The CLI program has been practicing flexibility after developing new, distanced ways to create meaningful experiences during a COVID world. So when this year’s Audubon Assembly moved to a virtual event in response to the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian, CLI quickly adapted, finding new avenues to onboard this year’s CLI class and connect in-person for the first time. Throughout the fall, CLI students and mentors came together for “Regional CLI Meet-ups” in Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Gainesville.
The four Regional CLI Meetups shared a similar structure, with each visiting their local bird banding station and featuring an opportunity to explore a local area.
South Florida CLI members joined the Cape Florida Banding Station on Key Biscayne. Our final bird of the morning was a delight for experienced and new birders alike — a male Painted Bunting! Students used their new Vortex binoculars for up-close viewing of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the tree canopy directly above the banding tent. After wrapping up with bird banding, the group explored Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, including a trip up to the top of the lighthouse.
“I really enjoyed our meetup. We got a chance to get to know each other better as a group, as well as some quality one-on-one time with our students. For me, the best part was getting to show them what Audubon is about up close — not just about the birds, but about the habitats they depend on and the people who protect those special places.” — Steffanie Munguía, NAS Board Member and CLI Mentor
Tampa Bay region CLIs took an early ferry ride from Honeymoon Island State Park over to Caladesi Island to join Florida Avian Conservation for bird banding in a remote-access area of the island. Master bander Jim McGinity discussed the importance of bird banding and the network of information it provides to the conservation and birding communities. In addition to seeing several songbirds up close at the banding station, we spotted two small birds of prey on our hike — a Merlin and an American Kestrel!
The Orlando region CLI members spent a day at the Wekiva Banding Station learning about “lifers,” watching the banding and mist netting process, and spending time talking about the wide array of opportunities that students can take advantage of during their CLI experience. After bird banding, the group traveled down the street for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. Here they learned about the raptor rescue and release process, conversed with several staff members, and wrapped up with a meet-and- greet with two ambassador birds, Trouble the Bald Eagle and Maverick the Red-shouldered Hawk.
“I was so grateful to experience the behind-the-scenes action of Audubon, speak with those who have been involved with conservation in Florida for years, and give thanks to those who have paved the way for young conservationists. I left this experience very hopeful for the future knowing that Audubon cares a lot about the next generation of birders and environmentalists! I am excited to see what else the CLI program has in store.” — Emma Aagard, CLI Student, University of Central Florida
Lastly, the Gainesville regional meetup, held at the Prairie Creek Banding Station, was planned concurrently with a station visit from GREBE, University of Florida’s Audubon Campus Chapter. This gave an opportunity for CLI members to not only meet each other, but other nextgen birders in their regional Audubon network. After a morning of banding, CLIs put their binoculars to good use while exploring part of Prairie Creek Preserve.
These events are just the beginning for the CLI Class of 2022-23. Through May 2023 CLI Students and mentors will collaborate within their chapters and the Audubon network to find meaningful ways to involve students in their work, including a student-led project.
We thank Vortex Optics for their third year of binocular donations. With additional support from individual donors, these tools are allowing our students to become instant birders upon joining the program.
“The Ferber Company is proud to support Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative. We believe in fostering conservation principles in young people, and we are pleased that Audubon Florida has developed this excellent program, providing students with hands on learning, on-site engagement, and a mentor to lead the way. Kudos to the program, mentors, and students for their dedication to shaping the next generation of conservationists.” — Paul S. Ferber
This article appeared in the Winter 2022 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.