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The Short Version: Since 1917, the Golden Gate Audubon Society (GGAS) has been working tirelessly to protect native bird populations and help people experience the wonders of nature while teaching them to translate their excitement into environmental action. GGAS has programs that cover San Francisco, Oakland, and the surrounding areas. Whether you’re a seasoned bird watcher, bird enthusiast, or a nature-loving newbie, Golden Gate Audubon has a host of classes, volunteer opportunities, guided tours, and educational programs to meet every interest.
When it comes to conservation efforts, the Golden Gate Audubon Society has been a Bay Area leader for more than a century. As a thriving chapter of Audubon, GGAS promotes the national organization’s mission while focusing at the grassroots level. In 2017, GGAS celebrated 100 years of environmental advocacy and hands-on conservation.
Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack praised GGAS’s contributions to state and national bird conservation — including its lead role in making people aware of the need to design and site wind turbines in ways that minimize the lethal hazard for birds.
One of the keys to the organization’s consistent and far-reaching success has been its dedicated volunteers, according to GGAS Executive Director Cindy Margulis. And she should know — she started as a volunteer. Through her personal connection to birding and GGAS, she advocated for the protection of endangered California Least Terns at Alameda through the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve subcommittee of GGAS.
GGAS also provides excursions, classes, and volunteer opportunities for bird lovers to meaningfully connect with nature — and each other.
“We restore habitats at eight different sites on either side of San Francisco Bay. On a monthly basis, we have about eight different volunteer opportunities for people to help us clean up shorelines, restore habitats, do native planting, and other kinds of environmental stewardship. Volunteering is a great way for people to meet those with shared interests,” Cindy said.
GGAS provides a myriad of ways for people to help protect native bird populations. For those who choose to volunteer, GGAS offers habitat restoration projects as well as a chance to join one of three conservation committees where members can enjoy conversations and get-togethers with other birders and wildlife enthusiasts. Cindy said the organization leverages volunteers to fulfill many of the vital roles that help sustain the organization.
“I have a tiny staff of four people and, of those, only two are full time. We have about 3,000 volunteers on an annual basis who help our organization do all of the things we do,” she said. “As part of our restoration events, we take our volunteers on a bird walk to show them all of the bird life that is being sustained by the work they’re doing. It’s motivating and uplifting.”
Cindy has noticed that public volunteer days — which take place primarily on the weekends — create opportunities for people to come out in groups or as a family and socialize with others.
“It’s a great way to be outdoors, but also doing something meaningful at the same time,” she said.
For those who have a passion for education and are interested in leading trips or teaching natural history to adults, GGAS has openings for volunteer field trip leaders. In addition, GGAS offers more than 165 free local trips led by volunteers every year.
Weekday volunteers are also needed each school year to work in the award-winning GGAS Eco-Education program. The program calls for volunteers to accompany third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders on wetland ecology field trips. Those interested in becoming Eco-Education volunteers can find more information on the GGAS website.
The organization accepts donations, including stocks, real estate, and other property for those who are short on time, or prefer to give money or resources. Donors receive substantial tax reductions and can also make a lasting difference for Bay Area birds by including GGAS in their wills or estate plans. Programs like Amazon Smile also allow donors to designate GGAS as their nonprofit of choice, and the organization receives a small payment each time a purchase is made.
GGAS provides excellent training for those who wish to become docents who help visitors spot and appreciate birds at several locations, including Lake Merritt, along the Bay Trail in Richmond, or Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. Docents are important in the advocacy process because they help spread the word about birds.
After completing a GGAS Master Birding class in 2015, Bonnie Brown blogged that she had jumped at the opportunity to join the Waterbird Docent Program on Alcatraz.
“When I heard about the Waterbird Docent Program on Alcatraz last year, I knew it was the volunteer opportunity for me. Volunteering is fun, and, if you like birds, I can’t think of a better place to volunteer than Alcatraz. You can help visitors from all over the world learn a little about the bird life,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie was pleased with her experience and expounded on the many responsibilities that trained docents enjoy.
“Docent responsibilities include staffing a wildlife viewing station — you get to choose where — and explaining the activities and ecology of the breeding birds. We tend the spotting scope and lend binoculars to help visitors get a closer look at the birds, gain a better appreciation of the colonies’ dynamics, and we respond to their questions and inquiries,” Bonnie wrote.
Bonnie also observed that people started to take notice once they saw the birds up close. “Sometimes people were only mildly interested in what I had to say, but as soon as they looked through the scope or binoculars and saw either eggs on a nest or a baby chick, something clicked and they started asking questions. Those were great moments for me, too,” she said.
GGAS holds a monthly Speaker Series which features renowned naturalists, photographers, ornithologists, authors, international travelers, and other fascinating lectures.
“We do about 11 speaker series per year and, this year, we actually did a bonus series outside of our regular cycle because we had special speakers in town,” Cindy said. “These are awesome learning opportunities for people to come and enjoy. They’re normally about great bird spots, but we also cover issues that are significant.”
To cover event costs, GGAS asks non-members for a voluntary donation of $5, but members are welcome to attend free of charge. GGAS has an exciting lineup planned for the spring and summer months.
Traveling with GGAS is an adventurous way for members to expand their horizons while experiencing different environments and connecting with others. Each guided trip includes a detailed itinerary that leads participants to a deeper understanding of bird conservation.
Recent GGAS trip locations include Mexico, Costa Rica, Southern Oregon, and South Texas — to name a few. Each excursion includes a registration fee that benefits Golden Gate Audubon’s conservation and environmental education programs. This makes it possible for participants to enjoy a unique vacation while supporting Bay Area bird conservation.
GGAS volunteer and Master Birder Program graduate Krista Jordan walked away from the many field trips and exploratory opportunities with expanded horizons and a passion for helping others learn.
“There is a huge group of passionate people in the Bay Area (and around the world) working every day to protect birds and inspiring others to do the same,” Krista blogged. “I have friends who never much cared about birds before, but they are able to see my enthusiasm and have slowly come around. Soon, they want to learn more and ask to tag along. Your passion can be contagious and it’s powerful — remember that.”
Cindy said she is grateful for her staff, volunteers, and the organization’s many accomplishments. Two major events are the Christmas Bird Counts in Oakland and San Francisco that ranked among the top 25 bird counts nationwide in terms of the number of species found. In recent years, the Oakland count has had more participants in the field than any other count in the world.
“When you have so many people out there keeping track of what’s going on with the birds, it also enables us to advocate for places. We have been able to secure the permanent protection of a lot of public parklands, and we did much of it on the basis of our citizen science,” she said. “Also as a result of that science, volunteer work, and advocacy, public parks were created. Parks all over the Bay Area only exist because of a group of passionate birders.”
For more information, visit www.goldengateaudubon.org.