Friday, February 15, 2013

February Volunteer Shout Out

by Kara Kaczmarzyk & Kendall Kroesen

These volunteers are birding pros!

Whether you want to bird in the north, south, west or east of Tucson, Mary Ellen Flynn is the leader for you. On Saturdays, Mary Ellen leads the Mason Center Saturday Morning Birdwalks, alternating with Jim Gessaman and Mike Sadatmousavi. On some Thursdays, she leads the Wake up with the Birds walks at Agua Caliente Park. In addition to Tucson Audubon, Mary Ellen also volunteers for Pima County Parks and for the National Parks Service, and has led trips to Sweetwater Wetlands, Catalina State Park, Honeybee Canyon, Oracle State Park, and more. For some years Mary Ellen also volunteered in our Nature Shop. She combines the birding and shop skills during offsite events such as Wings Over Willcox and the Festival of Books, where she shares her extensive birding knowledge with the public. Next month, you can pick her brain in the Science Pavilion of the Festival of Books, where Tucson Audubon will have an IBA and Tucson Bird Count-themed citizen science booth. It may be no surprise that this expert birder also does the Christmas Bird Count, and surveys with the Important BirdArea program. Mary Ellen is also great with kids, and has led Cub Scout and youth walks for Tucson Audubon. She is a Massachusetts native, but her accent is subtle. Now retired from a legal career, Mary Ellen spends part of her time in Gloucester, MA, and it’s no surprise she also volunteers there, leading field trips at beach/dune and saltmarsh habitats and working primarily with youth. How does she do it all? I see it as a combo of being super passionate, and super organized!

John Higgins always lifts your spirits. He has an unfailingly upbeat personality. This must have come in handy in his many years working for child protective services. It probably also came in handy some times during a decade as Tucson Audubon’s volunteer Field Trip Coordinator, a job that requires coordinating with staff, coaxing field trips from trip leaders and being vigilant for ways to improve the field trip program. Nobody exceeded John’s enthusiasm for the latter; he changed and improved field trips in several ways during his tenure. John leads field trips too, and his are always some of the most fun trips to take. His enthusiasm for the program is only exceeded by his enthusiasm for birds.

Apart from the field trip program, one of the most astonishing things John has done was to tabulate bird sightings at the Avra Valley Sewage Treatment Plant before a redesign of the ponds, and then visit the ponds 94 times, almost weekly, to gather his own data about how birding there had changed. The results are documented in an article he wrote on page 18 of the October-December 2011 Vermilion Flycatcher. I commend it to readers as one of the most useful and interesting articles that anyone has published in this magazine.

Cactus Wren image credit Doris Evans

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