To further recognize the accomplishments and dedication of volunteers who contribute to our science and conservation work, VCE has created a new annual award–VCE Community Scientist of the Year. We are pleased to present the inaugural 2020 award to Jason Crooks, Mountain Birdwatch community scientist extraordinaire!
Mountain Birdwatch (MBW) community scientists go above and beyond, typically contributing 30 hours of their time each June to the project. MBW surveys start before dawn, so observers customarily hike in the evening before and camp overnight. The 2020 season, however, had a wrench thrown into its works by the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, many trails (e.g., the Long and Appalachian Trails) and management units (e.g., Mansfield State Forest) were still closed to all overnight camping. Backcountry shelters and lean-tos are often required for overnight stays in the mountains, and the risk of virus transmission was just too high. Needless to say, these restrictions—appropriate and logical as they were—greatly complicated MBW surveying efforts.
Although MBW participation fell to its lowest level since we started keeping track in 2001, one observer still managed to safely and compliantly survey three routes. If you didn’t encounter him during your day hike this past June, you’d be forgiven—you’d have needed infrared goggles and a much earlier start to see Jason Crooks hiking up a couple of his routes at 3 a.m. Four hours later, Jason was on his way back down, before most hikers had even hit the trail.
This dedication is far from new for Jason; he has annually surveyed multiple MBW routes since 2007, and he currently surveys a route on Worcester Mountain (elevation 3293’) and two routes on Mt. Mansfield (4393’) with his stepson Sage. Jason also conducts annual surveys through our Forest Bird Monitoring Program, and he monitors a falcon nest up on Mt. Mansfield’s Nebraska Notch as part of Audubon Vermont’s Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.
Jason seeks solace in nature from his home base of 12 acres in Westford, Vermont, with his wife, Michaela, whom he met during Peace Corps operations in Africa. Jason and Michaela strive to be good stewards of the land to ensure that all pieces of the ecosystem remain intact–when they’re not paddling, digging in their big garden, or tending to their bee hives.
When asked why he participates in MBW, Jason replied, “I love being out in the woods. Why not spend time there not only enjoying, but gathering data for valuable long-term studies? I look forward to spring each year, partly because I know I’ll be sitting quietly on a mountainside listening for my avian friends to return.”
On behalf of VCE and the birds, thank you Jason, and congratulations.