Bird’s-eye View: Audubon Texas Quarterly Newsletter January 2022
Audubon Texas
Bird's-eye View Quarterly Newsletter January 2022
Quarterly Newsletter January 2022
View from the Flyway
Dear friends of Audubon,

Happy new year to all of you. I hope you celebrated the start of 2022 with full hearts in the company of friends and family.

It has been nearly six months since I joined the National Audubon Society and Audubon Texas, and in that time, I truly have come to appreciate that Audubon is an organization like no other. This society of dedicated members, chapters, advisors, supporters, and partners along with our talented and passionate staff work with a steadfast purpose each and every day—to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.

One of the things that we like to say at Audubon is, what’s good for birds is good for people, too. That simple statement embodies our work and the path that I hope we will forge together in 2022 and beyond.

Actions that we take cooperatively such as, conserving and restoring species and their habitats, engaging with landowners and communities to manage lands using conservation best practices, reducing carbon emissions, turning lights out during peak times of migration, and conserving water resources and protecting watersheds help birds—yes, of course they do. And on a larger scale, these actions make our communities more resilient and more equitable when it comes to environmental protections. When we help birds, we provide our growing population with an improved quality of life and the best chance for a sustainable future for the next generation of Texans.

We at Audubon are very thankful to have your continued support and partnership. While birds tell us that there are many challenges, I have no doubt that we can create a safer and better world for both people and wildlife when we work together. We are strengthening the opportunities for you to partner with us as we work to create new science-based programs in conservation and education, engage diverse communities, and support conservation policies across the state of Texas and beyond. I invite you to join us on the journey ahead.

With much appreciation and warmest regards,

Lisa Gonzalez
Vice President & Executive Director, Audubon Texas
View From Another Perch
An interview with, Pat Jasso, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center Advisory Board Chair

How would you describe yourself?  Can you share a little about your background?
At any organization I get involved with, my passion has been getting women involved. I like to have new people at the table who think differently than I do. When I think about my youth or work in hindsight, I realize I used to wonder about things but never in the terms of what’s lacking. Now, as I’m experiencing what’s around me, I look to see what other people are missing out on and how to reach them. And the 2022 San Antonio Bond investment is a perfect chance for that.

How did you become connected with Mitchell Lake Audubon Center?
I always lived on the Southside and I knew what Mitchell Lake was originally. What I didn’t know before I served on San Antonio Water System’s (SAWS) board was how the lake changed into a nature center and that the relationship with Audubon existed. When I saw the correlation I thought it was a phenomenal project. I told them when I get done with SAWS, I want this to be on my roster, next! Never would I have thought something would catch my spark like Mitchell Lake. Then, when you recognize the passion of fellow Board members like Anne, Patsy and Richard, or our Center Director Sara –it affects your whole life.

As our Mitchell Lake board chair, you’ve been a strong local leader to add improvements to the site through the 2022 City of San Antonio Bond; what would this level of investment mean to Southside residents of San Antonio?
Mitchell Lake is a hidden jewel that doesn’t get enough recognition. Even more so, San Antonio’s Southside residents and students are always talking about economic development and Mitchell Lake gives them a taste beyond what they are normally exposed to in their day-to-day socio-economic environment. The variety of programming is not something that our students typically see, or the types of careers they may even be aware of – and that’s a great investment in the Southside. Our programs will continue to raise the exposure of Mitchell Lake. The majority of our student interns are a part of this sector of San Antonio and they can see careers overlapping with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Even better, our students don’t have to leave San Antonio to experience it.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing birds and their habitat, today?
New development and the lack of awareness by corporate entities is damaging bird habitat. The challenge is how do we make them aware? There is a way for them to make money and be mindful of the wonderful, natural spaces. Spaces can enhance their business if they are sensitive and conscious of what’s in their area. If we can find common ground we can make the biggest positive impact. In the long run, it’s going to benefit them.

How would you encourage people to engage with Audubon?
I would encourage current members to let others know what our centers have to offer. Sometimes the people we talk to the most don’t know how involved we are with Audubon. We need to take the first step and bring people out to the centers. It’s not just for birders, it’s for everybody. Once you make the connection for them, they’re hooked.
The three centers in Audubon Texas
Songs from Our Centers
Dogwood Canyon
2021 was a year of rebounding and rebuilding after 2020 and the start of the pandemic. We were able to provide public open hours, open the children’s play area, and now have opened our nature store. Volunteers are back, visitors are increasing, and there is joy in bringing back programs.

We had our two biggest native plant sales yet in 2021, both spring and fall. We introduced a new education series, Nature in Your Park, which introduces our residents to look beyond just the grass and trees and observe the beauty, uniqueness and even a good diversity of birds in our city parks. We have taken Girl Scouts kayaking, led a full moon hike, had Boy Scouts complete Eagle projects, added a pollinator habitat and best of all, we celebrated our 10th Anniversary. Our kick-off event in October brought in friends, both our original and our new supporters of Dogwood Canyon. We celebrated with food, beer, music and a beautiful stone bench dedication from Reba Collins. That event is just the beginning—in 2022 we will continue the celebration! We are bringing back our ever-popular winter evening event, Stars & S’mores in January. February continues with Trout Lily walks and a Wine and Hike evening event. The celebration culminates with the 10th year of guiding guests to our grove of Flowering Dogwoods in early April. This event will be more than just a guided hike; daytime activities, sunset hike, auction, music and more.

We are honored to have had the opportunity to steward this land, protecting birds, and connecting people to this wild and special place for the last ten years. We look forward to the next ten years in which we bring deeper experiences, joy, and conservation to this peaceful canyon.   
 
Mitchell Lake
New Greenhouse
Thanks to the hard work and partnership of the American Conservation Coalition San Antonio Branch, the Texas Land & Liberty Coalition, the University of Texas San Antonio Urban Planning Student Association, and International School of the Americas, the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center has a brand new greenhouse. This important addition to our site supports the propagation and growth of Texas native plants throughout the winter for spring planting. The native plant gardens at Mitchell Lake are home to resident birds such as the Northern Cardinal, but also support many migrating bird species, including the Audubon’s Oriole and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

The Urban Bird Project
In partnership with UTSA, the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center strives to provide equitable opportunities for under resourced students in San Antonio. The Urban Bird Project is an exciting new community science project at UTSA that seeks to strengthen the ability of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to attract, retain, and prepare Latinx and other minoritized students for careers in STEAM. Through a cross-disciplinary model, the larger goal of the project is to broaden participation of the Latinx community in ecological and cultural knowledge by actively interweaving Mexican American and Indigenous Studies workshops, wildlife ecology workshops, field trips, and community discussions. The project is funded through a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HSI program. The Urban Bird Project is being piloted this year by faculty from UTSA and community-based scholars and partners, including the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Recently, students and their families went birding, investigated aquatic invertebrate bio indicators, and explored differences in bird skull models as part of the project.

Trinity River Audubon Center

Trinity River Audubon Center and University of Texas - Dallas have teamed up to offer opportunities for students! 
Service Learning is an educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service.

The Service Learning program is designed for High School and College students, allowing individuals to positively impact environmental issues while obtaining knowledge and experience in the conservation field. Our program serves as a natural complement the teacher’s curriculum. By participating in our Service Learning program, students have an opportunity to restore a portion of our native landscape. Students will play a vital role in prairie restoration though invasive species removal, plant propagation, and native grass and forb plantings. At the same time, students will further  their knowledge of ecology and ecosystem functions.

View this video of the program!
View from the birdhouse
By Romey Swanson, Director of Conservation Strategy for Audubon Texas

It is another pre-dawn start to my day. I’m standing sentinel among the quietude of expansive grazing lands bordering the northeastern shore of Carancahua Bay. Waiting and listening, I strain to hear the familiar hoot of distant Great-horned Owls while keeping eyes peeled for the passing silhouette of Short-eared Owl flying silently above the bluestem and Bermuda grass.

This is how every Audubon Christmas Bird Count kicks off – beginning an organized but frantic effort to observe and tally every species and individual bird within a 15-mile wide circle. Although there are dozens of CBCs to conduct across Texas each winter, this is very much a community-based project that will require dozens of birders, observers, and volunteers at each count to pull off. It is a tradition that goes back over 100 years with origins focused on grassroots conservation and community science.

Around the turn of the 20th century, conservationists were becoming increasingly concerned with the unconstrained consumption and waste of wildlife in North America. What was once thought to be a limitless supply of meat and sport had, indeed, become over-harvested. Familiar characters were being lost from their forest and coastal haunts. At the time, it was common for hunting parties to come together to engage in contests to see who could bag the most species and/or numbers of animals in a day, including birds. Out of concern, a small group of bird enthusiasts offered a non-consumptive alternative: Why not compete to see how many birds we can observe alive and unharmed? This question, and the efforts that followed, provided an opportunity to tickle the competitive itch without contributing to the continued decline of wildlife.

Today’s long-standing Christmas Bird Count tradition was built upon this foundation – which challenged the status quo of the times. It helped pave the way for one of the longest-standing community science efforts in existence while promoting place-based conservation engagement and pride. Audubon and its partners use these data to monitor bird populations, identify needs, inform policy, and guide conservation investment. Participating communities use these events to highlight local conservation assets and promote ecotourism. It is why so many of us look forward to that brief window when we’ll happily suffer harsh winter weather, exhaustion, and fatigue to be participants in one of the most meaningful conservation activities of the year.

It’s now dusk and I’m driving back to the countdown dinner where everyone gathers to tally their lists and see where we finished as a CBC team. Thankfully fresh bar-b-que and hot coffee are being served. Our compiler has reviewed all the lists and declares that, together, we observed just over 180 species – an excellent tally that will rank 4th in the state of Texas! Although our total species count was high, we note that the number of individuals observed were lower than normal leading to whispers of lingering concern from the impacts of Winter Storm Uri. Thankfully, we now have data and the opportunity to assess through science the impacts to birds.
Our Programs in Action
Program & Policy Updates
122nd Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Did you know the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC)—the nation’s longest-running community science bird project—fuels Audubon’s work throughout the year? The 122nd CBC ran from December 14, 2021 to January 5, 2022. Thank you to the Audubon Texas staff, Audubon Chapters, members, and partners who participated across the state. The annual CBC is a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and increase your bird identification skills. To get connected with a CBC survey route next year, stay connected with the National Audubon Society CBC website. You can also “find your flock” throughout the year by connecting with your local Audubon Chapter in Texas. Although impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can also read the recently released summary of last year’s CBC results (121st).
                                                               
Coastal Program Update
Our coastal program continues to prepare the bird nesting islands we manage for the return of the nesting waterbirds and shorebirds. This winter, we partnered with the SPLASh program to host a clean-up event in Galveston Bay to remove nearly 600 pounds of trash and debris from five bird islands. We are especially relieved after having removed fishing line from the islands, as it poses a deadly threat to birds that become entangled. Thank you to the volunteers who helped make a big impact for birds!
                                        
Additionally this winter, we installed a new dock at Green Island! This allows our coastal warden to access the island in order to manage invasive species and predators. The dock was made possible with funds from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Supplemental Environment Program.                                                                                                                                                                    
Audubon continues to participate in the Technical Advisory Committee for the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan. We recently updated the two rookery island projects included as Tier 1 priorities in the 2019 plan: Galveston Bay Rookery Island Restoration and Chester Island Restoration. In 2021, we were excited and grateful to see Chester Island selected for restoration in one of the BP oil spill settlement funds. Audubon will partner with the Texas General Land Office on this project, which will include new erosion control structures, additional sediment placement, and monitoring.

Brownsville SpaceX Update
Audubon continues to work with local partners where possible and appropriate to understand the plans at Boca Chica, and to participate in public comments where applicable. In December, the FAA decided to delay the publication of SpaceX’s Draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) until February 28, 2022, citing the overwhelming public interest in and concern around impacts. The extra time will be used to further scrutinize and prepare for potential impacts. While Audubon Texas called for a full environmental impact statement in its formal comments, our long-held belief is that the FAA is unlikely to agree to that analysis and the potential delays it might cause, so the additional time to review and address concerns seems like a reasonable short-term win.

Offshore Wind-Buzz. 
The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) has opened a scoping period to inform their preparation of a draft environmental assessment for leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. Comments are due to BOEM on February 9. BOEM is soliciting information on the full Call Area, and this can include information such as exclusion areas or sensitive areas, resources they should analyze in the EA, data on the affected environment, and other similar considerations. Audubon Texas and our partners are engaged on this issue across the Texas Gulf, and will likely submit comments in advance of the deadline, much as we did on similar issues in December 2021.

2022 City of San Antonio Bond process
A win for Mitchell Lake is a citywide win! A big thank you and round of applause for all of our Greater San Antonio area members for their efforts to speak up for birds. Audubon Texas and our partner San Antonio Water System (SAWS) worked diligently with City of San Antonio staff and the Bond committee designees to add the proposed Mitchell Lake Improvements as a citywide project on the May 2022 City Bond package. We are very appreciative of the leadership of Councilwoman Viagran and her designees, Otto Garza, Cynthia Arellano, and Dr. Karen Burgard; and the Parks and Open Space committee chairs, Jeanette Honermann and Jim Bailey.

The proposed improvements at Mitchell Lake support the City’s four guiding principles of this bond initiative. Specifically, this citywide project provides regional benefits by creating equity in public amenities in a traditionally under resourced community, increasing visitor accessibility, expanding regional connectivity to the citywide hike and bike trail system, and improving a world-renowned riparian corridor and recreation area. The City Council accepted the committee project recommendations at their January 12, 2022 meeting, including keep the recommended $6 million funding request for Mitchell Lake. The Council will make their final vote on the bond package language at their February 10, 2022 meeting. You can learn more about the specific Mitchell Lake Improvements here.

New Bird-Friendly Texan Webinar Series – Coming soon!
Join fellow “Bird-Friendly Texans” from across the state as we focus on hopeful actions that YOU can take to help protect birds and the places they need. Audubon Texas, partners, and bird advocates will come together in this new virtual series featuring a presentation about an issue impacting birds, how you can help, and hear from a panel of Texans who are taking action in their community. Stay tuned for topics, dates, and registration details – hope to see y’all there!
        
Stop by the birdhouse to view our incredible event photo albums and videos!
Save the Date!
Member Updates
Save the Date! – The Texas Women in Conservation Luncheon, featuring the 2022 Terry Hershey Awards, is coming to San Antonio Tuesday, April 19, 2022 at the Witte Museum. We are excited to present the Legacy Award to, Betty Bueché, and the Impact Award to, Jeanette Honermann, both of San Antonio. Proceeds from the event support conservation education, notably Audubon’s Conservation Leaders Program for Young Women, which provides opportunities for high school students to become more involved in environmental science.
Please visit our website for more details.
Upcoming Events
2022 National Policy and Advocacy Town Hall
After so many wins for birds in 2021, we’re hitting the ground running this year to do even more! Join us on Monday, January 31, 2022 (6 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. CT / 4 p.m. MT / 3 p.m. PT) to hear the latest from our leadership on federal policy goals and what YOU can do to make them happen.

Dr. Elizabeth Gray, Audubon's new CEO, will be joined by Marshall Johnson, Chief Conservation Officer, Justin Stokes, Deputy Chief Conservation Officer, and other experts to share what we'll be working on in the halls of Congress and with the Administration this year. From clean energy to habitat preservation, we've got a lot of work to do, and we'll need to work together to get bird protections passed.
Register today and you will receive an email with details on how to join via Zoom, as well as a reminder closer to the date.

Dogwood Canyon
January 29, 2022: Stars & S’mores. An annual, evening fundraising event, enjoying the center and canyon from a different perspective at night. Tickets include making s’mores by the fire, stargazing through telescopes, tacos, beer, lawn games and shuttle to/from the event. Guided night hikes are an additional purchase.
 
Late February: Trout Lily Walks. Harbingers of spring, these low-lying plants, growing on thin limestone soils, bloom for a brief period 2-3 weeks before spring begins.
 
February 19, 2022: Great Backyard Bird Count. Visitors will help us count birds visible from our center and feeding station. This annual community science event helps contribute data about global bird populations as they prepare for their spring migration.
 
April 2, 2022: 10th Anniversary Dogwood Bloom Celebration. A culmination to our 10th anniversary marks the tenth year of leading guided hikes to our Flowering Dogwood grove. This year, we will celebrate all day and into the evening with guided walks, auction, activities, giveaways and more. Stay tuned for details.

Mitchell Lake
Late April: We look forward to including in-person event again as part of the annual Migratory Bird Fest at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Building up to the free community festival held on World Migratory Bird Day (May 14), the weeks prior celebrate birds and includes bird tours and workshops focused on sharing birds and birding with the community. Stay tuned for details and dates.


VIEW OUR EVENTS CALENDAR HERE!

Thank you for your continued support of Audubon. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. For more information, events, and to find your local chapter visit https://tx.audubon.org/. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


 
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