Volunteer Dedicates 37 Years to Nature Center Bird Survey
The sun glowed bright in a deep blue sky at Audubon Louisiana Nature Center recently as long-time Audubon volunteer Glenn Ousset conducted his weekly bird survey, just as he has nearly every week for more than thirty years.
This relationship began when Glenn, a lifelong birder, decided to look for someplace where he could dig in for a comprehensive bird survey. “I wanted to become very familiar with species present throughout the years and note any changes over time.” After seeing a newspaper blurb about the opening of the Nature Center in 1980, Glenn began his weekly work.
Today, it’s hard to imagine this lush, beautiful spot ever being anything other than perfect, but Glenn remembers Hurricane Katrina’s gut-punching devastation. "Luckily, there was a patch of forest near Discovery Walk that was not destroyed," he recalls. "That twenty acres provided habitat for a population reserve of many species to repopulate the Nature Center and beyond."
Decades of meticulous notes and observations, however, almost didn't make it. Some duplicate records were saved, but some original records, Glenn had to let dry out for years and then carefully separate page by page. Over several months, Glenn entered all the Nature Center observations, from 1980 on, into eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology's widely respected global birding database for citizen scientists.
“We’re inspired by Glenn’s appreciation of the nuance and beauty of these surroundings,” said Audubon Volunteer Director Llewellyn Everage. “He contributes invaluable information, helping us make informed decisions about education programs, the way we manage the forest, and how we approach our citizen scientist effort—all because of his impassioned work over the past three decades.”
Through the years, Glenn has seen some unusual species at the Nature Center, such as magnificent frigatebirds, a pileated woodpecker, and a reddish egret. A few species that he used to see regularly have become rare, such as the red-bellied woodpecker (which will hopefully make a comeback as our hardwood forest is further restored).
There have also been surprises in Glenn's surveys—he saw two fish-eating anhingas in 1980, then didn’t see another for 20 years. Now, he sees them almost every time. How fortunate for us that Glenn has kept a patient watch for the birds of the Nature Center for the past 37 years! And, how exciting to imagine what other discoveries might be just ahead as his watch over the birds of the Nature Center continues.
Conservation in Action
Most people think of a trip to Jamaica and envision fun in the sun and an abundance of fruity libations, but not Audubon Zoo Senior Keeper Melanie Litton and Animal Hospital Manager Melissa Tomingas. For the past four years, they’ve made a significant difference for a critically endangered species through Audubon’s participation in the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Program.
In this program, zoos from around the country and in Jamaica work together as hatchling iguanas are collected, studied, and protected until mature enough to fend off predators. Once the iguanas are large enough, the team then releases them back into their natural habitat in Jamaica. This involves toting iguanas secured in backpacks for several hours over terrain unfriendly to humans, but perfect for iguanas. Last year, the team surpassed 300 animals released—a huge milestone for the project—and this year’s team released another 34 animals, bringing the total to more than 349 iguanas released back into their rocky limestone habitat.
“This is a dream project for those of us who love wildlife,” said Melanie Litton. “To be able to physically work with a critically endangered species and then have a real impact on their survival by putting them back into the wild is the most rewarding kind of field project. It’s hard work but it’s more than worth it.”
The Jamaican iguana was thought to be extinct until 1990, when a small surviving population was discovered in less than four square miles of habitat. The recovery program has given these animals a head start on their lives, but the species still faces threats from logging and predators like mongoose, feral cats and feral hogs—all invasive species. And from time to time, wrangling the governmental red tape in Jamaica can pose its own kind of challenge.
Audubon’s team works in conjunction with Fort Worth Zoo, National Zoo, and San Diego Zoo, along with Hope Zoo in Kingston, Jamaica, on this important in-situ project.
“It has been rewarding for Audubon to be a part of the successful head start and release of this species back into the wild,” said Audubon Zoo General Curator Joel Hamilton. “It’s another great example of the work Audubon does towards the conservation of the world around us.”
For the Audubon team, this project is “most definitely making a difference for the species,” according to Melanie Litton. “From an estimate of less than 300 in the wild to now more than double that number, this is true conservation in action.” This incredible impact wouldn’t be possible without supporters like you—349 Jamaican iguanas and all of us here at Audubon (especially Melanie and Melissa), thank you!
Creating A Home Through Audubon Moments
Photo courtesy of Doug and Debbi Harris
It was a bit of synchronicity, although Doug Harris didn’t know it at the time. On a business trip to New Orleans, he found himself enjoying the unique ambiance of Audubon Park and gazing across St. Charles Avenue at Tulane University–which was soon, unbeknownst to him, to become his office. Before long, both Audubon Park and Tulane University were part of daily life for Doug, his wife Debbi, and their girls Lyndsey and Norah.
In 2012, the Harris family made New Orleans their new home as Doug joined the Tulane University Department of Economics. The family instantly recognized the appeal of Audubon Park as a site for memorable family activities.
“When Doug was recruited by Tulane, we were thrilled to be moving to such a great city,” said Debbi. “Our realtor showed us Audubon Park when we were house-hunting, and we were hooked.”
Today, the Harris family loves being in Audubon Park, spending time together and enjoying the Park’s natural beauty. “When we go to the Park, we see people from all walks of life,” said Debbi. “We use the Park constantly and want to help maintain that beautiful space.”
The Harris family has been active in the Audubon community since the moment they arrived, splashing through the warm summer days at Cool Zoo and visiting the penguins at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. “The girls were especially delighted when the penguins ran over to greet us during our penguin encounter,” said Debbi. “We had no idea they were so friendly! We’ll remember that moment forever as a very special one for our family.”
“We appreciate all the steps Audubon constantly takes to maintain the well-being of the animals in their care, and we want to support those efforts,” said Doug.
As regular contributors to Audubon Nature Institute’s Annual Fund, the Harris family is giving back to the adopted home that has embraced them so enthusiastically. “Audubon is for everyone, and a gift to Audubon is a contribution that fosters the wonderful diversity of the City,” said Doug. And after spending time in locales like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida, Doug and his family know just how special this place is.
“We heard a great saying that, in most of the country, people live in private. But here in New Orleans, people live in public,” said Debbi. “We have great festivals, incredible second lines, and amazing places like Audubon Nature Institute. It’s what makes the city what it is.”
Families like the Harrises are the heart of Audubon Nature Institute. Through their support, and yours, our efforts for wildlife and our children are multiplied many times over. This kind of partnership, created by our work together, gives us hope for the future.
Thank you, Debbi and Doug, for showing us Audubon through your eyes, and for sharing your story with us!
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Audubon Nature Institute?As Audubon insiders, your answer might be different from that of an occasional visitor. Audubon is always alive with fun activities and families making memories to last a lifetime. But, as you probably already know, Audubon works hard behind the scenes to save wildlife, including species native to our area—for example, whooping cranes and Mississippi sandhill cranes.
Audubon and three other organizations recently won the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' 2016 North American Conservation Award for work as part of the Whooping Crane Recovery Program. The whooping crane is North America’s most endangered bird, but through collaborative efforts like this, the population has risen from a low of 21 birds to today’s estimated wild population of 450.
At Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Audubon cares for nine whooping cranes, doing our part to pull this iconic species back from the brink of extinction. Audubon Nature Institute breeds the whooping cranes, sending the fertile eggs to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where the chicks are hatched, raised, and released into the wild.
Also on the Survival Center campus, Audubon’s Mississippi sandhill crane program is in its third decade. Since 1995, Audubon has released more than 200 birds, or about 65% of the current population, into the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge near Gautier, MS. Audubon released four young birds into the refuge late last year and is preparing for this year’s next batch of hatchlings. Raising Mississippi sandhill cranes can be a daunting task involving long hours and hot, heavy costumes designed to keep the hand-raised hatchlings from identifying humans with food, but those who have had the privilege of being a “crane mom” say it’s very satisfying work.
Activity is set to pick up on the Survival Center campus this year as the Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife (ASW) launches. In partnership with San Diego Zoo Global, Audubon is focusing on sustaining herds of animals declining in numbers, such as okapi, giraffes, and eland. This partnership is a new model for future cooperative endeavors on behalf of the world’s animals.
Out of the millions who visit Audubon’s museums and parks, we know that you, through your ongoing involvement as part of the Audubon family, have a special appreciation for how each Audubon visit contributes to saving endangered species. It’s precisely because of your dedication, including your support of our annual fundraisers like Whitney Zoo-To-Do and Zoo-To-Do for Kids presented by Tulane Pediatrics, that we are able to participate in efforts to preserve our natural world. The crane recovery programs and ASW partnership reflect only a fraction of how far we’ve come and the impact our work can have—but only with your help. We have so much more to do together. Thank you for partnering with Audubon on this incredible journey.
It’s a Family Thing!
On a warm winter afternoon at Audubon Zoo, Brooke Duncan posed for pictures in his perfectly-pressed white linen suit, charming the 2017 chairwomen of Zoo-To-Do events and trading jokes with Audubon CEO Ron Forman. For Mr. Duncan, it was a full-circle moment. His late wife Kitty chaired the very first Zoo-To-Do, and Mr. Duncan is serving as Honorary Chairman for this year’s 40th Zoo-To-Do.
Together, Kitty and Brooke Duncan helped make Audubon what it is today and passed their extraordinary commitment to community service to their children. “My family did all the work,” Mr. Duncan teases; “I just drove the car.” The incomparable Kitty Duncan was the very spirit of Audubon Nature Institute, and her influence endures today. Smart, gracious, and incredibly effective at getting things done, Kitty applied her considerable powers of persuasion and fundraising skills to renovating
the Zoo in the 1970s.
In addition to her Zoo-To-Do leadership, Kitty was a stalwart presence at Audubon, serving on the Audubon Commission for more than 25 years. Later, Kitty gave her time once again as a horticulture volunteer, enjoying sunny days on Audubon grounds, keeping the flowers beautiful, and serving as an unofficial one-woman welcoming committee for Audubon visitors and employees.
Kitty’s husband Brooke and son Kelly, current Audubon Commission Chair, have lent their leadership and steady guidance for years, shaping Audubon as the fledgling non-profit that has grown from a park and small zoo to the world-class family of museums and parks it is today. And, daughter Kitty Sherrill served as Chair of Audubon Park’s 125th anniversary campaign, Olmsted Renewed, which is responsible for recent renovations and dozens of new live oak tree plantings in the Park.
Mr. Duncan says some of his favorite family memories take him back to times together at Audubon: birthday parties, carousel rides, and long walks under the oaks. A stroll through the
Zoo finds evidence of Brooke and Kitty’s love of Audubon everywhere, including the leopard exhibit in Asian Domain and the gorilla sculpture dedicated in Kitty’s honor.
It’s impossible to imagine what Audubon would be today without the Duncan family. How appropriate that in 2017, what would have been Kitty’s 90th year, her husband Brooke reprises the family role in throwing the best fundraising party in town by serving as Honorary Chairman of Whitney Zoo-To-Do!
Audubon Nature Institute owes its success to the dedication and commitment of our incredible community. We thank the Duncans, and you, for being part of the Audubon family. We hope to see you at Zoo-To-Do for Kids presented by Tulane Pediatrics on April 28th and Whitney Zoo-To-Do on May 5th as we celebrate another year of the wonder you make possible at Audubon Zoo.
New Book Makes Reading, Wetland Conservation Fun!
Looking for a great way to engage the kids in your life with the natural world and the habitats that make Louisiana so special, while also fostering a love of reading? Then look no further than Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh, a brand-new illustrated children’s book. As part of our partnership to promote wetland conservation education, Audubon and the New Orleans Pelicans brought together children’s book author Johnette Downing and talented illustrator Heather Stanley to create an irresistible tale of a young pelican traveling the wetlands of Southeast Louisiana.
Pierre’s colorful journey, with engaging storytelling and lush illustrations, introduces children of all ages to conservation concepts and the importance of saving our wetlands. This charming new book makes a wonderful gift, and proceeds support wetland education initiatives. Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh is published by Pelican Publishing and is available for purchase through Audubon’s website and gift shops, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.
Your Support Saves Lives
Thanks to your support, Audubon’s Coastal Wildlife Network (CWN) stands ready to answer the call of marine mammals and sea turtles in need. Just last October, CWN partnered with the Coast Guard to release a rehabilitated young green sea turtle nicknamed “Peanut” back into the Gulf of Mexico. Peanut had been receiving treatment at Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center since May of 2016, when a concerned fisherman found him sluggish and exhausted in the wild.
Your donations support the staff and resources necessary for Audubon to perform this kind of rescue and rehabilitation work. Because of you, Peanut has a second chance at life in the wild. Thank you!
Trouble in Paradise
The Marianas are a breathtakingly beautiful chain of islands in the Pacific. But, behind that tropical tranquility, we are waging a battle against sweeping ecological disaster. While you may never set foot on one of the Mariana Islands, through your support of Audubon Nature Institute’s partnership with the Marianas Avifauna Conservation Program (MAC), you are part of the fight to save the birds of the Mariana Islands.
The trouble began in the late 1940s with the accidental introduction of an invasive species, the brown tree snake, to the southernmost island in the chain, Guam. With no natural predators, the snake reproduced at alarming speed, tearing through the island’s native bird populations. Concerned about the snake spreading to other islands in the chain, conservationists launched a multi-tiered response to save the birds. For nearly ten years, Audubon has been involved with this program, which has evolved over the years to include moving imperiled species to more remote islands where the threat from the brown tree snake is, for now, minimal.
Peter Bibeault, Audubon’s Assistant Curator of Birds, represented Audubon in 2015 and 2016 as part of a 13-member consortium of animal experts working to translocate Tinian monarch and bridled white-eye birds from the island of Tinian, where concerns about the snake are growing, to the more remote island of Guguan, where the birds have a better chance of survival. While this program has been active for many years, this was the first year birds were transferred by boat.
“Translocations in the past always used helicopters, which was certainly quicker, but it drastically limited the number of birds that could be transported all at once,” said Pete. Herb Roberts, co-leader of MAC, agrees, saying that in this case, it was the only option. “Lack of fuel and landing sites on remote islands prevents using helicopters,” he says. “But with a longer transit time, there’s definitely more planning involved.”
The group was divided into two crews. The first shift, including Pete, was stationed on Tinian, while the second shift transported birds to Guguan. To gather the birds, the crews set up mist-netting in dozens of locations throughout Tinian. They collected, examined, and readied the birds for a long, 14-hour boat ride to the island of Guguan, where, in sweltering heat over punishing volcanic rock, the transportation crew hiked even further into the uninhabited island and successfully released the birds into the forest canopy.
Over the past two years, nearly 200 birds have been released into this new, secluded habitat. Experts say the future looks good for these species, and the project will continue. “Translocation is the primary conservation tool for us because it creates large, wild, secure secondary populations,” says Herb Roberts.
Back home in New Orleans, you may have never held a small, fluttering bird next to your heart, securing it in a container for transport to safety. You may have never spent 14 hours on a hot boat, only to land on a rocky shore with hours of travel over harsh terrain still ahead of you. But, this truly is your work. And the joy of seeing those small birds take flight in a new forest home is yours as well, because you made it happen by supporting Audubon Nature Institute. Your donations save wildlife at home and across the globe. Thank you for all the ways you make our work together possible.
SOS for Sharks
The world’s shark population is suffering from a conservation disaster that is playing out before our very eyes.Thanks to your help, Audubon Nature Institute is able to work alongside other respected organizations to increase the odds for shark survival.
“Sharks have far more to fear from us than we do from them,” said Audubon Aquarium of the Americas Managing Director Rich Toth. “And with 200,000 sharks killed in our oceans through unregulated fishing every day, there are many species of sharks in alarming decline.”
This sobering information is nothing new for The University of Southern Mississippi’s Shark Research Program at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL). Researchers and students from this program recently set up displays at the Aquarium, guiding guests through shark artifacts and activities, including a display of shark blood, a trawl table simulating a day’s catch in the ocean, and information on shark tagging programs.
“The Aquarium is like a megaphone for shark conservation,” said GCRL student Mikhaila Miller. “It’s a chance for us to access a broad audience with a message on how we can work together to save sharks.”
After working on the OCEARCH research vessel visit to the Aquarium last year, the GCRL Shark Research Program is well acquainted with the Aquarium’s commitment to conservation. OCEARCH is a world leader in generating data on species like great white sharks, working on outreach and education with organizations like Audubon and others across the globe.
The GCRL scientists and students were excited by how plugged-in young Aquarium guests were during the group’s week-long stay at the Aquarium. The youngsters challenged researchers with questions on subjects ranging from shark nuclei to shark in soup. Until these kids are old enough to get out in the field, here’s what the rest of us can do to join the fight to save sharks:
1. Say NO! to shark in soup. Support sustainable seafood, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. Audubon’s Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries (G.U.L.F.) is on the front lines of that effort.
2. Be a shark advocate! Spread the word about how valuable these incredible creatures are to our ecosystem.
3. Continue your support of conservation education organizations like Audubon Nature Institute and the GCRL Shark Research Program as we educate visitors and participate in research missions like OCEARCH.
Find out more about why a good shark is a live shark, and why shark in soup is never a good idea, at SupportOurSharks.com. Your support and encouragement make these innovative projects a reality for Audubon Nature Institute and for all animals - on land, in the air, and under the sea across the globe. As always, thank you!.
The Final Frontier
How does supporting Audubon Nature Institute through events such as Scales & Ales fuel a mission to Mars? Making that connection came easily earlier this summer when NASA spent a week at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas presenting a special space exhibit for guests and conducting free workshops for teachers from across Louisiana. It is exactly this kind of event that Scales & Ales makes possible—and your support is the rocket fuel that propels it all forward.
As NASA representatives spent the week envisioning the future of our planet and our people with Audubon, there was no mistaking the message. “This next generation is going to Mars,” stated Paul Foerman from NASA’s Office of Communications. “It’s our job to inspire them.”
In the Aquarium Pisces Room, NASA set up more than a dozen fun and interactive displays for all Aquarium guests to experience. It was like a festival for space exploration, as visitors conjured up 3-D pictures of the Mars Rover and learned the secrets to growing potatoes in space. A real life astronaut, Victor J. Glover, even appeared in person to meet with guests and answer questions. Commander Glover visited Audubon Zoo the following day, inspiring Zoo Campers to reach for the stars as well.
“We love to see kids dive into the hands-on demonstrations we have here and dream about the possibilities for our future,” said Paul Foerman. “Making connections is our top priority, developing that inspiration in today’s youngsters, who will be the rest to travel to Mars in the 2030s.”
Not long ago a manned mission to Mars seemed impossibly far away, but suddenly now it’s within our grasp, a goal that will be attained by the same children who today run around Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, delighting in the penguins, the sharks, the sea otters, and the white alligator.
The free workshops generated plenty of excitement for the teachers who are educating and inspiring the Mars generation. Teachers eagerly absorbed fascinating information and demonstrations on NASA’s missions and goals. Thee success of these visionary NASA projects hinges on students educated through a robust Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum, providing NASA with experts ready to aim for the stars.
“There is a big push for STEM curriculum right now,” said Ann Caraway, a teacher at Carroll Junior High in Monroe, Louisiana. “We’re learning so much about what resources are available and how to create effective lesson plans. It’s almost like we are taking our students to space in a classroom.”
An emphasis on earth sciences underscored why the NASA partnership is a perfect fit for Audubon Nature Institute. Seminars included programs on living and working in space, an examination of key questions about our solar system, and discussions on technology as it drives exploration.
“Everything NASA does benefits the Earth,” according to Paul Foerman. For example, “Earth Right Now” shows how NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand our changing planet—and advises teachers how to bring this knowledge to life in the classroom.
“The resources we’re accessing here can help our kids imagine a future in space,” said teacher Ann Caraway. “As educators, we now have a direct connection to NASA. Mission accomplished!”
Mission accomplished, indeed—thanks to the dedication of Audubon supporters like you who know the value of preparing our youngsters today for the challenges they will face tomorrow, on our home planet and in galaxies far, far away.
Larger Than Life Learning
You can hear the excitement in Audubon Zoo’s Asia all the way from the elephant fountain in Cooper Plaza. It’s the sound of the joy of hands-on learning and experiencing the wonders of nature, the kind of learning that makes Audubon so special. Your donations and dedication make this magic possible. Because of your support, Audubon Zoo is delighting guests with an array of bright and breathtaking new ways to learn about the animals of Asia, including new habitats for Asian elephants and Sumatran orangutans as well as the addition of an elevated elephant education pavilion, made possible in part by a $1 million donation from Jeffrey Feil and the Charitable Lead Annuity Trust Under the Will of Louis Feil.
The pavilion is a breezy, color-splashed outdoor learning environment, running along the elephant exhibit. It includes spots for guests to engage with educators with hand-held animals and interact with irresistible games and graphics to learn about elephants and the environment (not to mention the opportunity to see Asian elephants Panya and Jean up close).
“Our goal is to share very personal insights into our elephants and their home,” said Audubon Director of Education Projects Brenda Walkenhorst. “We’ll give guests actions they can do to make a difference for wildlife. We also think it’s going to be very cool to use the new pavilion for overnights and evening conservation events!”
Activities include iPad elephant “painting,” and a life-size graphic elephant where kids trace the fascinating story of elephant digestion, complete with sounds! The walls are lined with information about how elephants sleep, their importance to Asian culture and history, and other fun facts. Panya and Jean act as ambassadors for their species, bringing the complicated and deadly perils elephants face in the wild to life for guests. Treats include human/elephant conflicts such as crop raiding, poaching for the ivory trade, and habitat destruction from palm oil farming. Thanks to donors like you, Audubon Zoo’s Asia is filled with more ways than ever to kindle strong connections between wildlife and those who love it, so we can work together to save species from extinction. Your support makes these connections possible, creating a meaningful, lasting difference for animals at Audubon and across the globe.