by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho
As spring takes flight in a dazzling display of blossoms and greenery, the Fresno Audubon Society is gearing up with binoculars and cameras for spring birding season. And as Earth Day approaches, preparations are underway for the Society’s participation in this year’s Earth Day Fresno event. Kings River Life spoke with Fresno Audubon president Robert Snow about bird-watching (known as birding), the beauty of nature, and the importance of protecting the environment.
KRL: How did the Fresno Audubon Society come to be; how long ago was it established?
Robert Snow: Fresno Audubon Society was established in 1966, as one of nearly 500 independent chapters of the National Audubon Society. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2016, and are still going strong. Local Audubon chapters are usually organized to help build a sustainable environment for birds and people.
KRL: How long have you been Fresno Audubon’s president?
Robert: I was first elected in December 2012 and am now in my fourth two-year term.
KRL: What first drew you to Audubon?
Robert: I’ve always been interested birds; my parents bought me a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America for my sixth birthday. I studied biology in college and first began a life list of observed birds then. After retiring and moving to Fresno in 2010, I was looking for an organization to volunteer with, and Fresno Audubon seemed like a good fit.
KRL: Have you always had an interest in nature, and in particular, birds?
Robert: Yes, I’ve always been interested in life in general including wildlife. My hobbies include hiking, fishing, and gardening with native plants.
KRL: What kinds of events has Fresno Audubon hosted/participated in?
Robert: We host nine monthly meetings (the second Tuesday of each month, except in summer) where we invite speakers to talk about birds or related conservation issues. We also lead birding trips monthly, except in summer. We typically have two trips on Wednesdays, and one on Saturdays. We teach Introduction to Birding monthly at the River Center on Old Friant Road, and twice yearly at the Bureau of Land Management’s San Joaquin River Gorge. There is a calendar of our events at www.fresnoaudubon.org/event-calendar.
KRL: What Valley locations are the best for birding; which are popular field trip sites?
Robert: Some favorite spots include Lost Lake Park, Avocado Lake, Merced National Wildlife Refuge, and the Fresno/Clovis Wastewater Treatment Plant. We have a map on our website at www.fresnoaudubon.org/birding-maps.
KRL: Do you have any advice for first-time birders?
Robert: Come to one of our Introduction to Birding classes. They’re free and open to all, and we provide binoculars for use during classes. Don’t buy an expensive pair of binoculars until you’ve had a chance to try a variety of types and sizes. A good introductory pair would be Nikon ProStaff 3S, size 8×42, which can be purchased for less than $120. Attend our field trips where you can quickly learn the local birds from experts.
KRL: How does one become a member of Fresno Audubon?
Robert: You can join the National Audubon Society, and you will automatically be a member of Fresno Audubon, if you live in our assigned area. You can also join Fresno Audubon independently of National Audubon on our website. Our events are all open to the public without membership.
KRL: Do you have a favorite bird? If so, what is it, and why?
Robert: I like the Burrowing Owl because they are easy to see in the daytime, unlike most owls, and they are just the cutest birds. They can be found using old ground squirrel holes in rangeland. There’s even a colony of them at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
KRL: How is Fresno Audubon celebrating Earth Day?
Robert: Fresno Audubon will have a booth at Earth Day Fresno where we will be featuring planting native plants for birds. The typical landscaping plants in use locally are non-native, and do not provide much food for birds; plus, they generally require a lot of added water. Over 50% of our treated water supply goes to outdoor irrigation in Fresno, and the birds evolved to use the plants native to California. Many of these native plants make great landscaping plants, and since they evolved for our climate, they require only a little to no additional water.
We changed our landscape in 2014, from a traditional one that required regular watering, to one that requires very little. Here are pictures from before the transformation, after re-landscaping, and the amount of water saved.