Audubon Florida awarded six honors within the Sunshine State’s wide chapter network in education, conservation, and Chapter of the Year. A committee of seven regional directors, nominated by the state’s 45 chapters, voted on the awardees, and Jacqui Sulek, Chapter Conservation Manager at Audubon Florida, announced the winners during a virtual meeting on November 2, 2022.
In the Education and Conservation categories, the committee chose both a small chapter (with fewer than 500 members) and a large chapter (with more than 500 members) to receive an award. For Chapter of the Year, all nominees were large chapters, and voting resulted in a tie between two of the nominees.
Award results are as follows:
Winner (small chapter): Bay County Audubon Society
Program: A Week with Noah Strycker
The Bay County Audubon Society’s “A Week with Noah Strycker” program brought the well-known birder and author to the Panhandle for a week of community outreach. Strycker visited 12 local elementary schools, led four public bird walks, and presented at Gulf Coast State College as part of its community science program. Over the course of Strycker’s visit, he reached an estimated 650 students, aged 5 through 22, as well as nearly 300 adults. Sponsors of this program donated $10,000 to Bay Education Foundation, Inc., which will be made available to Bay District teachers in the form of grants for nature-related classroom projects.
“We were thrilled to have our efforts to educate citizens of Bay County about the value of birding and conservation recognized,” said chapter co-president Teresa Floore. “Noah was a very personable speaker, especially during the interactive sessions at the elementary schools. It was a very successful event and we plan to hold more like it in the future.
Winner (large chapter): Alachua Audubon Society
Program: Prairie Creek Bird Banding Lab
Alachua Audubon’s Prairie Creek Bird Banding Lab began under Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative, which pairs chapters with college students for a year of co-mentorship. The Lab provides training to students and conservation professionals in the techniques of bird banding and mist netting (a means of catching birds in a specifically designed net for the purpose of banding them). Over the last four years, the team has banded about 1,200 birds, and through relationships with the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, 25 interns have been trained. Prairie Creek Bird Banding Lab also collaborates with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Cape Florida Banding Station, overseen by the Tropical Audubon Society. In addition to its training and data collection efforts, the Lab also hosts field trip groups to teach local students about the importance of conservation, and what the data they collect from banded birds tells us about our ecosystem.
“The recognition of one’s labors and endeavors is always a galvanizing experience,” said Jonathan Varol, director of the Prairie Creek Banding Lab. “My team and my organization are enormously proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our members and for our community, and we were honored to receive an award for our merits. We look forward to carrying on with training the next generation of students and conservation professionals in the methods and technical trainings we offer at the Prairie Creek Banding Lab for years to come.”
Winner (small chapter): Venice Area Audubon Society
Program: Venice Rookery Day
Venice Rookery Park is a popular destination for wildlife photographers, but the Venice Area Audubon Society, which stewards the park, sought to grow its outreach in the local community with a new educational event: Rookery Day. Held on March 19, the event welcomed more than 1,000 visitors and 40 volunteers to the park for a day of conservation-themed fun, including presentations, nature stations, local vendors, a treasure hunt for kids, and a native plant sale. With an original goal of 25 volunteers and 300 attendees, turnout for Bird Rookery Day far surpassed the Venice Area Audubon Society’s expectations, and plans for next year’s event are already in the works.
“Through the impressive dedication and creativity of our volunteers, what started as a small workshop grew into a multifaceted fun and educational community event that will be held biannually” said Kristin Hoffschmidt, Chapter President of the Venice Area Audubon Society.
Winner (large chapter): Pelican Island Audubon Society
Program: Native Plant Public Garden
Pelican Island Audubon Society created a native plant demonstration and education garden at the Indian River County Administration Complex in Vero Beach as part of their “Trees for Life / Plants for Birds” initiative, which aims to plant 100,000 native trees in Indian River and surrounding counties. The Administration Complex garden added 272 plants across 21 species toward this goal. With support from eleven different sponsors and designers from Cadence Landscape Architects, volunteers planted the garden over the course of two days. Since completing the garden, Pelican Island Audubon has been asked to install one outside of the United Against Poverty office in Vero Beach.
"Many folks in their daily lives come to the county complex to attend county commission and other meetings, pay taxes, or visit the health department and extension offices. Now they see how beautiful native plants and trees can be. They learn that they too can help solve our climate and Lagoon crises by planting beautiful native plants and trees in their yards,” said Chapter President Richard Baker, PhD.
Chapter of the Year
Winner (large chapter – tied): Orange Audubon Society
This year, the Orange Audubon Society celebrated a big milestone: the hiring of its first paid employee. Kathy Rigling is a retired middle school teacher and avid naturalist and birder. As the education coordinator, she leads afterschool programs, field trips, scout programs, and other public outreach programs. Among these programs are monthly birding trips with the children of the farmworkers surrounding Lake Apopka, the state’s fourth-largest lake and an important wildlife habitat, as well as a Young Birder’s Club, which hosts monthly outings for its school-aged members. During the pandemic, Orange Audubon also began weekly “bird chats” on Zoom, where a variety of speakers present on different conservation-related topics. Archived bird chats are available on the organization’s YouTube channel.
"The pandemic seems to have made the outdoor and online educational opportunities Orange Audubon offers even more appreciated by our community," said Deborah Green, chapter president. "Thank you, Audubon Florida, for the statewide recognition of our work ‘connecting people with nature’ here in Central Florida.”
On December 1-5, the Orange Audubon Society hosts its 7th annual North Shore Birding Festival. The Lake Apopka North Shore is a premier destination for birders, ranked 2nd in the state on Ebird.org’s list of birding hotspots, and the festival will lead attendees through this unique ecosystem just miles from Orlando’s tourism corridor.
Winner (large chapter – tied): Tropical Audubon Society
2022 marks 75 years for the Tropical Audubon Society, which serves Miami-Dade County. This milestone year brought many successes for the organization, with record attendance at bird walks and the most participants ever in the organization’s flagship Audubon Ambassadors program. The Miami New Times named the Tropical Audubon Society “Best Charity in Miami” in its annual “Best of Miami” issue, calling out the organization as “one of the most important crusaders for the protection and restoration of South Florida's ecosystems.”
"We’re so grateful to receive the Audubon Florida ‘Best Chapter’ award from our peers — especially as we celebrate our chapter’s 75th anniversary this year! Earning it was made possible by the efforts of our amazing staff and dedicated board, who tirelessly beat the conservation drum for birds and South Florida’s precious natural resources. Thank you Audubon Florida and our fellow chapters for honoring Tropical Audubon Society, and for your relentless dedication to helping birds survive and thrive across our state," said Chapter President José Francisco Barros.
The Tropical Audubon Society hosts a variety of events year-round, including monthly tours of the historic Doc Thomas House (October-May only), which the organization has owned since the 1970s, as well as bird-friendly gardening days, native plant sales, and a popular “Conservation Concert” series.