Birders Meeting Presentation Abstracts & Speaker Bios

Birds and Life

Speaker: Victor Emanuel, founder of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT)

Victor Emanuel, a lifelong birder, will share his thoughts on why throughout human history more people have been interested in birds than in any other animals. He will then discuss how birding affects people’s lives.

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Arizona, Mexico, Panama, and Peru. He is the founder and compiler for 50 years of the record-breaking Freeport Christmas Bird Count, and served a term as president of the Texas Ornithological Society. Birds and natural history have been a major focus throughout his life. He derives great pleasure from seeing and hearing birds, and sharing with others these avian sights and sounds, both the common ones and the more unusual ones. He initiated the first birding camps for young people, and considers that one of his greatest achievements. Victor holds a B.A. in zoology and botany from the University of Texas and an M.A. in government from Harvard. In 1993, he was the recipient of the Roger Tory Peterson Excellence in Birding Award, given by the Houston Audubon Society in recognition of a lifetime of dedication to careful observation, education, and addition to the body of avian knowledge. In 2004, he received the Roger Tory Peterson Award from the American Birding Association, and the Arthur A. Allen Award from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. He is a past board member of the Nature Conservancy of Texas, the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In May 2017, the University of Texas Press published his memoir, One More Warbler, A Life with Birds.

A Migrant’s View of Islands: How migrant songbirds benefit from islands

Speaker: Sara R. Morris, PhD, Canisius College

Each year, billions of North American birds migrate between breeding and wintering grounds. The prevalence of this behavior suggests that there are many benefits of this behavior despite the energetic cost and the potential risks for the birds. Islands provide opportunities for birds to reduce the costs and risks and increase the likelihood of successful migration. This presentation will cover how ornithologists study migration, how birds use islands along the northern Atlantic coast, and how ornithologists still remain enamored of the mysteries of bird migration.

Sara Morris began birding at seven. When she told her mother that she wanted to be an ornithologist when she grew up, her mom had to look it up to see what that meant. She was lucky enough to have many people who nurtured her interest in birds and encouraged her passion. Sara went to Cornell University for her Master’s and PhD, which involved the study of songbird migration off the coast of Maine. She is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society and the most recent Past President of the Wilson Ornithological Society.

Each summer since 1990, Sara has migrated to Maine to study migration and to share her love of birds with students at the Shoals Marine Lab and participants in the Audubon Ecology Camp in Maine. She continues to explore many areas of migration ecology as a Professor of Biology at Canisius College in Buffalo. She and her students have worked on projects ranging from the development of new methods to determine how long birds stay at stopover sites, comparison of stopover rates and durations between seasons and between sites, the ability to determine age of birds, and the effects of ticks on migrant songbirds. Her current research focus is on migrant bird’s use of flight calling.

An Exploration of New England’s Islands: A birder’s perspective

Speaker: Keenan Yakola, Northeast Climate Center at UMass/Amherst

New England’s off-shore islands are rich not only with history but, in the diversity of bird species which utilize their shores. From migrant songbirds, shorebirds, colonial waders, seabirds and perhaps, a mega rarity, islands provide vital habitat for migrating and breeding species alike. From Southern New England to the Bay of Fundy, many of these islands are publicly accessible and “birdable”. In a journey beginning on Cuttyhunk Island and ending on Machias Seal Island we will explore the myriad of habitat types, breeding and migratory species, how and when to visit, as well as some of the threats that these unique places are facing.

Keenan Yakola is a native "Cape Codder" who first got interested in birding and conservation at Wellfleet Bay Audubon Sanctuary during an internship at Nauset High School. Since then he received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts in Wildlife Conservation, studied songbirds in Kenya and Tanzania, bushwhacked through the Peruvian Amazon, and banded songbirds from Cape Cod to Florida. From a young age he has had a special connection with New England’s coastal islands which began while fishing on various islands off Maine’s rugged coast with his grandfather. Over the past four summers he has lived out of his tent on various islands in the Gulf of Maine working for the National Audubon Seabird Restoration Program or "Project Puffin”, studying seabirds and whenever time allows, birding. Additionally, is now back at UMass Amherst as a Master’s Fellow with the Department of the Interior’s Northeast Climate Center studying seabirds’ vulnerability to climate change and potential dietary shifts in the Gulf of Maine.

Sky Islands of the Northeast: Landscape icons and bellwethers for avian conservation

Speakers: Kent McFarland & Chris Rimmer, Vermont Center for Ecostudies

From Mt. Marcy in the west to Mt. Katahdin in the east, south to the Catskills and Mt. Greylock, mountain ranges of New England and New York are among the region's most iconic and treasured landscape features. They are also among the Northeast's most sensitive indicators of environmental change. High-elevation habitats are often more susceptible than lowlands to ecological stressors, including atmospheric pollution, adverse land use practices, and climate change. Further, alpine meadows and subalpine forests harbor a distinctive avian assemblage, including the globally Vulnerable Bicknell's Thrush and small, disjunct breeding populations of American Pipit on Mts. Washington and Katahdin. Kent McFarland will present an overview of northeastern U.S. montane ecology, mountaintop bird communities, and the conservation threats these durable yet fragile ecosystems face. Chris Rimmer will then highlight VCE's 25 years of "full life cycle" research on Bicknell's Thrush, and how fascinating scientific findings have informed on-the-ground conservation actions across the hemisphere for this rare, long-distance migrant.

A co-founder of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Kent McFarland is a conservation biologist, photographer, writer and naturalist. His writing and images have appeared widely in magazines, newspapers, and mobile field guides. Kent is co-host of Outdoor Radio, a monthly natural history series on Vermont Public Radio. He has coauthored many scientific journal articles and a field guide to the birds of Hispaniola. Find him on twitter @kpmcfarland.

A native Bay Stater who cut his ornithological teeth at Manomet Bird Observatory (now Manomet), Chris Rimmer is co-founder and Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, headquartered in Norwich, Vermont. His work focuses on studying and conserving Bicknell's Thrush and other montane forest birds of the northeastern United States, Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Boreal: America’s Last Great Conservation Opportunity

Speakers: Jeff Wells, PhD, International Boreal Conservation Campaign & Boreal Songbird Initiative

Stretching from Alaska to Newfoundland and encompassing over 1.5 billion acres, the Boreal Forest is North America’s last remaining wilderness. More than 80% of the Boreal is still ecologically intact, amounting to a quarter of the world’s remaining untouched forest and providing the breeding area for as many as three BILLION birds. It is only because of the Boreal that so many of our most cherished birds are still common migrants and winterers – Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Cape May Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Rusty Blackbirds, to name a few. But the Boreal Forest region of Canada also supplies U.S. consumer demand for cheap tissue paper, newsprint, lumber, and energy—the impetus behind an increasingly unsustainable use of the habitats that Boreal birds rely upon. Dr. Wells will take us on a pictorial tour of this remarkable but still little-known part of our world, show us some of the amazing migratory journeys of Boreal birds and will show how we can help save the birds of the Boreal through some simple actions.

Since 2004, Jeff Wells has been the Senior Scientist for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and International Boreal Conservation Campaign, Seattle-based non-profit organizations working internationally for the conservation of North America's Boreal forest. Dr. Wells works from a satellite office in Gardiner, Maine. He has had a wide-ranging career in bird conservation and birding. After receiving his Ph.D. and Master's degrees in avian ecology from Cornell University, Dr. Wells worked for the National Audubon Society, first as Bird Conservation Director for the New York State office, then as the National Director of Bird Conservation. During his tenure with Audubon, Dr. Wells was located at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where he continues as a Visiting Fellow of the Lab. Dr. Wells completed the first book on Important Bird Areas in North America when he published Important Bird Areas in New York State in 1998. His book, Birder's Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk, published in 2007 by Princeton University Press, was the first of its kind—a bird book for bird conservation. He has authored and co-authored hundreds of scientific papers, reports, book chapters and popular articles focused especially on birds and bird conservation. His most recent books include Boreal Birds of North America, Maine’s Favorite Birds, and in 2017, Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao: A Site & Field Guide. He is also an active birder and was a member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Sapsucker's birding team for 12 years, winners of the World Series of Birding in 2001 and 2002.