Board Chair Kathleen Van Der Aue Honored for “Patient and Purposeful” Collaborations on Behalf of Birds
March 30, 2021 — Kathleen Van Der Aue, the chair of Connecticut Audubon’s Board of Directors, has been honored by the Connecticut Ornithological Association with an award named for Connecticut Audubon’s founder, Mabel Osgood Wright, the pioneering conservationist who in many ways inspired Van Der Aue’s own conservation work.
The Connecticut Ornithological Association gives the Mabel Osgood Wright Award each year to a person who has made a significant contribution to the knowledge, study, and conservation of birds. The association was founded in 1981. The Mabel Osgood Wright Award is its highest honor.
Wright founded the Connecticut Audubon Society in 1898 and created Birdcraft Sanctuary, in Fairfield, in 1914. She was a prolific author and an influential national leader during the early days of the bird conservation movement. For Van Der Aue, she has long been an inspiration.
“Certainly the roots of our love of nature and so forth are entwined,” Van Der Aue said of Wright. “She’s someone I admire enormously.”
Introducing the award at the organization’s annual meeting on March 20, association President Christopher Loscalzo called Van Der Aue a “passionate advocate for birds and the environment.”
She is the third conservationist associated with Connecticut Audubon to receive the award, following Patrick Comins, who is now Connecticut Audubon’s executive director, in 2007 and Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull in 2008.
A retired lawyer who lives in Southport, Van Der Aue has logged more than two decades as a volunteer for causes related to the protection of birds.
Before being elected chair of Connecticut Audubon’s Board in 2018, she was on its Fairfield Regional Board for more than 20 years. She is also a member of the bird banding team at Birdcraft Sanctuary. In addition, she monitors endangered birds, particularly Piping Plovers and Least Terns, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is an ongoing contributor to the Connecticut Bird Atlas.
“We are so thrilled that Kathy is being honored with this prestigious award,” Comins said. “We have long known how valuable Kathy is to the birds and birders of Connecticut and this award spreads the word about her great work and could not have gone to a more deserving candidate.”
The Connecticut Audubon Society presents its own Dave Engelmann Benchmark Award to outstanding volunteers at its annual meeting each fall.
Van Der Aue serves on the association’s board and is the immediate past president. She worked with the group to get the state to preserve the rain pools that serve as shorebird gathering places at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Loscalzo said Van Der Aue’s “patient and purposeful” collaboration with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were instrumental to that outcome.
Van Der Aue said building a relationship with the agency was her most important accomplishment with the organization. As a result, the state was persuaded to give birders and photographers pre-dawn entry to Hammonasset. Now both can visit during prime birding hours, when the park is otherwise closed to the public.
The group also persuaded the state to create a bird viewing area at the East River State Boat Launch in Guilford. Van Der Aue said it was a matter of showing the agency that birders shared its interests.
“I find that if you’re reasonable with people, they tend to be reasonable,” Van Der Aue said. “It’s having the patience to find common ground and get people working together.” — by Liz Acas