Ann Gurka

Ann Gurka and Bill Gette

Volunteer at Joppa Flats

Ann Gurka has been a volunteer extraordinaire for Joppa Flats in Newburyport for 14 years. The wildlife sanctuary–just a recently purchased property when she began donating her time—is now a hub of activity, featuring a green nature center at the gateway to Plum Island.

We asked Ann to answer a few questions.

Q. You live in Watertown—why do you volunteer on the North Shore?

A. People ask me that question a lot. I was interested in getting more involved with Mass Audubon and I’m primarily a birder, so I’d been going to Plum Island to see the shorebirds, waders, and other specialties. Then I met Sanctuary Director Bill Gette, and the rest is history!

Q. What were your responsibilities at the outset?

A. I attended a volunteer training workshop and then started to help out once a week, assisting Bill by co-leading field trips and promoting programs. Next, Bill asked me to be the Bird-a-thon coordinator for Joppa Flats. This spring I organized my thirteenth Bird-a-thon! [Ann has raised more than $200,000 for Bird-a-thon, Mass Audubon’s longest running annual statewide fundraiser.]

Q. How did your involvement change when the Joppa Flats Education Center opened in 2003?

A. I continued to co-lead birding programs, such as Intro to Birding, and assist staff. After I completed the first Birder’s Certificate Program [Joppa’s college-level course on birds] Bill asked me to join the committee to help plan and orchestrate from start to finish the first Superbowl of Birding, a winter event that attracts competitive birders from as far away as Pennsylvania. Teams seek the highest point levels based upon the likelihood that a particular bird will be around in that season; the rarer the species, the more points awarded. Over the years, two standouts have been a western tanager and a pine grosbeak.

Q. What do you like best about volunteering at Joppa Flats?

A. There is a sense of belonging to something bigger—of being part of a community. We’re always welcome and appreciated. And, each year Joppa Flats offers volunteers and supporters the chance to accompany staff members on a trip. So far I’ve gone to Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and, this year, Yosemite.