Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Welcoming the Class of 2016 fall counters and interpretive naturalists

The Cape May population swells in summer, by some estimates between 40 and 50,000 tourists. By Labor Day, though, the throngs of beach goers subside and a new group of visitors begins to replace them. The birders. Cape May, as you know, is Mecca for birds and birders each fall and New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory is the organization that serves both of them. Each year since 1976 CMBO has counted the hawks migrating over Cape May, en route for points south, from the Hawkwatch Platform at Cape May Point State Park. Since 1990 CMBO has counted the monarch butterflies migrating en route to Mexico, our second longest running monitoring project. Since 1993 we have had a paid counter positioned in Avalon to quantify the migration of southbound waterbirds, most recently from September 22 to December 22, sunrise to sunset, on the beach between 8th and 9th street at our new Seawatching Center constructed by our partners, the Borough of Avalon. Since 2003 we have staffed a daily count of visible songbird migration that occurs in the first hours after sunrise, from atop the "Higbee Dike" dredge spoil, at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. In short, CMBO has its finger on the pulse of migration in Cape May. But collecting data is only part of the equation, and just as important as collecting data, is connecting people to nature through our innovative programming. We, of course, do this throughout the year with our all-volunteer Associate Naturalists and Field Trip Leaders, but each fall we also bring on a crew of Interpretive Naturalist Interns in addition to our counting staff, to engage all of the visitors who come through Cape May during the autumn migration period. This great team of naturalists represent the future of conservation, and will forever carry forth the torch of New Jersey Audubon wherever they go from here.

Before the start of the season, we held the first "orientation week" in the history of these seasonal positions, and it was a roaring success. A mix of presentations and experiential learning, led by the region's top ornithologists, educators, conservationists and field naturalists, the Class of 2016 experienced a full immersion into Cape May migration ecology and interpretation. Now we'd like to introduce to you our Class of 2016 interpretive naturalist interns and counters, and hope you will come and visit them at the various count sites throughout the 2016 fall season!

In alphabetical order:

Jesse Amesbury – Interpretive Naturalist
I was born and raised in northern New Jersey, but have lived in Cape May County the last 3.5 years, so I am no stranger to the magic of birding in Cape May. I became fascinated with birds at the age of 6 and have never looked back since. My passion for birds and wildlife brought me to Stockton University where I majored in Environmental Science. After graduation, I worked at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, where I was involved in various marsh related studies involving sea level rise, as well as American Black Duck carrying capacity. For the past 2 years I worked with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ doing Piping Plover monitoring. When I'm not watching and photographing birds, I like playing basketball and tennis. 

Lindsey Brendel – Monarch Monitoring Project
Lindsey grew up on a farm in White Lake, Michigan and developed a love of nature early on. She attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan where she studied film, focusing on the genre of documentary. This is her third year working as a naturalist for the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May, New Jersey. Before heading to Cape May for the fall, Lindsey spent the summer working as a naturalist at the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, Colorado where she taught programs, lead guided hikes on Vail Mountain, and also gained her accreditation as a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation. Lindsey has also worked for New Jersey Fish and Wildlife as a field technician on their endangered non-game species team, monitoring endangered beach nesting birds along the Atlantic coast. When at home in Michigan, Lindsey is a volunteer at the Organization for Bat Conservation, where she has enjoyed learning about and taking care of insectivorous, fruit, and vampire bats. She is thrilled to be working as a naturalist once more for the Monarch Monitoring Project and for the chance to experience the magic of fall in Cape May.

Erik Bruhnke – Cape May Hawkwatch Counter
Erik Bruhnke has had a love for birds since he was a child. He graduated from Northland College in Wisconsin with a Natural Resources degree in 2008. Erik taught field ornithology various times at Northland College. During his first six fall seasons following college, Erik worked as an interpreter at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota and was a board member of the Duluth Audubon Society. He has counted migrating raptors at the Corpus Christi HawkWatch in Texas. Erik’s wildlife photography has won national awards, and his writings have been featured in Birder’s Guide via the American Birding Association, BirdWatching, and Birdwatcher’s Digest. Erik leads tours for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours as well as his own business, Naturally Avian Birding Tours. He loves to cook and bake in his free time, often while sipping bird-friendly coffee.

Glen Davis – Morning Flight Counter
Glen hails from Brooklyn, NY, but has called Cape May home for more than 16 years. Simply put, he loves living and birding here! Working for CMBO in the fall of 1999 (and subsequently in 2007, 2014, 2015, and 2016) made the biggest of impacts on him. Glen has/has had lots of jobs: professional tour leader, biological consultant, start-up-tech-company tech, grad student, bartender, musician, school teacher, garbage man, veterinary technician to name a few. He has traveled, explored, and birded in 47 states and over 20 countries. Glen has worked seasonally for CMBO as a researcher, naturalist, and salesperson and is very excited to be returning for a third consecutive year as the 2016 fall season's official songbird counter with the Morning Flight Project. He resides and engages in BBQ in Cape May Point with his wife, Christina "Kashi" Davis. 

Kirsten Fuller – George Myers Naturalist
Hi, my name is Kirsten Fuller, and I am the George Myers Naturalist Intern this year. I am from Woodstown, New Jersey and a graduate of Rowan University. I have a bachelors degree in biology and a minor in secondary education. So far, I have truly enjoyed my time working for New Jersey Audubon, and my experiences here have strengthened my interest in becoming a science teacher in the future.

Meaghan Lyon – Seawatch Counter
I am a recent graduate from College of the Atlantic. I grew up along the coast of New Jersey watching shorebirds with my Mother. Since then, I have immersed myself in seabird research and monitoring efforts. For two seasons I studied breeding colonies of gulls, guillemots, and petrels on offshore islands in the Gulf of Maine. Most recently, I monitored Piping Plovers and Least Terns breeding on the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Whether I am banding a seabird or observing through my binoculars, I always enjoy my time being in nature and watching birds. 

Tom Reed - Migration Count Coordinator
A 6th-generation area resident, Tom is one of very few birders who can truly call Cape May home. He discovered birds at the age of ten and was immediately captivated by the spectacle of migration that engulfs the Cape May area. Tom has traveled through much of North America since graduating Rutgers University in 2011, with assignments that have ranged from wintering Piping Plover surveys in the Bahamas, to breeding bird atlas work in Wisconsin, to tour-guiding in Alaska, and of course, several fall seasons at Cape May. One of the area’s most in-demand birding guides, he has also appeared at various local and national birding events and represented CMBO at the 2016 Champions of the Flyway competition in Israel. In his spare time, Tom is a Regional Editor for the journal North American Birds, sits on the Board of Directors for the Hawk Migration Association of North America, serves as a statewide editor for eBird, and is a voting member of the New Jersey Bird Records Committee. Tom is perhaps the only person who has logged over 1,000 counting hours at both the Avalon Seawatch and Cape May Hawkwatch, and he was also responsible for developing the Cape May Springwatch, the area’s first full-time spring migration count. Tom’s leadership was instrumental in the creation of the Migration Count Coordinator position in 2015, and CMBO is thrilled to have him return in that capacity for Fall 2016.

Maria Smith - Interpretive Naturalist
Maria is from Mount Airy, Maryland, and she grew up enjoying wildlife she found in her yard and on road trips with her dad. She recently graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with a degree in Biological Sciences. Maria has enjoyed opportunities to travel and conduct field research on Black-throated Blue Warbler and Western Bluebird behavior. Her recent public outreach position at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology allowed her to share her love of birds and other wildlife with visitors through tours and trail walks. Maria is excited to be joining the naturalist team at CMBO and continuing to interact with the public. She hopes to study bird behavior in graduate school and begin a career involving teaching.

Diane Tassey – Monarch Monitoring Project
Diane is a veteran monarch enthusiast with many years of public school teaching which included a focus on cross-curricular monarch studies. She also travelled to Mexico with Dr. Bill Calvert to visit El Rosario and Chincua - two major monarch overwintering areas. With a Master 's Degree in Environmental Education, Diane has organized much community outreach. She also studied rainforest ecology in Belize, and was an Earthwatch participant in Washington to help restore salmon habitat. She has frequently visited Cape May during the fall to witness the monarch migration.

David Weber – Montclair Hawkwatch Counter
David grew up near Vineland, NJ. and has loved nature and animals his whole life. He recently graduated from Cornell University, where he took his birding skills to new levels, gained research experience with Acorn Woodpeckers, and traveled to other countries for classes. At Cornell he also worked for the eBird Team and lead tours and guided walks at the Lab of Ornithology. David is excited to fine-tune his raptor identification skills and contribute to a 60-year dataset at the Monclair Hawkwatch. David intends to continue his education by seeking a Master's degree next year.

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