History of Augusta Bird Club (PDF), by Mary Vermeulen. (Preliminary version.)
For updated information on our activities, please see the Home page.
Ever since its founding in 1966 by Dr. John Mehner, who passed away in 2006 (see his obituary), the Augusta Bird Club has been very active in local and statewide ornithological activities. Many of its members have served or are serving on the board of the Virginia Society of Ornithology. The club last hosted the annual meeting of the Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO) in May 2000. For more historical information, see below.
From an initial membership of 30, the club has grown to over 100 members today. Over the years, club members have enthusiastically participated in the Breeding Bird Surveys, have devoted countless hours of fall hawk watching at Rockfish Gap, and have contributed over one thousand records of 131 species in the Virginia Atlas Project (1984-1989).
The Augusta Bird Club sponsors two Christmas Bird Counts each December, and sponsors regular Field trips throughout the year -- within Augusta County, to other parts of Virginia, and further abroad.
YuLee Larner has been the sole editor the second (1998) and third (2008) editions of Birds of Augusta County, following the guidelines established by the Virginia Avian Record Committee. The bird checklist derived from that book is a valued ornithological resource.
The Augusta Bird Club also promotes avian education and information through regular monthly meeting programs, as well as programs to local groups, schools and organizations by club volunteers. Recently scheduled didactic "birding classes" have been offered and well attended. For many years the club has sponsored area youth to attend Nature Camp in nearby Vesuvius, Virginia.
Membership in the Augusta Bird Club is open to all.
Meetings are held the second Monday of the month, September through April, with occasional exceptions. The usual meeting place is the Lifetime Building/Blue Ridge Community College Education Center, at Augusta Health in Fishersville.
To participate in the Shenandoah Valley Birds listserv and keep up-to-date on local sightings, go to the following web page and follow directions: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shenvalbirds/. Or, e-mail John Spahr at jspahr_AT_yahoo.com. *
Our Rare Bird Alert provides telephone or email alerts when unusual birds are sighted in Augusta County and vicinity. For more information, contact Allen Larner at larnersky_AT_mindspring.com. *
For more information on our activities, see the respective pages on this Web site. NOTE: E-mail addresses on this Web site are modified so as to prevent spam. Just replace the "_AT_" with the standard "@" symbol.
Dr. John Mehner founded the Augusta Bird Club (ABC) in 1966, three years after his arrival at Mary Baldwin College. This marked the first time that birds in Augusta County had been observed on a consistent, systematic basis. Two of the ABC charter members, YuLee Larner and Isabel Obenschain, audited Dr. Mehner's course in ornithology in 1968, and later joined Dr. Mehner's "traveling ornithology class" in 1973, along with Dorothy Mitchell.
In its very first year of existence, the the Augusta Bird Club participated in two bird monitoring programs. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), a roadside survey designed to monitor population trends of land birds, is conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also, the first Christmas Bird Counts in Augusta County were held in 1966, and continue to be sponsored by the Augusta Bird Club to the present time.
In 1972, bluebird trails were established throughout Augusta County, as club members and others put up nest boxes and took care of them. The estimated total of fledged bluebirds from 1972 to 1987 exceeded 10,000 and by 1998, the total estimated since 1972 exceeded 16,000. Because the Bluebirds have made such a successful comeback, record-keeping of this species is no longer a high priority.
Expertise in the location and identification of birds and enthusiasm for field work developed rapidly. The first local records were primarily the sightings of Ruth Snyder, Mozelle Henkel and Isabel Obenschain. Snyder sent regular reports to National Audubon Society's journal, American Birds, which is now called Field Notes. Later on, YuLee Larner assumed primary responsibility for this important function, and as Records Chair, she currently sends records to Field Notes.
In 1976 a small group of birding friends started to informally gather at various spots including Rockfish Gap to watch hawks in migration. John and Mozelle Henkle, YuLee Larner, and Isabel Obenschain were among the most active in this endeavor. Brenda Tekin is the current chair of the Rockfish Gap hawk watch, and does a truly phenomenal job in coordinating that annual activity with the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).
Several ABC members became very active in the Virginia Society of Ornithology, including Mozelle Henkel, YuLee Larner, Dr. John Mehner, Isabel Obenschain, Ruth Snyder, Julie Russell, and Leonard Teuber. YuLee Larner was asked to be the editor of Virginia's Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist, and to have it published in time for the VSO's 50th anniversary in 1979. It was considered an almost impossible job to be the chief compiler of a huge amount of scattered records. YuLee Larner followed that legendary achievement up by becoming President of the VSO from 1982 to 1984.
The Augusta County Bird club has published three editions of Birds of Augusta County, in 1988, 1998, and 2008. The 1988 edition was edited by YuLee Larner and Dr. John Mehner, and both the 1998 and 2008 editions were edited by YuLee Larner alone. Thanks to a number of new species discovered in the first Breeding Bird Blitz (1998), the species count in the 1998 edition of Birds of Augusta County had risen to 292. That publication is recognized as setting a high standard for recording the birdlife of a county in Virginia. Larner follows the highest quality assurance standards for accepting records for the Birds of Augusta County, and only those records accepted by the Virginia Avian Records Committee (VARCOM) are included.
Over the past decade, membership has grown steadily, and new club members have taken the lead in observing bird wildlife in our area. As a result of Allen Larner's almost daily sweeps of the county and the efforts of other members, the 2008 edition of Birds of Augusta County has a species count of 307, and 900 new records that "beat" those in the second edition.
(NOTE: The above paragraphs are excerpted from the much more detailed History of Augusta Bird Club (PDF), researched and written by Mary Vermeulen. It is a preliminary version, and updates are expected soon.)