon’s Jay Watch Coordinator, with an overview of the status of the program and the birds and recognition of volunteers from each site.  In 2013, 258 volunteers invested 2,044 hours in Florida Scrub-Jay surveys and training sessions!

Marianne thanked the Jay Watch program sponsors, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Wells Fargo, the Batchelor Foundation, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

We had our cake!Michelle Dent, Research Biologist from Archbold Biological Station, provided a comprehensive history of the Station’s 44 years of research on Florida Scrub-Jays.  The note-taking audience was full of questions on jay behavior and ecology.  After a delicious lunch catered by the Blue Palmetto Café, Jess Rodriguez, Northeast Florida Volunteer Coordinator for FWC, unveiled a masterpiece of a cake decorated with a Florida Scrub-Jay and the Jay Watch logo.

Jay Watch volunteer hatEven habitual afternoon nappers perked up to listen to St. Johns River Water Management District Biologist and land manager, Maria Zondervan.  Although probably not too amusing at the time, Maria’s “lessons learned” had the crowd howling with laughter as she shared stories on Scrub-Jay translocation efforts around the state.

There were representatives from various agencies, US Fish and Wildlife Service, FWC, and the Water Management Districts, but most of the attendees were Jay Watch volunteers. Without whom the Jay Watch program would not exist.

Maria Zondervan, SJRWMD Biologist, kept the audience laughing with tales of trials and tribulations of Scrub-Jay translocation projects.When asked what motivated them to do Jay Watch volunteers exclaimed, “it’s fun”, “it’s something the whole family can do together”, and “it’s a way to see special places that you would not otherwise visit”. 

“Coming together makes you realize that you are part of something greater than yourself and it really lifts your spirits and level of enthusiasm,” shared another.

The camaraderie, laughter, informative presentations, Jay Watch logo hats, and tasty lunch were shared in a celebration the provided an opportunity to thank these dedicated volunteers.  And then there was the cake.  We got to eat it too!