Volunteers are so important to FortWhyte Alive. It’s their dedication that makes magic happen each day.
Since 2010 Katharine Schulz has shared her passion and time with FortWhyte Alive in a number of areas. Currently, she assists with birding programs and in maintaining the gardens to keep things beautiful.
As a volunteer and as a birder you can feel her enthusiasm as she shares her journey over the years.
How did you learn about volunteering at FortWhyte Alive?
As a FWA member, I had been enjoying attending the Birding and Breakfast morning walks during migration. In the spring of 2010, one of the long-time leaders encouraged me to talk to the Volunteer Coordinator at the time, Michelle Eldridge, and apply to be a volunteer.
I was very hesitant, feeling inadequate to actually lead bird walks, but everyone was so very kind, encouraging and supportive. I remain forever grateful for their “push” that gave me the courage to start on the path of becoming a volunteer.
What interested you in becoming a volunteer at FortWhyte Alive?
I have always had a love for nature and compassion for wildlife, perhaps instilled in me by my father, who would take me out to the fields on our farm to show me where he had gently moved a duck’s nest off to the edge so he could cultivate without destroying it, or point out how the Killdeer would feign a broken wing and explain why she was acting that way to lead a “predator” (i.e. us) away from her nest or young.
FortWhyte Alive is an incredible gem within Winnipeg, an oasis with a variety of ecosystems and the space to be able to enjoy and experience them in all four seasons. Because I had benefited from the kindness, knowledge and experience of FWA volunteers, I was interested in the opportunity to contribute and give back in a similar way, while perhaps sharing some of the appreciation of nature I had gained from my father, with FWA visitors. Volunteering also provides another opportunity to enjoy just being there in the peaceful surroundings and in the company of other volunteers and interested visitors.
What new experiences and/or skills have you gained from your time at FortWhyte Alive?
Besides the many learning opportunities afforded by Fort Whyte Alive, perhaps one of the best benefits for me has been the opportunities to grow outside my comfort zone by leading birding walks or Sunset Goose Flight presentations. I have been hampered by shyness and a nervous nature, and thus a fear of public speaking my entire life.
The encouragement and support from both FWA staff and volunteers, as well as the kindness of visitors has helped me grow and gain more self-confidence, for which I am very grateful.
I continue to learn more about birds, and about native plants and gardening each time I converse with more experienced volunteers during volunteer shifts, (or when I am inspired to go home and research a topic in detail when I am unable to answer a particular question posed by an interested and inquisitive FWA visitor!)
Which volunteer roles have you taken on here at FortWhyte Alive?
The volunteer roles I have taken on at FWA have been mainly related to the birding and gardening programs.
Within the birding programs, I have lead spring and fall migration bird walks in various formats for over 10 years, I especially enjoy these because I’m able to work with new birders. I have also been a (very nervous!) “Migration Magic” presenter during the Sunset Goose Flights since 2014 and working together with another volunteer, helped update and revise the presentation in 2016.
My interest in science has led to my participation in goose population counts for bird surveys and in FWA’s evaluation of nutrient loading on Lake Devonian. As well, I have conducted annual informal breeding season bird surveys to determine the species that are present and using the prairie ecosystem prior, and subsequent to, the controlled burn performed in 2019.
I was very happy to participate in the Bird Window Strike Remediation Project whereby a number of volunteers prepared and hung Acopian Wind Curtains – string curtains that create a visual barrier for birds who would otherwise fly into the window getting injured – on some building windows in the spring of 2019, and some more in spring 2021. This initiative was a win-win-win for our migratory birds, for FWA, and for birders. For the general public this also served as an educational opportunity as it showed how easy it is to help protect birds from the very serious problem of window strikes.
In 2015, I was surprised (but happy) to respond to the request to write about a bird of my choice for a FWA newsletter. I chose one of my favourites, the Bobolink, and was extremely excited to see my little composition “published” in print, along with my own Bobolink photo on the cover.
Outside of the birding programs, I have volunteered on the FWA Farms Weeding Crew, the Solar Pollinator Gardening Crew and the Willow cutting/planting project. Currently, I continue to enjoy the camaraderie of working with the FWA Gardening Team as a regular volunteer since 2014.
I am still employed part-time, but I look forward to retiring and taking advantage of even more volunteer opportunities.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer?
I whole-heartedly encourage anyone who is thinking of becoming a volunteer to do it. FWA volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, possessing a vast array of knowledge and skills, and there is a role for everyone. We have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and to learn from each other, as well as from the FWA visitors who participate in the various program offerings, thus furthering our own skills and making new and wonderful friends along the way!
The FWA organization is very supportive of its volunteers and regularly finds ways to show its appreciation. As a life-long learner, or as I refer to myself, “a perpetual student,” I consider FWA’s education opportunities to be a major benefit of volunteering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to attend presentations on a myriad of topics, provided by research scientists, graduate students, other outside experienced individuals, FWA staff, and even other FWA volunteers.
There are so many learning and growth opportunities of which to take advantage as a FWA volunteer.
What is one of your favorite memories from volunteering?
It is very difficult to pick a single favourite memory. When it comes to the birding programs, I particularly enjoy the privilege of leading new birders and introducing them to the joy of birding and of learning to appreciate Manitoba’s bounty of bird species within the various ecosystems of FWA.
I recall one migration walk while out on the trails with a small group. We encountered a stunning male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, sporting the crisp coloration of fresh spring plumage, with his red throat glowing in the morning sun. Although not a rare or particularly unusual species, for most in the group this was their first time seeing this bird, and to share in their sincere awe and excitement, coupled with their desire to simply look at it to observe its behaviour at length was so incredibly heart-warming – a reminder and validation of one of the reasons I became a volunteer.
Thank you Katharine for being part of our community!
Volunteers are the heart of FortWhyte Alive. If you’re looking to get involved you can learn more about volunteering at: fortwhyte.org/support/volunteer/