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Announcement of the 2024 WSO Passenger Pigeon Awards

Announcement of the 2024 WSO Passenger Pigeon Awards

By Wendy Schultz, WSO Awards Coordinator

With so much political turmoil in the world, it is comforting to know the positive impact birds and nature can have on us when we immerse ourselves in it. A simple walk in the woods will tamp down anxiety, bringing us that famous “peaceful, easy feeling” that connects us to the natural world. Knowing just how vulnerable birds and their spaces truly are, we are ever grateful for those people who work on their behalf.

The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology proudly and annually recognizes such individuals and organizations that have made outstanding achievements in advancing bird conservation, promoting the field of ornithology and contributing to the Society. After receiving a number of worthy nominations, the Board of Directors met in January and selected another incredible slate of WSO Passenger Pigeon Award recipients.

These exceptional individuals will be recognized during the Awards Presentation at the upcoming WSO Annual Convention held this year at the Lighthouse Inn and Conference Center in Two Rivers on Friday, May 17th. Mark your calendars for this important occasion as registration OPENS March 1st, and there is no better way to meet the finest of our state’s birding champions.

We congratulate the following 2024 WSO Passenger Pigeon Award Recipients.

The GOLDEN PASSENGER PIGEON AWARD is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of ornithology and awarded for recognized published research, major book efforts or other such work in ornithology and limited to 15 living members at any time. This year, a Golden Award will go to Dr. Robert Rosenfield.

Robert Rosenfield

Dr. Robert “Bob” Rosenfield is a professor at UW-Stevens Point and has conducted numerous long-term studies on Wisconsin Cooper's Hawks dating back to the early 1980’s, studying their nesting ecology. He is a dynamic and engaging professor with over 130 publications, including co-writing the Cooper's Hawk and Broad-winged Hawk accounts for the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. He published his book “The Cooper's Hawk” using incredible data sets spanning decades and with populations from across the continent. In addition, he involves students with his research both in Wisconsin and in trips to such locations as Greenland and Alaska.

 Bob Rosenfield CoopAdMalebc20082

Robert Rosenfield

The SILVER PASSENGER PIGEON AWARD is presented to members of WSO for distinguished service to the Society. This year, a Silver Award goes to Barbara Dembski Schwartz.


Barbara Schwartz awards photo

Barbara Dembski Schwartz

For 9 years, Barbara worked with her husband Carl Schwartz, Editor of the Badger Birder to broaden the content and coverage of news of interest to WSO’s membership. Averaging 24 pages a month, The Birder became an extraordinary newsletter—almost a monthly magazine, adding value to a membership in WSO. Barbara Schwartz handled all of the layout and design from 2014 through 2023. She was perfect for the job having a journalism degree from UW-Milwaukee and working for the Milwaukee Journal as a reporter and senior editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She also spearheaded several silent auctions at WSO conventions, raising significant funds for causes important to the organization.

The BRONZE PASSENGER PIGEON AWARD is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their local communities or in the state to promote field of ornithology through conservation work or through organizational efforts. This year, a posthumous Bronze Award will go to Bob Welch.

Bob Welch

Bob Welch

Robert (Bob) Welch was an amazing person—his life and career, dedicated to conservation. Sadly, he passed away on December 22, 2023 at the age of 69. He taught for twenty-nine years in the Waupaca School District and founded the privately-owned, non-profit Waupaca Biological Field Station. For forty-nine years, Bob participated in netting, banding, and recording resident and migratory birds in cooperation with the Bird Banding Laboratory. He understood that birds are good indicators of the health of the environment. He collaborated with groups like the Natural Resource Foundation to promote citizen science. In the early 1990’s, he established a scientist-in-residence program for graduate students, enabling them to conduct field research as part of their studies and to mentor middle and high school students. A champion of women, people of color and other underrepresented groups, he helped shatter glass ceilings in the field of conservation, actively mentoring and helping to open doors for students and colleagues without bias. He will be missed.

The NOEL J. CUTRIGHT AWARD (originally called the Green Passenger Pigeon Award) is presented to individuals/groups/organizations that work on behalf of endangered, threatened or common species, promote the establishment, management and protection of bird habitat and educate the public on bird conservation issues. This year a Noel J. Cutright Award will go to Bryan Lenz, Shawn Graff, Joel Trick, and Brand Smith.

 Joel Trick 2

Joel Trick

Joel worked as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Green Bay office for over 20 years, prior to his retirement in 2012. He also served on the International Committee of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative and assisted with the recovery of Piping Plovers in Door and Brown County. His crowning glory is his work with the Kirtland’s warbler research and studies in Adams County, WI. Because of the efforts by Trick and other dedicated partners, the status of the Kirtland’s warbler made a remarkable recovery, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bird from Endangered Species Act protection in 2019. Since retiring, Trick supports Woodland Dunes Nature Center by leading bird hikes each spring and fall.

Bryan Lenz pic 2

Bryan Lenz

Bryan Lenz, is the Bird City Network Director and Glass Collisions Program Manager for theAmerican Bird Conservancy, headquartered in The Plains, Va. Bryan joined American Bird Conservancy in 2018 after four years as both director of the community conservation program at Bird City Wisconsin and Chief Scientist at Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. While leading BCW, Bryan played a major role in helping the Milwaukee Bucks decide to build the world's first bird-friendly arena. Lenz also worked with eight other states to create programs modeled after BCW. Moving to ABC in 2018, Lenz used the BCW model to build a partnership between ABC, Environment for the Americas and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a conservation and education program known as the Bird City Network.

Shawn Graff 2

Shawn Graff

Shawn Graff joined the leadership team at the American Bird Conservancy in 2016 after serving for 13 years as executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, based in West Bend, Wis. He currently is vice president for U.S. and Canada operations. Shawn leads ABC conservation programs and projects in the Great Lakes region, concentrating on fundraising and building high level relationships with public and private partners and conservation stakeholders. He also helps oversee forest management grants in the region with a special emphasis on leading ABC’s effort to restore habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. With the assistance of the late Noel Cutright, Shawn led the land trust’s 2008 purchase of a failing golf course along the west shore of Lake Michigan and its subsequent conversion into Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, which has since recorded 266 avian species.

Brand Smith crop

Brand Smith

Brand Smith has been a volunteer for Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance (formerly Madison Audubon; BBA) for many years, serving on the Board of Directors and Board President for the organization. Brand retired from Alliant Energy and as a result of his tremendous volunteerism, Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance receives $400 annually from the Alliant Energy Foundation. He coordinates the Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring Program and has been an incredible champion for American Kestrels in a completely voluntary role, elevating the program to the second-largest kestrel monitoring program in North America. He continually makes improvements to box locations and structures, and offers public presentations on kestrel nest boxes and conservation. Since 2012, the program has documented 1,906 American Kestrels fledglings from these boxes.

The WSO SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD was created to recognize the collective efforts of a far-reaching project or partnership that increases the public’s awareness and appreciation for birds, their habitats or the need for conservation. This year WSO recognizes Friends of the Black River Forest.

Friends of the Black River Forest

Friends of the Black River Forest

Friends of the Black River Forest (FBRF) is a grassroots organization led by Mary Faydash and Claudia Bricks. Started over 10 years ago at a kitchen table in the Town of Wilson, Sheboygan County, they have worked tirelessly to oppose the Kohler Company’s plan to construct a golf course on the 247 acres north of and adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park, an essential stopover site for thousands of migratory birds, located in the heart of the IBA known as the Harrington Beach – Kohler Andrae Lakeshore Migration Corridor. FBRF has been steadfast in their opposition to the destruction of a recognized Important Bird Area in our state and their dedication to the preservation of that land is recognized and celebrated by WSO.