~ Edward Abbey udubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) has awarded its highest conservation honor to long-time volunteer and bird steward, Jean Hall.
The prestigious Ted Below Environmental Stewardship Award was recently presented to Jean by AWE at the Annual Friends and Feathers Gala at Club Pelican Bay in Naples. According to Brad Cornell of AWE, “AWE gives the Ted Below Environmental Stewardship Award each year to someone who has shown sustained and passionate work and commitment to preserving the nature of Southwest Florida. That is Jean Hall all over! Jean has volunteered since 2013 as a trained Shorebird Steward protecting threatened shorebirds on Marco Island, and has lead AWE’s Burrowing Owl Watch Program since 2015. She is an inspiration to us all!”Jean Hall is most deserving for this honor. Audubon, Florida named Jean its 2015 Volunteer of the Year. In 2016, Jean traveled the entire state, on her own time and money, to photograph 19 unique wildlife habitat sites that were being proposed as Critical Wildlife Areas (CWA). According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC), Jean’s photographs were a big factor in their approval for all but one site. As Project Leader for AWE’s Owl Watch Program on Marco Island since 2015, Jean has recruited and trained 35 volunteer owl monitors for this state-threatened species. She oversaw a monitoring and data collection program that has grown from a handful of owls in the 1990s, to 234 burrows with 340 adults and 317 chicks in 2017. Marco’s location is the second largest population of burrowing owls in Florida. Jean truly feels that she has found her calling as a volunteer with birds. “The joy I’ve gotten back is 100 times more than what I give. To be able to help the cause of bird conservation with my work is priceless.” As Jean accepted the award, she made it known that the award was also in honor of all the volunteers past, present and future. She mentioned a very special person, Nancy Richie, a past Environmental Specialist for Marco Island. Nancy and her pack of original volunteers, Eva Schliesser, Lori Fredericks and Carol Patterson, did it for over 15 years. “I am honored to be here for them. They made all this possible.”
So what makes Jean excited to get up each morning and to check out the owls? “They just lift our spirits every time you are out there with them ‘cause they are so stinking cute,” Jean says, eliciting unanimous agreement from the Owl Watch Program’s Karol Tenace, Alli Smith, Sharon Epple and Jackie Purvis.