2017 Year in Review: Shelly Hokanson, Outreach Volunteer

It’s time to look back on 2017! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2017 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

As we wrap up 2017, one thing I realized is that no matter how much or how little someone knows about wildlife, the awe, wonder, and amazement of seeing wild animals up close is always the same. 

Take these two 2017 events, for example: the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, and the Virginia State Fair. 

In September, bird lovers from all over the area visited Afton Mountain for the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, an annual gathering of raptor enthusiasts and bird counters. Members of local bird clubs arranged a fantastic afternoon of hawk watching, and attendees scanned the skies for one of the 12 common and 2 rare raptor species that migrate through the area. This year, WCV joined in the fun. Lauren (fellow Outreach volunteer, human), Grayson (Education Ambassador, broad-winged hawk), Edie (Education Ambassador, American kestrel), and I spent the afternoon sharing Grayson and Edie's stories and squinting at the dots in the sky that we were assured were hawks. (I will bring binoculars next time!) 

In an environment where most of the people probably knew more about birds than I did, you might think that the Education Ambassador raptors were just arm candy - a common sight, or just another bird. That was not the case at all! As soon as I brought Edie out of her crate, a crowd formed around us - as if Edie was a tiny little people-magnet. There was nothing common about the looks on people's faces; eyes went wide, brows furrowed in curiosity, and jaws dropped. Words can't describe how amazing it is to watch these animals up close. Lauren and Grayson similarly mesmerized the crowd, and even amongst the most knowledgeable of bird people, awe was the word of the day. 

In October, the Education Ambassadors were at it again, with several days of appearances at the Virginia State Fair. This was our second year visiting the Fair, and our raptors were rock stars this year - with a stage and everything! The crowds we meet at the Fair, by and large, are made up of people that are less experienced with wildlife. Many have never even seen a raptor up close! And all the same, eyes went wide, brows furrowed in curiosity, and jaws dropped. It didn't seem to matter whether it was the first or five hundredth time seeing a raptor up close; awe was the word of the day. 



I am awed myself by the experience of working with these birds up close - every time. To watch Edie bob her head on my glove and then watch the same of a bird on a wire on the roadside - it's humbling and amazing and one of the true joys of my life. When people make connections between the Education Ambassadors, the animals' stories, and their own lives, they better understand how interconnected we all are - people, wildlife, and the environment. That's one of my favorite messages in teaching the world to care about and care for wildlife and the environment. 

WCV got the message out to thousands of people in 2017, and I am so thankful to be a part of that mission. Here's to an awesome 2018!


Check out all of our year-in-review posts!