12 Years with Jay Watch: A Retrospective from Jacqui Sulek

As she approaches her retirement, Audubon Florida's Jay Watch co-coordinator and chapters conservation manager looks back.

Audubon Florida began running the Jay Watch program in 2012. Each year we train volunteers who can then survey specific sites across Florida in June and July, assisting land managers in gathering important data. The results provide a snapshot of how the resident jay populations are faring. My first task a dozen years ago was to plan a celebration to honor them. Looking back, I realize that while so many things have changed, much remains the same.


The pandemic brought big challenges and the need to try novel approaches in our community science program. For two years we worked with bare bones teams and cut survey days back while trying to maintain continuity. Out of necessity, we developed and recorded a series of online training courses that included Florida Scrub-Jay Ecology, Survey Protocol, and Advanced Training. These virtual sessions are still available on demand and continue to engage a wide audience, from folks who just want to know more about the jays to people who want to participate in surveys, and even veteran volunteers looking to refresh their skills. In-person training is still available at two sites and we have redesigned the agenda to maximize the opportunity to observe and interpret behavior and record critical data. Prior to the event we ask participants to take the foundational classes online, so the entire session focuses on skill building.


Our Facebook community has grown to include more than 650 members. Frequent posts include photographs, lessons on scrub habitat, banding practice, exciting Jacqui Sulek travels, and good news. For those who are just becoming familiar with these fascinating birds it is an educational tool; for others it is a trip to the scrub any time of year. The page has become a photo gallery and resource for this annual report and other publications while connecting volunteers around Florida.


Sadly, shortly after his retirement Reed Bowman, PhD, a champion for the Florida Scrub-Jay, passed away. Dr. Bowman touched so many people and countless generations of jays. His contribution to research, knowledge, and resources is vast and his legacy will play a monumental role in the future of the species. Last year he spoke at our volunteer celebration on the results of relocations and 2 Audubon Florida their efficacy in boosting populations where landscapes have been restored.


As my final task for Jay Watch, I hosted the 2023 appreciation event. And while there will be a new person filling these shoes the questions will remain: Are we listening to the birds? What are we doing right? What more do we need to know? What will it take to assure a future for the jays? As you may have heard it said, “the only constant is change.” My appreciation and gratitude for our volunteers, partners, researchers, and Florida Scrub-Jay groupies is endless! And little did I know when it all started 12 years ago that this gregarious, intelligent, and beautiful blue and gray character of the scrub would be wrapped around my heart forever! 

This letter appeared in the 2023 Jay Watch Report.

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