By Martie Thompson

It’s almost time to dust off your binoculars and take part in the annual event where you join your neighbors to identify and count local birds. The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, will be held Feb. 12 – 16. Locally, the newly rebuilding St. John County Audubon Society will offer support to backyard birders who would like to participate.

The St. Johns County Audubon Society, chartered in 1979, had a few recent years of inactivity, but new president Jean Rolke is leading the group full steam ahead to rebuild the chapter and make up for lost time. The club has approximately 500 members, but not all are fully active.

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NW St. Johns County resident Rolke is just the right person to lead the turnaround. She describes herself as an “intermediate” birdwatcher, but the Old Dominion University graduate with a degree in biology says she took an ornithology class her senior year and was immediately hooked.

“My favorite part about being involved with Audubon is seeing the awe and wonder and excitement on a person’s face when they look up in the sky and start seeing birds they would have missed had we not pointed them out and made them aware,” Rolke says.

This encouragement of awareness of the birds around us is one of the tenets of the Audubon Society, which states as its mission “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.”

According to Rolke, the four goals of the St. Johns County Audubon Society are education, citizen science, fundraising and conservation.

The group stays active in the education area by sponsoring bird walks and field trips for all ages, collaborating and presenting programs with the TAG Children’s Museum and hosting workshops.

“One of our most popular workshops is a photography workshop which focuses on ethical nature photography and teaches how to get that ‘great shot’ without overly stressing the birds,” Rolke explains.

Citizen science is a growing field of public participation in scientific research in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations: asking questions, collecting data and/or interpreting results that Rolke likes to call “boots on the ground.” Examples of this are the recently completed Christmas Bird Count, coordinated in St. Johns County by Diane Reed, and the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count.

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count gives everyone the chance to participate in citizen science. The goal, Rolke said, is to get people inspired and interested about local birds. To that end, the St. Johns County Audubon Society is offering many ways to help people participate.

Packets of information will be available at all St. Johns County Public Libraries as well as at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Fruit Cove. The society will offer a Great Backyard Bird Count Bird Walk to communities who request one, and a free webinar will be available for educators. Visit www. and for all the details.

Rolke says the Great Backyard Bird Count is an excellent opportunity to take that first step towards birdwatching.

“We live right in the middle of the Atlantic Migratory Flyway,” Rolke says. “We have birds coming and going!”

The St. Johns County Audubon Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. The society also offers an employer matching donation program. For more information about membership in the St. Johns County Audubon Society, visit

Photo courtesy Jean Rolke
Red Shouldered Hawk

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