Walking around the beautiful grounds, trails and golf course paths in River Landing at Sandy Ridge, you are likely to come across a variety of birds busily tending to their nests (and this time of year, feeding their hungry chicks) in the many active bird houses along the way. This thriving avian community is thanks, in part, to the dedication of our very own resident Bird Club.
As the largest resident organization here, the River Landing Bird Club began in October of 2018 with approximately 30 members and quickly grew. Today the club boasts more than 90 members with many additional residents and Residents of the Future attending the monthly presentations by well-regarded experts in ornithology that are arranged by the club’s leadership.
According to Jim Burke, one of the club’s founding members and its first president, the club came about after he and another resident took a ride around the golf course. They weren’t playing golf that day. Instead, they had set out to inspect the blue bird boxes that a local Boy Scout had built and placed along the course.
Jim had been an avid blue bird enthusiast for a number of years, having co-founded the South Carolina Blue Bird Society in 2010 when he and his wife, Sharon, lived in Aiken. Jim is still very active in the North American Blue Bird Society and currently serves as the society’s vice president managing their member database.
Although the 16 blue bird boxes at River Landing were well built, Jim knew right away how to make them more appealing to blue birds as well as many other “cavity nesting” species. “The Boy Scout did a good job, but they were too close together. Bluebirds are territorial when they are nesting, so only half the boxes were going to be used.” explains Jim.
“So I started monitoring the boxes, once a week and collecting certain data,” Jim adds. “A few people found out what I was doing and asked if they could come along. I said sure.”
What started as more of a bluebird club quickly became the River Landing Bird Club as fellow bird enthusiasts, John Scroggins, Patrick Kennedy and others, flocked (pun intended) to the idea of creating a bustling bird friendly habitat at the community.
Current president John Scroggins came to River Landing in July of 2018, having developed an interest in birds during his many years in the infantry as part of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg. John sought out Jim Burke shortly after moving to River Landing from the Sanford and Southern Pines area and helped get the club off the ground.
The club now tends to 47 bird boxes throughout the community, collecting and tracking useful data that is sent to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. The club’s work in establishing and maintaining the bluebird trails has led to River Landing being designated a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” by the state of North Carolina.
Every Wednesday afternoon, club members are invited to accompany Jim, John and Patrick along the bluebird trail and help with checking the boxes and updating data logs. The club uses golf carts to make it easier to get around. “We break up into three groups on three sub-trails,” says Jim. “Each of us has six or eight people that go along with us.
“It’s an education for a lot of people because they learn how these particular birds nest and raise their young,” Jim continues. “They get to look into these boxes, see the eggs, see the baby birds. It’s a big thrill…”
“We’ve had a ton of bluebird eggs and hatchlings… It’s an opportunity to teach and train others about birding,” adds John. “How to approach each box and what to look for… and the data we collect is important.”
Every fourth Thursday of the month, the club brings in experts from around the state to speak with the community about birds and other wildlife. “It might be a speaker from one of the universities or one of the Audubon groups, or a DVD. All wildlife related,” says Jim.
“Our program manager, Helen Killacky, searches all over the state… and we always have a good turn out. We fill the place up,” says John. The presentations are open to everyone — residents, residents of the future and family members — although the presentations and other group events are currently on hold due to the current coronavirus pandemic.
“An important thing to let people know,” says John, “is that residents of the future are also invited to join the Bird Club. We are happy to have them.”
All it takes to join the Bird Club is a $15 annual membership fee, which makes it an attractive club for wide range of interested folks, from casual watchers to serious birders.
According to John’s welcome letter to new residents, the club’s mission is to promote the enjoyment, study and conservation of native birds and other wildlife in our community and elsewhere.