Editor's Note: After learning about serious allegations against Jason Ward, the National Audubon Society has severed its ties with him.
A fortuitous glimpse of a Peregrine Falcon eating a pigeon sparked Jason Ward’s fascination of birds at the age of fourteen. These days, you can (more often than not) find him leading a bird walk with a pair of binoculars and a shirt that reps his home of the South Bronx.
Students in the Bronx Junior Photo League, a free photography and journalism program for middle and high school students at the Bronx Documentary Center, are at that age where their current interests might turn into lifelong passions and careers. This past fall, students in the program joined Ward, then a Fund II Foundation apprentice at Audubon, and staff from NYC Audubon for a day of birding and snapping photos of birdlife on Governors Island.
Going to Governors Island was a first for both the group of students and Ward—it was the students’ first time on a bird walk, too. Together, the group spotted a Double-crested Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gulls, a flock of European Starlings, and even a Red-tailed Hawk having lunch.
Chloe Rodriguez, one of the Governors Island visitors, has been developing her photography, writing, and research skills in the Bronx Junior Photo League for seven years. Now a junior at the High School of Art and Design, Rodriguez is already a Scholastic Art & Writing Award-winning photographer with plans to pursue a career in photojournalism. Though her main interest lies in covering social justice issues, she is also eager to learn the techniques needed to create bird photography and says she plans travel to back to Governors Island to snap photos of wildlife.
“I have learned that photographing birds is very intricate and requires a lot of patience,” Rodriguez says. “Nature is underappreciated in New York sometimes, but it is everywhere. Everything has a connection to nature and photography is a medium that connects the public to their natural environment.”
Ward’s goal as a naturalist is to increase his community’s awareness of the natural world. Leading a bird walk for kids that grew up where he did is a major accomplishment.
“I started off this bird walk by saying, ‘If you can hear me say, ‘yerrrr,’’ a greeting specific to Bronxites,” Ward says. “I am proud to be from the Bronx, and connecting students with a similar story, to wildlife, was a bucket-list item.”