Monday, October 26, 2009

Part Two: Where are all the hawkwatchers? Expand your inner circle…

Are you having trouble finding volunteers? Let them know you’re out there! Here are a few tips that might help sites make connections with the public and increase participation.

Partnering with local research and non-profit organizations:
It’s worth asking around at your local conservation or education-based non-profits if there is any interest in partnering at your site. Many organizations are looking for engaging citizen science projects or community-based initiatives – as educators or researchers. Besides, they often have the experience and expertise necessary to help your site.

Tapping into existing networks like local communities, outdoor/birding clubs or scout troops: There is a huge resource of clubs and outdoor groups that are interested in helping out with a good cause. At the Pack Monadnock hawkwatch, we’ve connected with local Boy Scout troops who remove trees each year - maintaining our view and helping with trail maintenance. Scouts may also be interested in earning merit badges, such as Bird Study, or participating in other required ecological studies. All they need may be a little guidance.

Sites can also work towards bringing more raptor education into classrooms. Some middle schools have an entire “raptor segment” or run annual hawkwatches from school grounds in which kids learn how to collect data and make field observations. Contact your local middle school to inquire about these programs.

Contacting local universities and colleges:
Often just making a connection with local colleges and talking to professors about the importance of raptor monitoring goes a long way. I have found that many institutions are searching for projects in which to involve their students and are often unaware of migration monitoring efforts.
Each year at our watchsite, New Hampshire Audubon offers fall practicums, or apprenticeships, to area graduate students. Students assist the main counter with counting and interpretation responsibilities in exchange for school credits. Two previous practicum students are still involved in the hawkwatch as main counters – proof that this program works!

Offering presentations and field trips to local sites:
At the start of each fall season, I organize a few raptor ID presentations at local venues and publicize them widely. This is always a great opportunity to enroll new volunteers in the count.
Another idea is to offer free trips to hawkwatch sites early in the season, which works to engage people and keeps them coming back. Partnering with local outdoor groups such as NH Audubon chapters, I lead some peak-season trips – usually winners for wooing the crowd. Encourage young birders, especially, to get involved and ask for their help counting – most of the time, that’ll be enough to bring them back.

Create a welcoming atmosphere at hawkwatch sites: a place where people feel comfortable visiting and asking questions. Creating incentives to get people involved makes a big difference. Offer t-shirts, volunteer hats or free silhouette guides to those willing to volunteer.

These are just a few ideas that may be helpful to increase involvement or membership at your hawkwatch. If you are struggling to find volunteers and would like some help reaching out, please contact me, Julie Tilden - Monitoring Site Coordinator at Your data is valuable! We at HMANA are striving to help sites as best we can and to ensure long-term raptor migration monitoring.

1 comment:

  1. Very helpful posts, Julie. It seems as though there are at least 3 or 4 different classes of sites: these that regularly see 15,000 to 150,000+ hawks each year, and may be sponsored by independent, " financially stable" organizations like Hawk Mountain, or New Jersey Audubon, and can afford paid counters. There is a second category of sites that might have 5,000-15,000 hawks per year, but are sponsored by local Audubon chapters, bird clubs, or hawk watch clubs. They might have paid counters but are usually dependent on volunteers, and they have a somewhat limited parent organization helping with coverage, financing, publicity, etc. There is a third category that is primarily driven by a very small number of volunteer counters who created or "drive" the site, but have very limited financial and human resources, so can do little in terms of publicity and education, and face a very different set of challenges. Also, they probably see fewer hawks on a regular basis. Finally, there might be a fourth category of just a few individuals who have organized and covered a site for years, and on whom casual observers rely to do all the heavy lifting. These sites could well do 5,000 to 15,000 hawks a year, but are very vulnerable to "ageing out" of the founders and mainstays, so can quickly disappear off the map.

    The four categories and relative size of counts are just "blue skying," but it might be helpful for some of the most successful sites in each category to provide insightful "success stories" through HMANA and help establish "best practices" for sites in these loosely defined categories that they can use at their discretion.

    Finally, as boomers, who have been the heart of the hawk migration movement, age out or migrate of these mortal coils, those who love hawks and study their migration face a "sea change" in resources, capabilities, and attitudes. I'd highly recommend two books to help put this in perspective. "Bowling Alone" by Robert Putnam was published 9 years ago but described trends in North American society that have only accelerated in recent years. "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv focuses on a very different perspective, how the digital revolution and more have affected what older hawk watchers might hope would be the next generation of hawk watchers.

    I hope that HMANA would be able to draw on the "resources" of some of the most successful sites in each category to give them some guidance as to what they can do to grow or even merely survive, while appreciating that each site is independent and will be responsible for selecting the path it will pursue.

    Paul M. Roberts