The Society started as the Augusta Bird Club in February 1954. The club held regular meetings, and conducted frequent field trips. The location of meetings varied in the early 1960’s, but settled on the Main Library on 9th and Greene Streets in Augusta in February 1961 (until 1973 as the Augusta Bird Club), and kept this meeting place as the Augusta Audubon Society until March 1987, when meetings were moved to St. John’s Towers, and various other locations, until finally settling on the North Augusta Community Center, where it continues to hold its bi-monthly meetings. Programs at the meetings of the Bird Club were typically films, whereas now they consist of presentations by speakers on topics relating to wildlife and conservation issues, with an emphasis on birds and birding.
In 1972, Robert Manne, the Southeast representative from the National Audubon Society presented a program explaining how the Augusta Bird Club could become an Audubon chapter, and as a result, the first meeting of the Augusta Audubon Society was held in September, 1973. In January 1980, the chapter received tax-exempt status, and it was decided to curtail summer meetings. Monthly meetings would now run from January to May, with a hiatus in June-August, and then begin again in September. In 2004, the Chapter began meeting bimonthly throughout the year. Newsletters would be produced to coincide with the months in which meetings were held. Gene Howard started a new website for the chapter in that year. In 2002, the office of the Silver Bluff Center and Sanctuary became the official mailing address of the Society, as well as the repository for its records.
The chapter year was changed in 1985. New officers would now take office in September, rather than January. This brought the chapter into alignment with others in the country. In February, 1997, the name of the chapter officially became the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society, and the meeting date was changed to the second Thursday of the month.
In February 1985, the name of the Society’s newsletter became, Feathered Flyer. The previous masthead simply read, Augusta Audubon Society. In 2003, due to the mounting costs of mailing the newsletter to every chapter member, Gene Howard began offering its distribution via e-mail. New members were mailed a hard copy, and were then urged to sign up for the on-line version. The option of receiving the hard copy variety is still available to any member who requests it.
Early activities of the Augusta Bird Club included a nesting project, where members erected bird boxes (early 1960’s), working with the Augusta Woman’s Club to put up signs indicating that Augusta was a bird sanctuary, and hosting the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS) meeting (1962 and 1966) and combined GOS-CBC conference (1969). In May 1975, the Augusta Audubon Society co-hosted the spring Carolina Bird Club (CBC) meeting. The Chapter was very active that year, including running a campaign to increase its size. In March, the AAS led the nation in signing up the most new members. The club also participated in efforts to save Congaree Swamp. In 1977-78, club members actively opposed the construction of Russell Dam, which came to no avail, and in 1978, also opposed the construction of the Pepperidge Subdivision at Tobacco/Peach Orchard Roads, since it would threaten red-cockaded woodpecker habitat.
The early 1980’s were a busy time for the Society. The first Bird-A-Thon was held in 1981, and continues today, through the auspices of the Silver Bluff Center and Sanctuary. The highest count to date is 137 species, which occurred in 2000 and in 2001. The 1981 Bird-A-Thon was the first one for AAS, and for the National Audubon Society. AAS hosted the GOS spring meetings in April 1982, 1987, 1995, and fall meetings of the Carolina Bird Club in 2004 and 2010. In 2000, the club received over $1,000 from Georgia DNR to install wildlife feeders at Pendleton King Park.
The Society began water quality monitoring of Hollow Creek, the stream that feeds the Silver Bluff Stork Ponds, in the fall of 2006. Carol Eldridge wrote a grant proposal to South Carolina Audubon to get the funding for the initial supplies. Volunteers conduct chemical analyses of the water on a monthly basis at three sites, and conduct quarterly macroinvertebrate sampling at two stations. In 2009, Doug and Alice Walker took over as principal investigators on the project, and it became officially affiliated with Georgia Adopt-A-Stream. Amphibian monitoring on Hollow Creek was added in 2010. Funding for supplies has been obtained through South Carolina Audubon, Toyota Motor Corporation, and through the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society.
The Society has always had an active field trip program, beginning with the Augusta Bird Club. In 1989, Calvin Zippler replaced Clarence Belger as field trip chairman. Clarence had served in this capacity for 12 years. Calvin was assisted by Anne Waters, who later became field trip chairman after he “retired” from the position. In 2010, Anne was joined by Lois Stacey, and both currently serve as co-chairmen. Lois also conducts Wings and Things field trips, which include searches for butterflies, dragonflies, and moths, as well as birds.
Participation in the Christmas Bird Count was first solicited in 1964, and has continued annually since that time. According to an early newsletter, some sort of Christmas count has been held in Augusta since 1900. The first Christmas bird count conducted as the Augusta Audubon Society was held in December 1973. A high species count of 123 occurred in 2001 and 2005. The chapter began participating in the Spring North American Migration Count in Aiken County, SC, in 1992. A spring migration count was held in Richmond County for a few years prior to this, but was eventually discontinued. The highest species number in Aiken County has been 124, occurring in 2003 and 2008. The first fall migration count in which the chapter participated occurred in September 1996. This was also an Aiken County Count. The species high for the fall count was 114, occurring in 2007 and 2009.
Others counts in which Society members have been active, include the Savannah River Site Christmas Count, which began in 1978. Calvin Zippler led an annual Hummingbird Helper Survey for a few years, beginning in 1990, and, starting in 1998, the Society has participated in the annual Great American Backyard Bird Count.
Since 2004, the chapter has also participated in the North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Count . This survey includes a circle which encompasses parts of Richmond County, GA, and Aiken County, SC, with each state covered by its own team of counters. The Georgia team is headed by Lois Stacey and the South Carolina team by Paul Koehler. The highest species number to date occurred in 2011, with 42 (and 524 individual butterflies).
The A-AAS has taken a very active role in education in the local area. In November 1995, the idea of providing educational support for local schools arose, and the chapter provided funds to send a local teacher to an Audubon ecology workshop in 1996. In 1997, the club started an Adopt-A-School program at Redcliffe Elementary in Jackson, SC. The first Auction for Education occurred on May 11, 2000 and was held every year thereafter until it was curtailed due to lack of participation in 2010. Funds received from the auction were distributed to teachers via a mini-grant program, and were also used to purchase Audubon Adventures kits and materials for Cornell Lab’s Bird Sleuth Program to educators who applied for them.
The Society has always worked closely with the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary since its inception in 1975. In November of that year, the club welcomed Dan Connelly, the new manager, and in 1976 began a bird survey for the sanctuary. In 1980, Silver Bluff Sanctuary opened a trail with 25 bluebird boxes, with plans to expand in the spring. The first official bird count was held in May 1984, with the purpose of compiling a sanctuary bird list. This list is still being compiled today, and now includes over 200 species. Paul Koehler was hired in April 1986 as Warden, later holding the job titles of Assistant Manager, and Center Director. In 2002, the chapter donated $2,000 toward the new educational facility at Silver Bluff, which now hosts classes from schools throughout the Georgia and South Carolina areas. The first annual Storks and Corks fund raiser for Silver Bluff occurred in August 2004. Dan Connelly retired in December 2009, and Paul Koehler became Sanctuary Director. In September 2010, Brandon Heithkamp was hired as Resource Manager at the Center.
The Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society continues to play an active role in conservation-related activities throughout the CSRA. Field trips are well-attended, and the club makes its presence known throughout the area through participation in Earth Day activities and other events where we man tables and provide educational material.
9/2011 – Alice Walker