Tom Romito contributes a personal remembrance of the five-year Rocky River Important Bird Area survey from 2006-2010.
Can you imagine how I felt when not one person in my chapter showed any interest in conducting an avian survey after two years of promoting it? I felt like I was leading a charge, looked behind me, and nobody was there.
Once I got the ball rolling, though, people fell all over themselves trying to get on the bandwagon. They just needed someone to take action.
Who were the heroes of the project?
Dan Petit, Stan Searles, and Jerry Tinianow enabled the project to happen. Dan was Chief of Natural Resources for Cleveland Metroparks, Stan was Curator of Ornithology for Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Jerry was Executive Director of Audubon Ohio. They brought the brains and know-how to the table. I brought a free labor force.
“I’m ready to get Western Cuyahoga Audubon to survey the Rocky River Important Bird Area,” I said to Dan. “Does that interest you?”
“Interest me? I’ve been waiting for someone to step up and do this!” Dan says. “How many people do you have?
“Sixty,” I say. My response almost made Dan speechless. “Well, let’s get to work then!” he says.
2008 & 2009...
Recruiting volunteers to attend a planning meeting was not too difficult. What followed after that was. Dan had to show us how to conduct a scientific survey.
To do a good survey, we had to use 65 points. I saw right away that I needed help knocking down all those points. So I recruited eight people from Western Cuyahoga Audubon who were able, willing, and available and trained them to be point finders. Then I divided up the points among them, and they went out before the end of May to find their points. They did this not once, but five years in a row.
Twelve observers and recorders went out year after year and actually conducted the survey, turning in their data sheets to our coordinator, Diane Sigler, whom Cleveland Metroparks hired. Among doing other things, Diane compiled the data and fed it to volunteers who inputted it to a database.
We needed money to do all this and we used some traditional fund-raising methods to raise it, such as our annual appeal letter and Christmas dinner silent auction.
Taking this one step further, Stan Searles bravely announced that he was going to walk the 31-mile length of the Rocky River Watershed’s East and Main Branches once a year to raise awareness of the IBA and pledges for the miles he walked.
“I’ll be darned if I’m going to let you do that by yourself,” I said. “I’m going to do it with you!”
Stan seemed to be ready to go from Day One, but I had to condition my body. I didn’t attempt the whole distance the first year. I thought I was ready for the second year.
“My thighs are seizing up and I think I’m in trouble,” I said to Stan and his two daughters, who were walking us, halfway through the walk.
One of Stan’s daughters, a marathon runner, said, “Take two Ibuprofen now and two aspirin in 20 minutes.” As soon as I took the Ibuprofen, I surged forward like I had been shot from guns, free of pain. The aspirin got rid of my built-up lactic acid so I could go the distance.
Stan also came up with the idea of conducting public speaking engagements to raise pledges for our Ultrawalk miles. Stan and I spoke 25 times over the five years of the project to several different community organizations.
Unsung heroes of our fund-raising efforts were the Western Cuyahoga Audubon board members. Piggy-backing on the Stan’s Ultrawalk idea, Mary Anne Romito conceived of another way of raising money by seeking pledges. She and other board members went out and counted birds in the three days before the Ultrawalk each year. We called this Ultrabird.
Between Ultrawalk and Ultrabird, we earned $1,900 each year to help defray thed costs of the IBA project.
Jerry Tinianow of Audubon Ohio lended the support of the greatest conservation organization in the country, the National Audubon Society. Jerry saw to it that Western Cuyahoga Audubon received critical funding for equipment we needed to conduct the survey.
2012 & 2013...
What nobody knows except the Western Cuyahoga Audubon board is that I led much of the project while I was ill. The early years, 2006-2008, went pretty well for me. I managed the IBA survey, held down a part-time job with a local health care agency, and facilitated strategic planning with several conservation organizations.
Then in December 2008, I got shingles. Lots of people get shingles, and I weathered the attack. Statistically, though, only ten percent of people who get shingles get post-herpetic neuralgia, and I was one of them. This is chronic nerve pain that can linger a long time. I suffered for the next three years, relying on pain medication just to get through each day.
I wasn’t about to let this malady stop me from achieving my vision of the IBA survey. I soldiered through it, attending to everything I had been doing before the attack. Then in 2011, I learned of a method for dealing with the pain called electric nerve stimulation. I underwent surgery and received an implant that eliminated the pain and stress I had.
Nobody was more relieved that I had overcome my distress than the members of the Western Cuyahoga Audubon board. They had endured my often cranky behavior.
As Stan memorably said, “What a difference an operation makes!
Tom Romito is President Emeritus of Western Cuyahoga Audubon serving from 2003-2014. During that time, he planned and organized a five-year breeding bird survey in the Rocky River (East Branch) that involved 100 WCAS members and friends. Through this survey, WCAS provided Cleveland Metroparks with data it is using to bolster grant proposals to preserve private land in the Rocky River watershed. Still a board member, Tom is also a facilitator and helps organization that want to grow. He is passionate about climate change, the healing art of reiki, Native American culture, and birding.