by Anne Miller, President of Alabama Ornithological Society
Birders all over Alabama were shocked and grieved at the sudden death in November, 2015, of Maureen Shaffer, who was a diligent worker and indispensable member of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Ornithological Society (AOS) and also the Birmingham Audubon Society (BAS). She was currently serving as Chair of the AOS Meetings Committee, and she frequently led field trips during AOS meetings on Dauphin Island. Maureen was also Past President of Birmingham Audubon, and was serving as Chair of the BAS Field Trips Committee and the Archives Committee, as well as being an active member of the Education Committee, the Communications Committee, the Alabama Birding Trails Committee and the Conservation Committee. Maureen participated in the Breeding Bird Survey (including nightjar surveys) for many years, and was one of the count leaders in the Spring and Fall Counts in Birmingham. In most years she also participated in Christmas Bird Counts in Guntersville, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and Gulf Shores.
Maureen and I had great adventures together scouting the back roads and natural areas of Alabama for the Alabama Birding Trails project, which was sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department and directed by the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development. The first region we worked on was the Appalachian Highlands, where we scouted nearly 40 sites in a 9-county area from Cherokee County to Shelby County. After that, we scouted Walker, Lamar, Pickens, and Marion Counties plus additional sites in West Alabama, before taking on the Wiregrass Region and parts of the Black Belt. Maureen always loved a road trip, and she had a keen instinct for finding the best local barbecue restaurants as we traveled around the state. She had a large collection of county maps, and her deep knowledge of Alabama birds was matched by her willingness to attend to the nitty gritty details of planning and carrying out each successful scouting trip.
Every year in spring and fall Maureen rented a house on Dauphin Island for the AOS meeting, and we shared it with dear friends like Mike and Joan Russell, Susan Barrow, Jean Folsom and Kathy Freeland. Besides serving as Co-chairs of the Meetings Committee, Maureen and I enjoyed leading AOS field trips to Leroy Hill’s Farm to look for Whimbrels, and we loved picking up lunch at Captain Frank’s Barbecue Shack in Bayou Labatre, which we usually devoured in the park in Coden, overlooking the water. For four years we also shared a cabin with my great-niece Eva Ledvina at the Birmingham Audubon Mt. Workshop, and Maureen and I also participated in Jimmy and Sierra Styles’ ‘Frogging by Ear’ workshop in the Conecuh National Forest, as well as Birmingham Audubon field trips too numerous to count, but rich with memories. Maureen loved the natural world, and she loved so many of her fellow nature lovers, especially birders—a feeling which was recognized and returned by many in the birding community throughout the state. Maureen gave of herself generously, and all of us who knew her benefited richly, myself most of all.
Tributes from Maureen’s AOS friends around the state have been pouring in. Here are some of them:
“. . . Maureen would staff and stock the wine and beer bar on Friday and Saturday nights. In return for each beverage, cash donations were made to Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuaries, Inc. in support of their habitat conservation efforts on the island.
This meant a lot to me, because I knew what the task of operating the cash bar entailed – purchasing the items ahead of time, transporting several heavy cases to and from the site of the evening gatherings, being there early to set up and serve the beverages, etc.
Maureen, I shall miss you dearly, and remember you always. My thanks for all that you did for DIBS, and for me personally. May the Good Lord “raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Rufina and Ken Ward:
“. . . Maureen had been so helpful and so generous of her time. I appreciated her assistance when Ken and I couldn’t be at Dauphin Island to pick up dorm keys and/or talk to DISL folks. I knew I could always count on her for anything; she was so giving.”
Jimmy and Sierra Styles:
“. . . We were so sorry to hear about Maureen’s passing. The ‘Frogging by Ear’ workshop was one of so many wonderful times I feel so fortunate to have spent with her.”
“. . . I only knew Maureen through AOS meetings, but she seems like an old friend because I’ve known her so long, at least 25 years. We have truly lost a good person, and a tireless advocate.”
Dana and Stan Hamilton
“. . . She was a very fine person. We knew her first from work and later from birding. She was always kind, generous, and welcoming.”
“Maureen, you were the best of friends. Thank you. I will never see or hear a bird again without feeling your spirit with me.”
“. . . Maureen was one of my favorite people. She always made me feel welcome and appreciated and she always had time for me. Thank you, Maureen, for sharing yourself with me, and everyone.”
“. . . I was one of those beginner birders she was so kind to help. I will miss her.”
“. . . An accomplished ornithologist, you shared your knowledge and love of God’s creation, particularly birds, so beautifully. Your wit is simply unmatched and you provided me with countless belly laughs. As my Breeding Bird Survey Assistant for many years your support was rock solid and much appreciated.”
Mike and Joan Russell:
“. . . We shared many wonderful times, especially on Dauphin Island and the Gulf Shores Christmas Bird Count. When everyone else was bundled up in sweaters and coats, there you were in a short-sleeved shirt and sandals, and finally we figured it out: you had such a warm heart!”