Felix Neck is grateful for all the volunteers that help out at the wildlife sanctuary. For this Volunteer Spotlight, we spoke with Oscar Thompson about his experiences at the sanctuary.
By Suzan Bellincampi
What makes a herpetologist?
According to Oscar Thompson, a seasonal Herpetology Lab Technician at Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, GA, it takes a love of the outdoors, time spent in nature, and mentors along the way.
Oscar isn’t just a herpetologist—he is also a Felix Neck Fern and Feather Camp alumnus, Mass Audubon Wildwood Camp alumnus, and an Island kid whose passion led him to a career in science. Though he is still young, he is well on his way to a career in wildlife study and protection.
Early in my Island conservation career, about nineteen years ago, I first met Oscar. He was just a tadpole himself, probably about five years old, with his grandmother, accompanying me on a walk at Menemsha Hills Reservation to look for vernal pools. I marveled at his enthusiasm, knowledge, and tenacity—hands muddy, feet wet, netting for fairy shrimp, frogs, salamanders and their eggs.
He has never stopped exploring or learning as he has continued his studies and training to be a herpetologist. Oscar credits many people and experiences for his success. He explains, “Growing up, my parents and grandmother would take me for hikes to look for turtles and snakes and we would catch and observe, igniting my passion for herpetology.”
Camps with Mass Audubon and jobs with other conservation groups nurtured his love and learning. He is a graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School (Class of 2013) and is proud of his degree, a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies with a concentration in conservation biology from Warren Wilson College, his Island research on piping plovers, bats, and painted turtles, and his budding career in conservation.
Oscar has continued to spend time at Felix Neck, now as volunteer on our Sanctuary Advisory Committee. He shares that he “enjoys the experiences and volunteers because Mass Audubon is a great organization.”
When on-island, Oscar’s favorite activity is—not surprisingly—visiting Island ponds to catch turtles. He is thankful for growing up on the Vineyard, noting that the Island “provided a lot of opportunity to get outside and groups that facilitate these experiences.”
“Other places,” he laments, “don’t have as much open spaces and land to explore.” He also wryly notes that the Vineyard is a perfect place to play with snakes, since there are no venomous ones here!
When asked for advice for fostering a love of nature and encouraging other young conservation professionals, Oscar explains, “the best way to connect people and nature is to start young, take kids outside, play, and learn about wildlife and lands.” He continues, advising that one should “work in conservation because you love it, not for the money, advocate for what you believe, and learn to do a lot with a little.”