Northern Parula. Photo by Michelle Hamner
Georgia Audubon’s Birding Missions
By Michelle Hamner
As a frequent user of the hashtag #shi**ybirdpics to describe my own (lack of) nature photography skills, I’m a great admirer of those who can create in-focus, well-framed photographs that somehow convey the personality of their avian subjects. The bird and nature photographers that I have met possess some of the deepest wells of patience imaginable (much deeper than I can claim), which they use to hone their craft. Some of my most enjoyable outdoor explorations are with my quite-accomplished nature photographer friend, Marlene. We balance each other well, I think; her by documenting the birds we see, me by helping to keep her “on” the bird we’re tracking through the canopy.
The past 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns, social distancing and postponed events have, understandably, sent many of us outside looking for a bit of respite from homes that now double as offices and schools. At Georgia Audubon, we saw membership numbers spike in 2020 as people across the state discovered and rediscovered nature and, in particular, birds.
Birdwatchers and nature photographers, ranging from the casual to the obsessed, have long shared common ground. A curiosity in our surroundings drives us to add just one more feeder to the backyard, or to test out just one more lens.
Georgia Audubon has been fortunate to enjoy the support of bird and nature enthusiasts, including amateur and professional photographers, from our founding as the Atlanta Bird Club in 1926, incorporation as an independent chapter of National Audubon known as Atlanta Audubon Society in 1978, and finally through our expansion to a statewide organization known as Georgia Audubon in 2020.
As part of our commitment to tackle conservation concerns affecting the state’s birds and priority habitat types, Georgia Audubon’s staff and board of directors recently adopted a new strategic plan. Over the next three years, this plan will guide our work to not only protect the natural resources that birds and other wildlife need across the state, but also to bring the wonder of birds and nature to new audiences, especially to communities that have been historically excluded from outdoor recreation opportunities and important environmental policy discussions.
Primary among our concerns are the ways in which climate change and increased development are affecting key habitat types and communities across Georgia. Climate-exacerbated events such as warming, drought and flooding are changing landscapes faster than birds can alter their own behavior to adjust. The recent Climate Report by National Audubon indicates that if we are unable to mitigate current warming trends, Georgia’s own state bird, the Brown Thrasher, will be extirpated from the state completely over the next several decades. What’s a state to do when it loses its own state bird?
Due to our decades-long success at local community-building through our membership and partnership structure, Georgia Audubon has a great advantage when it comes to raising public awareness of these issues (and others). In particular, partners such as members of the Georgia Nature Photographers Association have been invaluable by allowing us to use their own landscape, wildlife, community and bird photographs for more impactful story-telling.
At its core, Georgia Audubon is a science-based organization looking to make a large-scale conservation impact across the state. But its strength lies in our ability to communicate broadly, and that hinges on our ability to make birds and nature accessible and relatable to people of all backgrounds and skill levels. So whether it’s joining one of our free public field trips through a local park or nature preserve (www.georgiaaudubon.org/field-trips), tuning in to an online webinar introducing participants to nature photography, or participating in our six-week-long deep-dive into ornithology through our Master Birder program, there’s a place for all at Georgia Audubon.
We welcome GNPA members who may wish to learn more about volunteer photography opportunities at Georgia Audubon, as well as from members who are interested in assisting us with additional opportunities to reach the public with our stories. As someone who only in the past six years came to truly appreciate (and slightly obsess over) the diversity of birds found here in Georgia, I know firsthand the difference that helpful mentors in the field played in welcoming me to the flock. I hope you’ll join us so we can strengthen our mission to protect Georgia’s birds.
Here are a few opportunities GNPA members may wish to explore:
- Join Georgia Audubon as a member. Enjoy $5 off an annual membership with code GNPA. georgiaaudubon.org/joinrenew
- Interested in sharing your nature and bird photography with Georgia Audubon to help us spread the word across Georgia? Contact Dottie Head, Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join one of our free public field trips. Our field trips are suited for beginners and experts alike and generally operate at a “birder’s pace.” Most field trips offer great photography opportunities in the field, with many of our members always looking to compare notes with fellow nature photographers.
- Stay up-to-date with all of our current workshops at
By working together and learning from one another, we can do an even better job of understanding and protecting the birds we love in Georgia.
Michelle Hamner is the Director of Development at Georgia Audubon, a position she has held since 2015. She lives and primarily explores in Fayette County with her husband, two sons, and three short-legged dogs. She is also part of the Georgia Audubon Travel Program team, organizing and leading small-group birding trips to regional, domestic and international destinations. Michelle’s “spark bird” that got her hooked on birds is the Sandhill Crane, and her favorite birding destination is the Georgia coast. Every now and then, she says, the stars align, the lighting is just right, and she manages to capture in-focus photos of birds with her Nikon COOLPIX P900.