What is "Treasure Highlands"? The July Important Bird Area of the Month

Each month we feature one of the 97 IBAs (Important Bird Area) in North Carolina. This month our team from the mountains is showcasing the Highlands Plateau IBA‘s amazing bird diversity. This post is written by Audubon North Carolina’s Curtis Smalling.

One of our long standing projects with a variety of partners in this IBA is our Treasure Highlands effort.  The Treasure Highlands project seeks to provide easy to access information about our partners, opportunities to volunteer, attend programs, take pare in citizen science projects, and take action.  Through our website and Facebook page, folks in the area can learn all of these activities, as well as keep up with what others are doing in the area.

More than an individual project, Treasure Highlands is a way to connect residents and visitors to this IBA to partner agencies, events, volunteer opportunities and more in depth information about this wonderful place.

Canada Warblers are one of the reasons we "Treasure Highlands."

Birds are some of the best ambassadors for environmental awareness that we have.  They are bright, beautiful and, most importantly, accessible.  Almost everyone sees and hears birds everyday of their lives, especially in the Highlands Plateau.  It has been my experience that almost everyone also has a bird question they have wondered about at some point.  Treasure Highlands is our attempt to help answer those questions, inspire people to take simple actions, and to support the local partners hard at work to protect the resources of this IBA.

One of the weekly field trip offerings this year by the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. This one to the Lonesome Valley Development which has placed some of their lands into conservation easement.

All of this effort has elevated birds and bird conservation the plateau.  More field trips than ever (weekly!) are being offered by both the Highlands Audubon Society and their neighbors at the Franklin Bird Club. Educational programs are more prevalent than ever with partners like Patrick Brannon at the Nature Center and Sonya Carpenter at the Highlands Biological Station starting new initiatives that include bird education for children and adults.  Thanks to funding from the NC Forest Service, we have produced a publication for landowners on how they can help birds in this critical IBA.  Funding from the Toyota and Audubon Together Green program got the ball rolling two years ago, and a recent award from the National Science Foundation have helped establish school and youth programs emphasizing citizen science through our K to Gray Challenge.

And one of the nicest things to come out of all of these efforts and partnerships is a renewed commitment to reach out to new and non-traditional audiences.  This spring, the Bascom Center (the local fine arts center) launched "Chicks:  It's all gone to the Birds" their major spring show featuring a variety of bird themed pieces of art, sculpture and whimsical pieces.  The exhibit was wildly popular and engaged the local Audubon chapter in training docents for the exhibition, helping sponsor the gala opening, providing field trips and bird walks at the Bascom as well as changing the meeting place for other exhibitions to the Bascom.  As one Bascom board member commented at the opening "It is nice to see this crossover of art and conservation and makes what we do here at the Bascom more relevant and important."

Russ Regnery, president of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, and Heather Starck, Executive Director of Audubon NC, at the opening of the "Chicks" exhibit at the Bascom Center.

Ann Campbell, Education Chair of the local Audubon Society, conducted numerous programs with schools and other audiences including a bird workshop for the local literacy council.  Partnerships with the Summit Charter School in Cashiers have resulted in expansion of their bird and butterfly garden.  A regional meeting to begin coordinated bird monitoring in the area has taken place, and a new partnership with the local land trust and Audubon is breaking new ground in using the bird expertise of the local chapter to assist the land trust in baseline inventory and monitoring of potential easement tracts, useful information for funding this important conservation work.

Ann Campbell, Education Chair of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, leads a program for students at the Summit School, an environmentally focused charter school in the Highlands Plateau IBA.

I am confident that this effort will continue to grown and strengthen as real lasting partnerships have been developed, and most importantly real friendships and relationships have developed that make those partnerships work for the long term.  Some of the nicest folks you want to meet live in the Highlands Plateau alongside those priority bird species.

Some of the nice folks from Highlands Plateau Audubon Society and NC Audubon who help make Treasure Highlands a reality.