The Beulah A. Laidlaw Preserve is 272 acres of land in Washington County, about four miles north of Vernon and west of State Route 79. The Preserve is owned by Florida Audubon Society has a Memorandum of Agreement to manage and oversee the property. There are complications on access across private lands, so the property is not open to the public or to Audubon’s membership except by appointment with one of the key holders. Ed Keppner and Neil Lamb wrote an Adaptive Management Plan for the Preserve in June 2009 have updated the Plan as part of the ongoing work at the Preserve. Dawn Barone is the Preserve Manager with assistance from Neil Lamb and numerous volunteers. We have received various grants for projects such as boardwalks, a pole barn shelter, and other amenities. The management plan is designed to promote wildlife through enhancement of the natural
topography of swamp, bog, uplands, and clearings that support a rich and diverse flora and fauna. Three signature species of the Preserve, the Swainson’s warbler, flame azalea, and gopher tortoise, are present in good numbers on the property.
An Eagle Scout Project and another Boy Scout Project by Troop 562 of Santa Rosa Beach, FL provided benches for the shelter and an outstanding photography blind overlooking the central bog and beaver pond. The trails and points of interest are sign-posted and mapped for use. Management strategies include clearing old man-made trails and game trails to allow easier access while at the same time maintaining more of the edge habitat that supports the species richness of the property. Brush piles created by the clearing are intentionally and strategically located to offer harborage and shelter to many species,especially over-wintering sparrows. Winter mowing of meadows instead of using fire maintains the open areas that are so critical to many species. Purple martin nest boxes, wood duck nest boxes, and Eastern bluebird nest boxes have been installed and are being used. A barn owl nest box is located in the shelter in the hope of attracting a barn owl. Trail cameras are used to augment daytime sightings and have proved most informative about the
gopher tortoise activities, wild turkeys, active movements of the alligators around the
The BCAS Conservation Committee Chair is Norm Capra (and others who are willing to help on various issues).
ALL MEMBERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND MEETINGS AND WRITE LETTERS AND EXPRESS THEIR PERSONAL CONSERVATION RELATED OPINIONS AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY. ALL OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THE NAME OF BCAS MUST BE APPROVED BY THE PRESIDENT OR THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS.
Congratulations to Ron Houser! Ron dedicated himself to the passage of Amendment 1, The Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment. He worked relentlessly on the project. He and his group of dedicated volunteers spent hours getting signatures and then additional hours getting out the word to vote for Amendment 1.
Those of you who know Ron know that he didn’t stop with that one activity. As we moved to our new meeting place, the Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida, he found money to start an exotic invasive plant removal plan for the property. He also works tireless with projects for the Bay County Conservancy. He has served on their board since 1998 where he chairs the Invasive species control program and manages the Audubon Preserve. This year, the air potato round-up showed that the program is working because there were less air potatoes to collect than in past years.
Ron also serves on the board of the Sweet Bay Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and worked with the chapter to start the restoration of the Audubon Garden with native plants at the Science and Discovery Center.
BAY BIRD SURVEYS
At the encouragement of Jim Barkuloo of the St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association, we have commenced doing twice a month bird surveys of St. Andrew Bay and West Bay on the regular water sampling trips of the RMA pontoon boat. These surveys were conducted by Neil Lamb from November 2003 – December 2005 and enumerated the numbers of birds and the species of birds and other wildlife on the bay. This type of citizen science is very valuable for assessment of the health of the St. Andrew Bay ecosystem and to gauge impact of human activities and development on the bird life. Ron Houser and Neil Lamb have initiated the surveys once again and will continue over several years to establish enough data for comparisons with the previous surveys. We welcome other good birders who want to train for these surveys and take turns on these very demanding expeditions to identify and record bird species.
Our chapter has a long history of involvement with this small spoil island next to Port Panama City in St. Andrew Bay. The island is the only nesting place for brown pelicans in Bay County and it is a critical nest location for the entire western Panhandle. Besides the 300+ brown pelicans, several hundred laughing gulls, great blue herons, and a few other species nest on the island. Various storms over the past few years have washed away much of the vegetation on the island, so through the initiative of Dr. John Himes of the FL FWC, some volunteers hauled boatloads of tree branches out to the island for use by the brown pelicans to build nests among the rip-rap and jumbled concrete. The pelicans grabbed the branches even as they were being unloaded.