Mt Cuba Center
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Mt. Cuba conserves and stewards more than 1,000 acres including meadows, forests, streams and riparian corridors.

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Mt Cuba Center
Back to News Updates – October 28, 2021


Better Together: Birds & Plants

Take a virtual field trip to the Apalachicola National Forest in the upcoming course, Ecosystem Management: How Plant Diversity Influences Bird Conservation. One of the largest U.S. National Forests in Florida at over 200,000 acres, Apalachicola showcases some of the most unique plant and animal species in the world. Through the lens of their multiple natural community types, learn how this mosaic landscape encourages avian diversity.

Join citizen scientist and instructor, Natasza Fontaine, as she discusses how the plant diversity in Apalachicola influences bird conservation and management. As a master’s student at Florida State University who studies plants and avian habitat associations, Natasza has a passion for both birds and plants that started a young age. Learn more about her past experiences and creative highlights (spoiler – she’s also an artist and photographer!) in our Q&A below, and then register for the upcoming class on Thursday, November 11 to hear more about this notable conservation topic.

Picture of a yellow and grey bird perched on a branch and surrounded by large green leaves

Natasza Fontaine has volunteered at several conservation organizations, including NYC Audubon, and worked in the Herbarium department at the New York Botanical Garden. Her love of plants has always been deeply intertwined with her love of birds. This passion inspired her current thesis work at Florida State University on understanding the relationship between plant diversity and avian habitat associations. In addition, Natasza has a passion for behavioral bioacoustics and how bioacoustics are used to monitor biodiversity.

Mt. Cuba Center: Your love of plants is intertwined with your love of birds. When did your passion for both plants and birds begin?

Natasza Fontaine: My love of plants and birds started at an early age. As a kid, I never saw birds and plants as two different subjects. As an example, growing up in Queens Village, NY, we had a large oak tree in the yard and that oak attracted lots of Blue Jays and Crows. I enjoyed watching both the oak and the birds as one. I learned early on if the right plants were in your neighborhood the birds will come and they belonged together.

Mt. Cuba Center: Your background is filled with volunteer experiences with Florida and NYC Audubon, and professional experiences in the Herbarium Department in New York Botanical Garden. Can you share some highlights from your past experiences?

Natasza Fontaine: My highlight from the NYBG is having the opportunity to become immersed in plant specimens, especially ones that were dated in the 1800s and early 1900s. It was amazing to have access to old specimens which often enough, told unique short stories that detailed the plants and the environment during that time period. Sometimes the specimen labels would include tidbits of the collector’s life at that moment and time, it was almost like opening up a time capsule with every specimen.

My volunteer experience with NYC Audubon opened the door to learning more about horseshoe crabs and their relationship with Red Knots, a declining shorebird. Moving on to my experience with Florida Audubon, I’ve had the opportunity to observe breeding shorebird colonies of a few threatened shorebird species.

Mt. Cuba Center: Your visual arts degree helps you to manifest your love for plants and birds as a natural science illustrator and photographer. What have been some artistic pursuits that you have enjoyed working on?

Natasza Fontaine: My first published photograph was unintentional. I was volunteering as a trail guide for the Delaware Highlands Conservancy in Bethel, NY and one of the amazing perks of volunteering was that I was allowed to spend extra time on the trail practicing my photography skills.  One day while I was out exploring, I came across two red-efts hiding under a mushroom. So, I took the shot and just as with most of my photos, I submitted it to the conservancy simply as a “Hey, look how cute this is” moment, and next thing you know it was published in Saving Land Magazine. DHC also used it for some of its marketing material. It was a very unexpected and proud moment for sure!

As far as illustration, in the past year, I truly enjoyed working on the design elements for Black Botanist Week, which is a celebration of Black people who love plants. Another artistic pursuit I enjoyed developing this year is my most recent illustration for the Audubon publication “Audubon Adventures: At Home in the Florida Scrub, The Curious Case of the Florida Scrub-Jay. This illustration was great fun primarily because I was able to visit Florida Scrub-Jay habitat and sketch in the field. I also was able to observe Scrub-Jay behavior, which is a lot of fun!

Mt. Cuba Center: We love native plants here at Mt. Cuba. What native plant is your favorite and why?

Natasza Fontaine: I would have to say that my favorite plant would have to be Serviceberry, Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) because it produces a food resource for birds and people.


Learn more about ecosystem management with Natasza Fontaine virtually on Thursday, November 11 from 6 to 7:30 pm.

Ecosystem Management: How Plant Diversity Influences Bird Conservation (Online)

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