Interview with John Nelson, President, Audubon of Martin County

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Q. What advice can you give to someone interested in becoming a member of Audubon of Martin County (someone with little to no conservation/birding experience)?

A. In 2006 I came back from a trip to Africa convinced that I needed to learn more about the environment that I lived in. I joined Audubon with no prior knowledge of Florida's environment.  By attending the regular Audubon field trips and monthly meetings, I was able to gain a wealth of information from expert field guides and speakers.

Q. Essential gear required to get started? Gear tips for the cost conscious?

A. Anyone interested in birding doesn't really need to have much at all to get started. However, it is generally agreed that a good pair of binoculars are pretty important. Don't be fooled, you don't have to mortgage your house to get good optical binoculars. Retailers like Cabelas offer a great assortment, but if they are outside your budget, pawn shops almost always have binoculars at cut rate prices.

If you really want to know my deepest most personal birding secret, go to You can find binoculars and spotting scopes (a very popular birding tool) for pennies on the dollar at this great web site.

Q. Are there any field guides that are "must reads” for the newcomer to birding?

A. If you have a smart phone, there are some outstanding bird guides that can be down loaded onto your phone. If you are looking for a true field guide in book form, National Audubon publishes a very good guide as does Donald & Lillian Stokes.  If you have the ability to browse the internet, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is considered by many to be the gold standard for factual information.

Q. For the backyard birder ready to take it to the next level, how can membership in Audubon of Martin County be beneficial?

A. If you are ready to take the plunge so to speak, we have a number of outstanding citizen science projects that are either currently underway, or will be starting soon. Citizen science programs allow birders to get more involved in birding not only for the sake of improving their birding skills, but also for conservation and environmental studies. The oldest known citizen science program in the world is the Christmas Bird Count. First started in 1900, this annual bird count has become an invaluable tool in helping scientist to analyze the effects of global climate change on migratory birds.

Audubon of Martin County is also one of the few Audubon chapters that has a licensed bird banding project. Volunteers are always needed during the fall, winter, and spring months.

Q. What's your favorite bird?

A. The Green Heron has always fascinated me. It's one of the smallest of the herons, yet it has an incredible array of behaviors. It's one of the few birds to actually use tools. It will take small twigs, or insects that it has caught and skillfully places them in the water as lures for larger fish. Its plumage is a vibrant dark green and deep brownish red when viewed in the direct sunlight. It takes a lot of skill (and luck) to approach a Green Heron without it being aware of your presence. If you are fortunate, the study of Green Heron foraging and fishing behavior is an amazing study in survival.

Q. What is the biggest challenge for conservationists on the Treasure Coast?

A. My biggest challenge is to get all of our citizens to realize just how amazing our environment is. When people start to really look outside and see the amazing diversity that is in our environment, it can really surprise you. That's the reason why I started The Audubon Moment in 2010. These 60 second radio segments help listeners get answers to the simple question, "What's in your back yard"? With a simple bird feeder, anyone can discover what's in their backyard, and the answer will truly amaze you. We don't live in an environmental vacuum. Wildlife and nature is all around us.

Once we realize just how special our environment is, then one immediately starts to realize just how much damage we can do to it. Clean water is a must. Not only for us, but for every living creature that lives on the Treasure Coast.

Q. What's the good news for all lovers of wildlife?

A. I truly think that our citizens are starting to realize the value of our environment and that it must be protected. A clean and healthy environment improves our quality of life. It increases the value of our properties, and it actually improved public health. Everyone wins when the environment is healthy. As citizens of the Sunshine State, an increasing number of residents are beginning to realize that we must protect our natural places.







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