President’s Message – April 2017

This past year saw strong participation in our events, with over 100 well-attended field trips and dozens of classroom and community programs. The 2016 annual fund drive was our strongest ever.

We continued to make our voice heard on local, regional, and national issues of concern, working with Westchester County Parks to monitor and advocate for important grassland habitat in Croton Point Park, and weighing in on the proposed Hudson River barge anchorage sites. Our on-the-ground conservation work this year included volunteer work days to remove invasive vines and plant hundreds of native trees and shrubs in our sanctuaries. In collaboration with several regional organizations, we worked on early identification and control of invasive species in our area, and provided habitat assessment and land stewardship advice to several landowners. Board members Karalyn Lamb, Michael Madias, Tom Ruth, Bill Kellner, and John Phillips, along with Executive Director Anne Swaim spearheaded these activities.

We have joined National Audubon’s Plants for Birds initiative, offering our native plant garden at Pruyn Sanctuary and the knowledge of our staff and Board members as resources for people who want to create bird-friendly yards. Thanks to Board member Donna Lassiter’s extraordinary efforts, the garden at Pruyn attracts and provides for an ever-widening variety of butterflies and pollinators. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are regular visitors throughout the summer. If you have not seen this garden, which is a legacy of longtime board members Bill and Midge Arnold, look out for notice of our annual garden tour sometime in July or August, or stop by any time during the growing season. There is a coded color guide to the garden’s plants in a small kiosk outside the fence.

Saw Mill River Audubon’s long heritage of environmental education includes many school programs and field trips, as well as our Larry Light Youth Scholarships. You will hear from one of our scholarship students tonight. In the past year, we’ve expanded school outreach with a new Schoolyard Birding pilot led by Pete Salmansohn. We are also delighted to partner this school year with New York State Parks in their Connect Kids to Parks grant program. This new program is for schools that are less able to afford outdoor field trips without grants. We are leading field trips this spring at Rockefeller State Park Preserve for students from Yonkers and from the Bronx. Also new this year are our monthly Young Birder Walks, supported by a collaborative grant from Audubon New York, as well as a new gift from Bonnie Barrett enabling us to purchase additional binoculars for loan.

On behalf of the board and members, I would like to thank those leaving the board this year for their contributions, past and ongoing: Ponie Sheehan, who generously shared her graphic talents with us to design our current logo; John Phillips, who will continue to work with us through his position as naturalist at Croton Point Park; Jan Bass, who with her husband Mike, shared their photographic talent with us through the large format Bald Eagle prints donated to SMRA; and Valerie Heemstra, who continues to volunteer as an Audubon Trail Walker for our Pinecliff Sanctuary.

With tonight’s election we welcome 5 new board members: Cary Andrews, Roger Garrison, Sarah Hansen, Debbie van Zyl, and Kathleen Williamson.

Later in the program, we’ll hold a drawing for the “Owl Flight” quilt, custom-designed by Board member Jean Sparacin. Last chance to buy tickets for the drawing is during dessert. Thank you, Jean, for creating this wonderful piece of art. And thank you to everyone who bought a raffle ticket. Your generosity has helped us raise more than $1500 to support our local conservation work.

I also want to thank several key volunteers who keep watch over and help maintain our sanctuaries: Rudy Fasciani at Brinton Brook, David Watson at Pruyn, Lauren Coates at Choate and, of course Don and Jo Lunetta, who for over 30 years watched over Pinecliff Sanctuary. We note with sadness the passing of Don Lunetta this past year, and look forward to honoring his memory with a new education initiative of explorer kits for children and adults to check out of Chappaqua Library. Also, thanks to Frances and Greg Jacobson for their dedicated work at Pruyn garden and arboretum. And thanks to Charlie Roberto too, who has shared so much of his time and knowledge with so many of us.

Thanks to Bonnie Talluto and her Project FeederWatch crew at Croton Point Nature Center, including MJ Picciano, Rose DePalma, Ed Mertz, and John Phillips, who have provided coverage for Project FeederWatch for over 40 weekend days with the last session today! Well done!

I want to give special recognition to our hard-working and talented staff:
• Executive Director Anne Swaim, whose leadership
for the last 28 years has been instrumental in our success.
Danny Ferguson, who has maintained our sanctuaries for 16 years.
Ellen Heidelberger, who has served as Office Manager and Historian for 15 years.
Barbara Campbell, our Development Director for the past 13 years
• Educator Pete Salmansohn
• We also welcome Eric Stone of The Rewilding School,
who begins working with us as a contract educator this year.

Special thanks to my fellow board members for the support they have given me in my first year as president. I’m grateful to former president and now Chairman of the Board, Robert McCrillis, for his leadership in developing this vibrant organization, and for his help this year with some of our new initiatives.

All of us at Saw Mill River Audubon affirm Audubon National’s statement that “Where Birds Thrive, People Prosper.” It is community and relationships that make it possible for our chapter to thrive as we pursue our mission areas of education, advocacy, and sanctuary stewardship. We thank all of you – members, friends, and donors – for sharing our commitment to nature and supporting the work that we do through your financial contributions and your donations of time and talent.

Valerie Lyle

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