By Alan Gubanich
“Look – there’s a Red-tailed Hawk coming over!” Almost in unison 13 people turn their heads to the sky and raise their binoculars to their eyes. It’s another “bird walk” led by Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS) guides, usually Jeff Bleam or Lauren Whitenack, just two of several people who volunteer for LAS. And it’s been that way for 60 years now (we will celebrate our 60th anniversary in December).
Founded by Dr. Fred Ryser of UNR, Dr. John Davis, a local physician, and Marjorie Stillman, a local conservationist, LAS has been going strong all these years relying totally on volunteers. It is an official Chapter of National Audubon Society.
People eagerly attend our bird walks on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as our monthly general meetings on the fourth Tuesday of almost every month. These meetings feature a variety of speakers and topics. They start at 6:30 pm at Moana Nursery on Moana Lane and are free and open to the public.But LAS is about more than just bird watching. As our Mission states: “LAS seeks to help restore, preserve, and improve habitat for birds and other wildlife and to provide education about birds and their habitats in Nevada and adjacent California.” And we do this in many ways. Our Conservation Committee built that wooden overlook at Herman’s Pond at Rancho San Rafael; helped build an overlook at Washoe Lake State Park; initiated the Important Bird Areas (IBA) program in Nevada (a pamphlet describing these 39 areas is available for purchase on the LAS website: www.nevadaaudubon.org); regularly publishes articles about conservation issues in Nevada; and, among other things, is now engaged in the Pinyon Jay Project in conjunction with the local Great Basin Bird Observatory (GBBO). Pinyon Jay populations have been in decline for several years now, so LAS has several volunteers who regularly venture out to census and observe Pinyon Jays to try to understand what factors may be leading to these declines and what can be done to reverse the trend. One volunteer, in fact, does his censuses in the Somersett area. LAS is also working to repair the damaged walkway at Swan Lake north of town and improve the habitat at this Important Bird Area.
Up until October of 2021 Lahontan Audubon had been an all volunteer organization. We now operate with an Executive Director and 2 AmeriCorps volunteers, but no one else gets paid for their time. The volunteers do it because they enjoy birds and they believe in the Mission of LAS. The organization has a Board of Trustees (nine people who each serve a 3-year term) and a President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer, along with, of course, a number of working committees. One of the most active is the Education Committee, which continually receives requests from schools, organizations, retirement homes, local communities, and so on for talks, displays and other educational activities. For these purposes the Education Committee owns over 200 taxidermy mounts of birds for educational purposes. Most of the mounts are on display at the Galena Creek Visitor Center off the Mt. Rose Highway, and the new Rosewood Nature Study Area on Pembroke Lane. These mounts are used to give school kids and adults close-up looks at birds and hopefully stimulate their interest in birds and nature. Last year for example, these mounts were used at 53 events and viewed by over 4,400 people at: 14 school visits, 21 public events (display tables), 10 public talks, 3 field trips, 3 drawing workshops, and 2 shorebird identification workshops. Our education volunteers also lead field trips for schoolchildren at Washoe Lake every Spring. The kids are given binoculars and taken on walks to look at birds, then they use microscopes to look for microorganisms in lake water to understand the food webs that support bird life at the lake. Last year, after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, we hosted 6 trips from 4 different schools. In past years, however, we have had as many as 10 to 15 trips servicing as many as 10 different schools and over 900 kids a year.
If you have ever been a volunteer at some organization, you know the problem. Volunteers come and go. The same applies to LAS. Thus, we are always looking for new people. Many opportunities exist. This June we will need a new Treasurer (ours is moving to Texas) and two new Board Members. Elections for these positions are in May. If you are interested, contact our President, Suzie Reynolds, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you love to work with kids, the Education Committee is always in need of volunteers; contact the Education Chair, Alan Gubanich at email@example.com to help with school visits (mostly elementary grades), public education events, school field trips, or any number of other educational activities. If you are conservation oriented, contact the Conservation Chair (Rose Strickland) at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can also use help with Membership, Communications, website management and other tasks. Contact Susie Reynolds to find out more at the address given above. Or go to our website (www.nevadaaubon.org), click on the Get Involved link at the top of the Home Page, then the Volunteer link in the submenu, and fill out the form and send your information to us.
We welcome all comers – no knowledge of birds is necessary. If you would like LAS to send speakers to your community to talk about various topics (birds or not!) contact Alan Gubanich at the address given above. If you’d like to meet some of our members and hear an engaging talk for the public, join us at our monthly General Meeting on May 23 at Moana Nursery, from 6:30 to about 8:00 pm. We’d love to meet you and have you join in the fun!