Dogs and Lemonade…Now Go Out and Plant Those Natives!

Gael Bissell

by Gael Bissell

If you were to describe our board’s demographic and computer skills last January, it would have been: mostly retired, over 60, slow in adopting new FAS email addresses, and isn’t Zoom a board game? We were your typical old dogs, reluctant to learn new tricks. But enter the coronavirus pandemic last February and the world-wide shut down and public restrictions, and we, like so many other organizations, had to quickly adapt. With a huge help from our younger dogs (e.g. Jake Bramante and Cory Davis), we quickly learned how to hold digital board and committee meetings so we could make the necessary decisions about all our upcoming programs, field trips, and, well just about everything!

It was at that moment that we discovered a deep resilience and creativity in our board and committee members, multi-talent and energy in our conservation educator, and an amazing commitment from volunteers. And as we have tried things and learned things during this pandemic time, we have been reminded once again that we can depend on you, our members, to be understanding, supportive, and faithful to us.  As Denny Olson has said publicly a few times, “we made lemonade from an abundance of lemons”. Although challenged with months of public restrictions, volunteers continued trail and habitat maintenance at Owen, and board members continued monthly meetings via Zoom with DNRC, Montana Audubon, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and then Flathead Land Trust to explore and identify options for protecting Owen Sowerwine. Because of Kay Mitchell’s extraordinary efforts, we participated for the first time in the Whitefish Community Foundation’s Day of Giving and Unity and Great Fish Challenge with huge successes that enabled us to continue our Conservation/Education and OSNA work. We packed our monthly newsletters and our new digital “Fly By” with news, updates, and lists of activities that folks can do on their own, such as where to bird in the Flathead Valley, how to identify raptors through 27 new silhouettes hanging at Lone Pine State Park, and how to begin your own native gardens for native insects and birds. We completed our 13th year at the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch with records of total raptors/day and high numbers of outstanding volunteers.

A clear demonstration of our resilience was Denny Olson’s creation a trilogy of entertaining videos for schools and the public, created with help of Pam Willison and BJ Worth/Wings in Nature, videos that capture why birds are important (BIRDS ROCK!), why we have lost over 3 billion in 50 years (BIRD TROUBLE), and what we can each do on our own to help birds recover (BIRD HELP). Denny and the Education Committee digitized many of his bird presentations, from sandhill cranes to bird songs, as well as most of our educational trunk materials, which make them easier for teachers to use. And, we just sent out a flier promoting all our new educational information to every teacher in the Flathead Valley.

Kathy Ross continued to educate our board and members on the many things we can do on our own to help birds from recycling to planting native shrubs, trees, and other flowers in our back yards. Carole Jorgensen reminded us about the value of dead and down wood for many species as cover and food, and asked us to write letters to our representatives in government.

Yes, Flathead Audubon learned new tricks and made great lemonade during this year. Now moving forward we will face the challenge of retaining and strengthening our support for natural landscapes, of promoting better understanding of the important role that birds play in our culture and ecosystems, and encouraging continued action to reduce our impacts on birds and preserve their habitats.

One result of the pandemic is that folks have turned to gardening, birding, exploring more than ever! Audubon organizations across the country found that interest and participation grew and as did members’ hunger for birding opportunities, bird identification, and back yard habitat information. As we return to the “new normal” we will be trying to find ways to encourage these new-found interests and get these people involved also in learning more about birds and our natural environment, and in supporting conservation.

We are offering a variety of spring and summer field trips to meet this need, and hope that by fall we can return to in-person public meetings in a larger venue at the United Way campus. But we also plan to retain remote learning and participation opportunities. We are looking for new ideas and opportunities to keep this momentum going. Perhaps you have an interest in serving on one of the committees or as a board member?

Many many thanks to our outstanding board members, committee members, and other friends and partners of Flathead Audubon. You made this one of Flathead Audubon’s most productive years. Now, go out and plant your favorite native shrub!