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Naturalists protect, improve the area

By Linda Langdon

Volunteering is a way of giving back — to our society, our community or to people in need. It is the unselfish giving of ourselves and our time to a cause we hold dear in our hearts, a service done of our free will with no thought of reward or reciprocation. The act itself is its own reward.

Such are the thoughts of members of one of our state’s little-known volunteer groups, the Virginia Master Naturalists. This is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, service and outreach that benefits our state’s woodlands, wildlife and waterways — and it does so in the communities in which we live.

There are currently 29 chapters divided geographically around Virginia, and there’s a local chapter based right here in Isle of Wight County, the Historic Southside Chapter.

Our chapter is engaged in various projects, but one in particular that I would like to highlight here is our “bluebird box monitoring project.”

This project, which just been completed for its third, is a collaborative effort with members of the Isle of Wight Ruritan Club. Our volunteers build, install, and monitor man-made boxes that provide an artificial habitat for nesting eastern bluebirds and provide them a safe place to lay their eggs, brood, and raise their young.

The beautiful eastern bluebird is a native species of Virginia whose population was declining due to habitat loss and competitive invasive species, but efforts like these have created resurgence in their numbers.

Following a protocol established by the Virginia Bluebird Society, our volunteers check the boxes once a week during the laying season, April 1 through the end of August.

During their visits, they check on nest-building activity, the number of eggs laid and the number of chicks that hatch and eventually fledge.

The data is carefully recorded each week, and at the end of the season, the results are compiled and reported to the VBS, where it becomes a permanent part of their records. Our “citizen science” volunteers are helping to document the vitality and growth of this native species in our state.

In the three years we have engaged in this project, we have provided a safe haven for the bluebirds that has resulted in nearly 800 chicks being fledged and growing up to live among us in our community. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

This is just one of the ways that the Historic Southside Chapter contributes to our local environment, but there are many more. To find out details about our chapter and our activities, check out our website at vmnhistoricsouthside.org.

If the volunteer spirit moves you to learn more about your environment and take action to protect it, you can take our classes and become a member. Classes are held once a year beginning in February. See our website for further details.

Linda Langdon is a Virginia Master Naturalist volunteer. For more information about the Historic Southside Chapter, email Beverly Ruegsegger at bevruegsegger@gmail.com.