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Blue is the hue for birders this season

Published on: December 2, 2015

By LISA STARK

Audubon Club President Linda Floyd, left, with Conservation Committee Chair Melanie Higgins. Lisa Stark photo.

Audubon Club President Linda Floyd, left, with Conservation Committee Chair Melanie Higgins. Lisa Stark photo.

Blue seems to be a popular color for bird-watchers this season, according to Linda Floyd and Melanie Higgins, who both have one thing in common.  “We’re both bird nerds,”  said Higgins, laughing.   “Whenever I go on vacation with my family, they know I’m always looking for birds out of the corner of my eye.”

Floyd is president of the Sun City Center Audubon Club, and Higgins serves as the Conservation Committee chair.  Like the national chapter of the Audubon Society, their club is dedicated to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems and habitats for birds and other wildlife.

The club meets on the first Saturday of every month in the Florida Room of the SSC Community Hall, and they host a variety of programs and speakers to promote an interest in birds, wildlife and the environment.  Their presentations provide a great way to learn the location of the area’s interesting parks and preserves, with topics that range from birds, bees, flowers and animals, to conservation issues and photography tips.

Over the past century, urbanization has taken ecologically friendly lands and transformed them into unfriendly environments for wildlife, with sterile lawns, walls of glass, toxic pesticides and domestic predators. The human-dominated landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems or provides healthy places for birds.

“As a species, birds are very resilient and adapt well to changes in their environment,” said Higgins.  “But they need our help.”

Boy Scout Troop #611 installing bluebird boxes. Robert Leonard is on the far right. Melanie Higgins photo.

Boy Scout Troop #611 installing bluebird boxes. Robert Leonard is on the far right. Melanie Higgins photo.

Bluebird-Box

Florida scrub jays. Melanie Higgins photo.

Florida scrub jays. Melanie Higgins photo.

Barn owl blue jays.

Barn owl blue jays.

Yukatan jay.

Yucatan jay.

Bluebirds sharing a meal.

Bluebirds sharing a meal.

Striving to combat these tainted ecosystems with bird-friendly communities is a mission of the SSC club. Last month, the club initiated a project in conjunction with the local Eagle Scouts to construct birdhouses and distribute them around the community to foster a population of bluebirds.

Robert Leonard of Boy Scout Troop #611 in Apollo Beach took on the project, securing financial donations, recruiting his scout troop to do the construction, and overseeing the installation.

Tom Stultz, manager of the Sun City Center Home Depot, donated materials, and Tom Williams, of South Shore Pizza, donated lunch for the hungry workers.

Together they built and installed 20 bird boxes around the local area, concentrating mostly around golf courses where bluebirds tend to convene.

“They did a super job,” said Higgins. “And the support from those who donated time and money in the local community was phenomenal.”

The SSC Audubon Club also tries to encourage locals to think about their choice of plants when they landscape their yards, neighborhood parks and public spaces.

“By simply choosing native plants when we do our landscaping, we can help restore vital habitats for birds who are otherwise losing their homes,” said Club President Floyd.

Collaborating on projects with the Eagle Audubon Society of Kings Point, a chapter of the National Audubon Society, Floyd said they offer the community a number of exciting opportunities to become involved in wildlife preservation and restoration.

“We take local field trips to see birds and to enjoy nature,” she said. “We also sponsor one-to-three-day field trips to areas of interest around the state of Florida that foster a love and fascination with birds.”

Traveling to interesting locales to find exotic birds is a particular passion for these women.  Higgins, who has been involved in the Audubon Society for more than 20 years, recently took a trip to the jungles of Mexico in pursuit of the Yucatan jay, a gorgeous bird whose color changes from white at birth to a brilliant, distinctive blue. “They’re so beautiful and interesting to watch,” said Higgins.  “I was thrilled when I saw them.” Higgins also has a special interest in the Florida scrub jay, which shares similar characteristics, most notably the striking blue hue.

Some of the field trips planned  by the SCC Audubon Club in upcoming months include the Hillsborough River State Park, historic Spanish Point in Osprey, Fla., Shell Key Boat Trip in St. Pete Beach, the Weeden Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, and the Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

For more information, email Floyd at LFloyd21@tampabay.rr.com.

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