Throughout the year, Susie Creamer and her staff at the Patterson Park Audubon Center dedicate themselves to creating and preserving bird habitats in the urban environment and offering nature-based education programs that serve a multicultural community. Before joining the Audubon Center, Creamer managed education programs at Irvine Nature Center, taught science at St. Paul’s School for Girls and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay.
What inspires your work at the Patterson Park Audubon Center?
I feel inspired by the opportunity to improve Baltimore for birds and communities through creative and innovative solutions to restore ecosystems and beautify neighborhoods. At Audubon, we have a mission of protecting birds and the places they need, and we strive to be thoughtful partners in listening to neighbors to meet their goals at the same time. This happens when communities want to green their shared spaces with gardens, and they ask for our help to design them for birds and butterflies.
I am proud of Audubon’s Green Leaders, an initiative to grow Baltimore’s youth advocates, and Audubon’s Bird Ambassadors, a program to cultivate Latinx leadership on local environmental issues, fostering connections between birds and people through the migratory pathways they share. I am inspired by Latinos who want to make Baltimore a better place for birds and people to thrive, by cleaning and greening our neighborhoods.
Our school program model is a unique one to connect kids to their neighborhood park through a birdwatcher’s lens. We lead environmental education programs in Patterson Park for schoolchildren who walk from school to the park, where they learn with Audubon educators in fall, winter and spring. Instead of one class at a time, principals commit all kids in grades pre-K to fifth to participate in hands-on, rea- world science.
How does caring for backyard wildlife benefit Baltimore overall?
Each of us has the opportunity to take action to restore and cultivate Baltimore’s landscape with plants that contribute food, shelter and nesting materials for birds and other wildlife. That means backyard habitat as well as front and side yards! Even a patio container garden can provide resources for our birds. Each garden contributes to a collective conservation effort, like patches in a patchwork quilt. Together, we create a buffet of seeds, berries, nectar, and bugs for birds to eat. Native plants contribute to the ecosystem in these ways while also helping to conserve water and foster a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Schools, congregations and businesses also can transform their spaces with beneficial landscaping. Baltimore gardeners can find more information on best plants for birds and creating bird-friendly communities on our website: https://patterson.audubon.org/programs/bird-friendly-communities.
What are some of your organization’s current projects?
While our name is Patterson Park Audubon Center, we do not work exclusively in southeast neighborhoods. We are Baltimore’s Audubon, and that includes the city and beyond. In spring of 2021, we celebrated the Proclamation for Native Plants for Birds and Baltimore from Mayor Brandon Scott, encouraging the use of these beneficial plants throughout our city spaces.
We just piloted a new initiative in partnership with Baltimore City’s Departments of Planning and Housing and Community Development. The Audubon team led trainings for all the city’s housing inspectors on identifying native plants and recognizing “wildscaped” gardens. These are the front line staff who evaluate if yards are in violation of the “tall grass and high weeds” code, and it is essential that they have some plant knowledge so that bird and butterfly gardens aren’t penalized for restoring city ecosystems.
What aspects of Baltimore appeal to you the most?
I grew up in Baltimore but spent several years living out of state and overseas. When I returned to the United States, I did not intend to stay for long but then I found unexpected opportunities in my hometown–new ways to teach, learn and establish roots through community connections. I was getting to know my city differently than the way I knew it as a kid, and that was its own exciting adventure. I fell in love with the city’s pride and character, and I adore that each neighborhood has a unique personality. Through my work at Audubon, I strive to achieve the unlikely, bird conservation and habitat restoration in an urban landscape. Personally, I love that it allows me to weave together my passions for science and education to serve migratory birds during their visits to “Bird Town.”
How would you define your personal style?
I would describe my style as casual, comfortable, and flowing with the breeze. This applies to my favorite outfits as well as my garden. Rather than shrubs cut into cubes, I prefer waist-high wildflowers, intermixed like a meadow. Some of my favorites include Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Monarda, Amsonia, Senecio, and Baptisia. I have many native perennials but also include woody plants, grasses, and ground covers to create the garden layers that birds need. I work hard to provide seeds, berries, nectar, and insects for birds, and I am rewarded every time I see a hummingbird at the coral honeysuckle, a goldfinch on the coneflower, or a black-and-white warbler in the dogwood.
A version of this article appeared in the August/September 2021 issue of Baltimore Style.