Stanley Senner’s love of shorebirds began at Cheyenne Bottoms Refuge in Great Bend, Kansas. As a college student, he spent his summers working closely with (and mesmerized by) Stilt Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and American Avocets. Looking over his more than 40-year career in conservation, Senner credits those moments at Cheyenne Bottoms—and Peter Matthiessen’s nature-writing classic The Wind Birds: Shorebirds of North America—as the reasons shorebirds are an important theme for his work.
Last month, during the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Group’s biennial meeting in Panama City, Panama, Senner received the Allan Baker Lifetime Achievement Award for Shorebird Conservation. Named after the late Professor Allan J. Baker, one of the world’s leading researchers in shorebird conservation and genetics, the honor is given to an individual who has made similarly impactful contributions to preserve migratory shorebirds and the places they need.
During his career, Senner, who is the vice president for bird conservation at the National Audubon Society, has been integral to efforts like the implementation of the Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy, creating the Important Bird Area (IBA) program in the United States, protecting the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, combating the reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, restoring vital habitat affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and the preservation of saline lakes in the Intermountain West.
During the gathering, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Group surprised Senner by having his son Nathan Senner present the award. Nathan, a newly minted evolutionary biology and ecology professor at the University of South Carolina and shorebird ecologist in his own right, says his career path was cemented when his father took him to the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival in Alaska when he was eight. Seeing congregations of shorebirds during spring migration and participating in the festivities was his Cheyenne Bottoms moment.
“At the time, I really had evinced no great interest in birds, even though birds were a real part of the fabric of our family life: Every vacation included at least some birding; most family dinners we discussed birds; and, after dinner, there was often a family walk that almost always included more birds. My parents included my brothers and I in these 'adult' discussions and activities, as opposed to having to endure them or simply witness them,” Nathan said. “Watching the passion my father continues to bring to his work has definitely inspired his three sons and their careers in conservation.”
Nathan says he is eager to pass to his students his dad’s seamless integration of science and conservation, two things that often get separated in the academic world. Senner’s career—from his times as a U.S. House of Representatives staff member working on the passage of Coastal Barrier Resources Act and science coordinator identifying restoration needs in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, to his 18 years working across the Audubon network—is a testament that the two are actually interdependent and science can directly affect conservation efforts.
“I have always known that Audubon is my home,” Senner said. “I am fortunate to receive this award and to have spent my many years of shorebird conservation work at a place that continues to do great work during these difficult times politically and for the environment. Our work is never done.”