YAKIMA -- A Spokane couple who weather adverse conditions in pre-dawn hours for bird research were honored today as the 1999 Volunteers of the Year by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Lifelong wildlife enthusiasts Marian and Russell Frobe donate more than 500 hours of volunteer service a year to projects that advance knowledge about birds, including some neotropical migrants whose populations are in decline. The retired couple have been devoted to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) bird-banding project on the Little Spokane River since its beginning in 1996, and do the same for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.
They also conduct sight and sound surveys of birds in the Spokane area for both agencies every spring and summer, participate in the Spokane chapter of the National Audubon Society's annual breeding bird surveys and Christmas Bird Count, and lead Audubon birdwatching field trips. Since 1993 they have participated in WDFW's Backyard Winter Bird Feeding Survey.
"Marian and Russell are just the kind of volunteers we want," said WDFW urban wildlife biologist Howard Ferguson of Spokane. "You give them a task, and send them off with complete confidence they will come back with valid data. They get up at any hour and work as long and as hard as necessary to get the job done. They gladly attend training sessions and supply all their own field equipment. Not only is their dedication exemplary, but their skills and attention to detail make them stand out among our many other, good volunteers."
Ferguson explained that the "Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship" (MAPS) bird-banding project is an international effort to learn more about birds to better protect their habitat. The Frobes' MAPS work involves slogging through soaking-wet, head-high vegetation in pre-dawn hours to set up nets to catch birds. For at least six hours at a time, they quickly and delicately remove birds from nets, bring them to a work station to identify, measure, weigh, and band them, then return and release birds unharmed at the exact place of capture.
"This is a special award," WDFW director Jeff Koenings said, " because it exemplifies how the Department increasingly needs volunteers to helps us collect the biological data we need to better manage our fish and wildlife."