Audubon Assembly

Conservation Leaders Recognized at 2020 Audubon Florida Virtual Assembly

Seven awards presented virtually to individuals of exception.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Audubon Florida honored seven individuals for their exceptional conservation efforts during the 2020 Audubon Florida Virtual Assembly. Nearly 600 participants signed on to engage in the 2020 Audubon Florida Virtual Assembly. For decades, Audubon Florida has gathered its staff, members, partners, and other stakeholders under one roof for an in-person celebration of the prior year’s accomplishments and a look ahead at coming priorities. Due to the pandemic, 2020 marked the first time ever the event was held virtually.

Peter Frederick, Ph.D., received the Everglades Champion Award. In his long career, Dr. Frederick has striven to protect the Everglades and the water birds that depend on this unique ecosystem. He was highly innovative in his approach to studying the ecology of wading birds. For example, while working for National Audubon’s Tavernier Science Center (now Audubon Florida’s Everglades Science Center) in the late 1980s, Dr. Frederick developed primitive “trail cams” using old super-8 cameras to examine the feeding behavior of spoonbills. Although the results were not always ideal, he essentially invented trail cams long before that technology was ever available. He created decoy alligators to see if wading birds were attracted to a high density of alligators for nesting areas. He pioneered how to use drone aircraft to successfully monitor wading bird nesting activity while minimizing disturbance including documenting the largest wading bird colony in the Everglades in the 1940s (accurately counting more than 50,000 nests).

Dr. Frederick has mentored numerous young scientists who are now active in resource protection in the Everglades, throughout the state of Florida, and around the world. One of those scientists was Jerry Lorenz, Ph.D., Audubon Florida’s state research director, who nominated him for this award.

“I would not have lasted 30 days working in Florida Bay, much less 30 years, if not for Dr. Frederick’s mentorship,” said Lorenz. “His is truly a Champion of the Everglades.”

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This year’s Special Places Award honors Michelle Waterman, Park Manager at the Talbot Islands State Parks, and Allison Conboy, Park Services Specialist at the Talbot Islands State Parks, for their continued, exemplary service protecting shorebirds and their critical habitat. Conboy and Waterman work in some of Florida’s truly special places.

The Talbot Island State Parks include no less than seven individual state parks that conserve a range of coastal habitats, including strand, hammock, dunes, bluffs, and more. Several of these parks border Nassau Sound, historically one of the most important nesting areas for shorebirds along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Conboy and Waterman, both active members of the Timucuan Shorebird Partnership, have worked tirelessly with partners to help restore shorebird species diversity and productivity in this region. This work includes a multitude of efforts to manage and restore shorebird habitat as well as reduce threats to nesting shorebirds from predation and human disturbance.

Additionally, Conboy and Waterman facilitated the re-establishment of the Nassau Sound Islands Critical Wildlife Area and have been instrumental in both protecting this habitat and educating the public about the importance of this nesting area.

Audubon Florida’s Northeast Florida policy analyst Chris Farrell presented the awards.

“Thank you and congratulations to Michelle and Allison!” said Farrell. “We look forward to many more years of partnership working to restore shorebird populations in Northeast Florida.”

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The Guy Bradley Award was presented to Ann Paul. The award is named for Florida’s first wildlife warden, Guy Bradley, who was murdered by poachers in 1905 while protecting the birds of the Everglades. This year’s award goes to an individual who has similarly devoted their career to service to Florida’s wading birds and the Audubon warden tradition. Paul recently retired after nearly 30 years of dedicated service at Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries in Tampa!

Paul’s name is synonymous with coastal waterbird conservation in the Greater Tampa Bay region. She worked as a biologist, a waterbird warden, a conservation manager, and an advocate in the service of Florida’s waterbirds that nest and rest on more than 70 islands and freshwater wetlands along the Gulf Coast.

Paul served on local, state, and federal committees to ensure that regional populations of American Oystercatcher, Reddish Egret, Brown Pelican, and the iconic Roseate Spoonbill will thrive and be part of the Greater Tampa Bay ecosystem for decades to come.

She has spent thousands of hours patrolling the nesting islands in Hillsborough Bay, which includes the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, leased from and managed in cooperation with the Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay, and the large dredge disposal islands, 2D and 3D, that are owned by Port Tampa Bay.

Paul worked tirelessly on all aspects of bird conservation: erecting signs, cleaning up dangerous discarded fishing gear, advocating for important policy changes, and willingly sharing her vast knowledge with all who asked.  She worked with partners to recognize the global significance of the Hillsborough Bay Important Bird Area and helped establish Critical Wildlife Areas for three bird sanctuaries, including the Alafia Bank.

Paul was instrumental in working with the Port, Hillsborough County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and private stakeholders to establish the Fred and Ida Shultz Preserve to protect the invaluable “Kitchen” area in eastern Tampa Bay which includes Hillsborough Bay’s original bird colony, and later the establishment of Richard T. Paul Alafia Banks Critical Wildlife Area. 

Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell presented the award.

“Ann, you are an icon of Florida bird conservation, Tampa Bay restoration, and Audubon Florida,” said Wraithmell. “You are a credit to the example of Guy Bradley and we thank you for service.”

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The Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award went to Lt. Rob Gerkin with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Lt. Rob Gerkin has partnered with Audubon Florida since 2015 and has worked alongside Sarasota Audubon Society long before then to protect beach-nesting birds in Sarasota County.

Holley Short, Tampa Bay Area Shorebird Project Manager for Audubon Florida, presented the award.

“He has put so much heart into helping the shorebirds and seabirds,” said Short.

Gerkin has made himself available at any time and is usually the officer who responds to calls about wildlife violations on the beach. He has always approached tough situations with beachgoers by being calm, cool, and collected.

“I've been honored to work with Lt. Gerkin since 2015, and it is without a doubt that he is highly deserving of this award,” Short concluded.

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Maggie Haynes was presented with the Volunteer of the Year Award. Haynes joined Audubon EagleWatch in 2017 to learn more about Bald Eagles and get involved in their protection on a local level. She now monitors five nests, collecting important data to help with eagle conservation. She got hooked on eagles and found Audubon Center for Birds of Prey by watching the Southwest Florida Eagle Nest Cam on social media.

Since then her journey has expanded into volunteering in most areas at the Center for Bird of Prey. She began with guest relations, welcoming guests, and answering questions for visitors. Once she officially retired, she became more involved and has now spent time as a clinic volunteer, worked as an education docent, and helped with bird rescues and releases during normal business conditions.

Early during the pandemic while the Center was closed, Haynes stepped up by coming to the Center to work with Ambassador birds to provide enrichment.

Katie Warner, director of the Center for Birds of Prey, presented the award.

“Maggie has been a non-stop powerhouse, helping us with birds in all areas during the pandemic,” said Warner. “She has now helped with virtual events and fundraisers and continues to train with our ambassadors. We are honored she is a part of our team and family.”

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Ann Harwood-Nuss, Ph.D., was recognized as Distinguished Philanthropist. For eight years, Dr. Harwood-Nuss has invested her time in Audubon’s mission. In 2012, she gave her first gift to Audubon, and since then she has contributed generously to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and Audubon Florida.

In 2015, Dr. Harwood-Nuss became a member of the Audubon Florida Board of Directors, where she currently leads our science committee and serves on our development committee. She is always willing to share fundraising ideas with the committee and help us thank our generous supporters in the Jacksonville area.

A lot changed during the pandemic, and Dr. Harwood-Nuss stepped up in big ways for the clinic staff by purchasing much-needed supplies during our Baby Owl Shower. She is always willing to provide matching funds to help raise more dollars for the Center during their annual fundraising event. Most recently, she increased her pledge to the Center from $12,000 to $16,000 – indefinitely!

She always goes above and beyond when she can. In addition to her donations, Dr. Harwood-Nuss serves as a member of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Advisory Board and helped set up Friends of Eagles, an annual giving society that raises money for the Centers’ EagleWatch program.

Katie Warner, director of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, presented the award.

“Ann cares deep down not only about our mission but about our people,” said Warner.

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Hosted Oct. 20-24, the 2020 Audubon Florida Virtual Assembly, entitled “Reimagining Audubon Florida: A Call for Inclusive Conservation,” included panel discussions and provided virtual field trips to Audubon centers and priority areas in Florida. During the Keynote Presentation, J. Drew Lanham, Ph.D, author, poet, and wildlife biologist, discussed life his experiences as a Black birder, his work in the conservation field, and his vision for the future.

The awards were presented virtually during the event and plaques were sent to each individual. Registered participants received a copy of Lanham’s book, The Home Place.

The event was generously sponsored by Darden Restaurants, Florida Power & Light Co., Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Publix, Vortex, Rayonier, The Merrill G. and Amita E. Hastings Foundation, and Wild Birds Unlimited, with additional support from the Jessie DuPont Ball Foundation.

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