By Cynthia Robertson
The full, bright moon was just slipping up over Kwaay Paay Peak in Mission Trails Park when revelers of the San Diego Audubon Society met in the park’s visitor center. Their annual holiday bash brought bird lovers together to commemorate the year and honor volunteers.
Conservation Program Manager Rebecca Schwartz stood in line with others on the plaza to get a plate of tacos with frijoles, rice and guacamole. She spoke about the importance of the organization’s volunteers.
“We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers. They allow us to have a presence in the community and they are a major player in the education,” Schwartz said.Schwartz turned to the woman standing behind her. “Like Lisa Heinz. Having volunteers like her is like having many extra staff people,” she said.
Heinz smiled and shrugged. “I just do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “There’s always a need for the front desk help in answering the phone, opening the door to people. People call in to ask where to see birds or to report where they’ve found an unusual bird.
“People also call about habitat cleanup. The Audubon Society is not just a bird organization. There’s about understanding and getting involved with protecting and conserving habitats,” she said.
Long-time member Mel Hinton nodded in agreement. He pointed out to the moonlit parkland behind the visitor center.
“Without healthy habitat, we don’t have birds or other animals. I’m glad that the rain we’ve had recently has helped green it up out there. I can hardly wait to go hiking out in the park again,” Hinton said.
Along with the other partygoers, Schwartz, Heinz and Hinton admired the rehabbed birds of prey that folks from the Raptor Institute had brought in. A Harris’s Hawk, impressive with its sharp talons and beak, took everyone’s breath away when he flew within the visitor center, swooping low just over people’s heads. The bird landed on the trainer’s arm for his treat of food.
Then it was time for Chris Redfern to give recognition and honor to some of their special volunteers.
“First of all, I want to thank all the volunteers. We need all of you. You are all the foundation of the Audubon Society,” Redfern said. “We find all of you inspiring. You make us better as an organization.”
The first volunteer to be honored was Bill Whiteside. Schwartz handed him the Conservation Service Award for his work with habitat conservation for Least Terns.
For the Volunteer of the Year, everyone was pleased when Redfern and Schwartz presented Heinz with the award.
“She’s done fundraising, taken over the sales at the Bird Festival and a whole lot more. She does it all,” Redfern said.
“Including vacuuming the office,” Heinz said, smiling, holding her award high.
For the Lifetime Achievement Award, Wayne Harmon was the winner. Hinton is a past president, past vice president and continues to serve on the board.
“Remember the Cedar Fire in 2003? Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary was wiped out. Wayne was at the helm helping to get us back on track with the sanctuary and establishing relationships with valuable donors,” Redfern said.
Redfern announced the final winner of a volunteer award for the evening.
“For the Fledgling Conservation Award, we are proud to present this to Emma Hobschard, who started last year when she was 16 years old as an intern,” he said.
Hobschard beamed upon receiving the award from Schwartz, who hugged her.
“Among the many great things she has done this year, she read all of the letters to and from the organization, summarizing them all and helping us to understand people’s opinions. That is invaluable,” Schwartz said.
Hobschard said that she knew she wanted to be an environmentalist and saw that volunteering with SDAS was a good way to get training.
After the volunteer honor ceremony, it was time for Mike Matherly’s bird identification game. He said a few statements to clue people into what the bird was, then played a short audio clip of each bird’s song.
Nearly everyone shouted out “Mockingbird” as soon as Matherly played a few notes by a bird in San Diego County that sings loudly at night.
Matherly then talked about a bird in San Diego County whose call is often edited into Western movies. As soon as that clip was played, Ronnie Kleinhen, the bookkeeper for SDAS, surprised herself when she gave the right answer: “Red-Tailed Hawk.”
The evening then drew to a close as the Audubon Society finished celebrating its accomplishments, and the many volunteers that made it possible. For more information about volunteering and membership in the San Diego Audubon Society, go to sandiegoaudubon.org.
—Contact Cynthia Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.