Tag Archives: service

Bob Schmidt and Carl Zenger. Credit: USFWS

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge volunteers share their passion

Bob Schmidt and Carl Zenger. Credit: USFWS

Bob Schmidt and Carl Zenger. Credit: USFWS

Bob Schmidt and Carl Zenger have logged more than 46,000 hours as volunteers at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Both retired in 1997, and for 18 years have helped build “just about everything,” started birding programs, improved habitat, and reached thousands of children, helping them develop a conservation ethic and connection to nature.

Volunteer Carl Zenger. Credit: USFWS

Volunteer Carl Zenger. Credit: USFWS

“Bob and Carl’s service is truly invaluable” says refuge manager Tom Roster.

Carl was always interested in wildlife. “I grew up on a farm, I didn’t have computers, but I liked birds. I built a lot of bird houses. After working inside for 42 years, I wanted to get back outside. I knew the bluebird was in trouble, and went down to the refuge to talk with the assistant refuge manager about setting up a blue bird trail.

Ringneck Marsh at Iroquois wildlife refuge. Credit: USFWS

Ringneck Marsh at Iroquois wildlife refuge. Credit: USFWS

“I didn’t know at the time that volunteering was going to turn into a full time job,” Carl chuckles. “I work about 45 hours a week as a volunteer.”

“Now when we are out monitoring the birds, our neighbors come out and talk. We take the opportunity to educate them, and they’re excited about seeing bluebirds come back.”

“It’s gratifying to help species, like the purple martin, so that they’ll be around for generations. After about eight years, the martins have decided our purple martin bird houses we built are suitable and they keep coming back. A lot of people say they have never seen the birds, and I just say come on down to the refuge and I’ll show you one.”

Carl holds up the Duck Stamp sales. Have you bought yours?! Credit: USFWS

Carl holds up the Duck Stamp sales. Have you bought yours?! Credit: USFWS

“I enjoy being out working the fields, too” says Carl.  “Sounds kinda’ silly, but you see lots of wildlife. I probably know this refuge better than the back of my hand- every swamp hole, ditch, and meadow.”

Bob grew up in western New York and always liked to work outside. “I was a hiker, and I wanted to do something that would help the habitat after I retired. I started working a day or two a week, doing maintenance stuff, which eventually turned into full time, five days a week. Observing the eagles that have nested here for 15 years is one of my highlights.”

Bob also loves working with bird and with kids. “Some of my favorite jobs were building our duck box program, and checking on the birds. I also like preparing for the Spring Into Nature festival at the refuge,” he says.

For years now, Bob and Carl have been preparing materials for children to make bird boxes. They pre-drill all the boxes and number the parts so kids can use hand tools to put the boxes together like a puzzle.

Bob hits 10,000 volunteer hours! Credit: USFWS

Bob hits 10,000 volunteer hours! Credit: USFWS

“I love watching the kids build it,” says Carl. “Sometimes it’s not perfect, but the joy on their faces, their ‘I did this’ expression is really rewarding to me.”

“Working with the people and kids to expose them to wildlife and experiences in nature is my new favorite job – shoveling snow is probably not my top favorite,” Carl says with a big smile and one his famous chuckles. “Maybe they will remember those experiences, and they might say we need to help the Service so that their children can see these species and enjoy nature.”

Bob receives a volunteer pass. Credit: USFWS

Bob receives a volunteer pass. Credit: USFWS

Bob wishes more people knew about the refuge “because of its importance to conservation. It’s a beautiful place to recreate all year! I have a good time out here, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

Bob and Carl agree that “The Service is a great place to volunteer – great people, very supportive, and cooperative.”

Neither Bob nor Carl have plans to “retire” soon.

Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

In recent years, the population of rusty blackbirds has fallen off a cliff—biologists estimate current numbers are 85-90 percent lower than 40 years ago. As if that’s not bad enough, there’s another problem: scientists have no idea why. Some speculate it might be a “perfect storm” type of situation, where a number of factors are rapidly reducing the bird’s numbers.

We actually know surprisingly little about this species, among the most rapidly declining in North America. So, we’re staging a call to action: the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz!

Tom Benson

Photo via Tom Benson / Licensed via CC

If you’re a citizen scientist or a birder, we’re asking you to record sightings of rusties in eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s excellent tool for gathering and interpreting bird data. With your help, scientists are able to compile data regarding bird sightings and analyze the migratory patterns of rusties, in order to figure out what’s causing their precipitous decline.

vlad vlitinov

Photo via Vlad Litinov / Licensed under CC

“The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is an exciting endeavor of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group,” says Randy Dettmers, a Service biologist studying the bird’s behavior. “The Migration Blitz will provide new information on migration timing and migratory hot spots that will help us focus conservation efforts for this species where and when they will have the greatest impact.”

Any observation is useful—even if you couldn’t find a rusty during your state’s observation period, that information is valuable to biologists as it tells them where the rusties aren’t.

“With about half of the rusty blackbird total population estimated to breed in Quebec and Newfoundland, the Northeast plays a critical role in supporting this species during its migratory periods,” says Dettmers.

Photo via Seabrooke Leckie / Licensed under CC

Photo via Seabrooke Leckie / Licensed under CC

Make sure you’re looking at a rusty, and not another more common species, like Brewer’s blackbirds. Male rusties are black with rusty-tipped feathers, and females are gray with some rusty shades. Check out this identification guide!

Cooperation is essential to bringing important changes to the world, and here’s one way we can all contribute. So let’s get out there and get to work, together we can bring this species back from the brink!

Andy Reago

Photo via Andy Reago / Licensed under CC

Honoring a hero, celebrating service

Martin Luther King

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

A pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, Dr. King was a leader that rallied for and supported community action, justice, love and peace. On this national day of service when we honor Dr. King’s legacy and come together to serve our neighbors and communities, we’d like to take a minute to thank our volunteers for all they do.

Each year, more than 7,000 volunteers donate about 250,000 hours of service, making a lot of the work we do possible. Whether banding birds at a national wildlife refuge, raising fish at a national fish hatchery, conducting wildlife surveys, leading a tour, or restoring fragile habitat, our volunteers truly embody grassroots conservation. They really do it all! We won’t even be able to scratch the surface in this blog post, but check out just a few things our volunteers have done to make a difference.

Long-time volunteers Leo Hollein and Lou Pisane have been leading the the Wood Duck Nest Box Program since 2004 at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. The program was initiated to help increase the local wood duck population and has been a success. Last year, more than half of the refuge’s 196 boxes were used by wood ducks, and just over 30 percent of the boxes succeeded in producing broods.

Refuge volun

Refuge volunteers, Lou and Leo. Credit: Dorothy Fecske/USFWS

Throughout the region, volunteers help us tackle invasive species, and we mean thousands of pounds of invasive species. At the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation office, volunteers have helped remove over 5,000 pounds of water chestnut plants, which can change the underwater habitat for fish and compete with native plants. And volunteers at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine removed bags of invasive Chinese privet, morrow’s honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese barberry.

Volunteer_timber point

Removing Chinese privet, burning bush, and barberry at Timber Point. Credit: Steve Norris/ USFWS

A citizen science crew from various communities in Connecticut are working to put vernal pools on the map- literally. These temporary, yet important bodies of water are home to many different animals, but they don’t always appear on wetlands maps, which influence where projects are placed. Connecticut Audubon leads the crew with financial support from the Natural Resource Damage Assesment and Restoration Program, to help empower residents to protect their wetlands in the future.

Did we mention that the Berkshire National Fish Hatchery is the first and only hatchery in the National Fish Hatchery System run solely by volunteers? In 1994, the hatchery was closed because of a lack of funding and in 1999, a local group of volunteers decided it was worth saving. They began clearing brush, removing trash and fixing decayed buildings. In August 2006, the volunteers, officially known as the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation, and the Service signed a memorandum of understanding that authorized the group to operate the hatchery with guidance from the Service. Nice work, isn’t it?

We know how lucky we are for an amazing group of people that lend their time, energy and expertise to help make our work possible. Thank you to all of our volunteers and friends groups for their countless hours and days of service!

In Dr. King’s famous words: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” How will you serve this MLK holiday or any time throughout the year?