Category Archives: Get Involved

Making Inclusive & Equitable Access to Nature Real

A Q&A with Meghadeepa Maity, Organizer of Arcadia’s Sitting Duck Award-Winning Team

This year’s Bird-a-thon included a new competitive birding award: the Sitting Duck for most bird species observed while remaining in a 25-foot circle. The West Team took home the award in an intentionally inclusive event organized by volunteer and avid birder Meghadeepa Maity.

We talked with them about the big win, their commitment to making nature accessible and safe, and how this aligns with Mass Audubon’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

Meghadeepa Maity
Meghadeepa Maity

Why was organizing an intentionally inclusive event so important to you?

I am a fierce advocate for safety, accessibility, and inclusivity in the outdoors, especially in birding spaces. Among other things, I facilitate the Anti-racist Collective of Avid Birders; I am a Birdability captain; and I am a co-coordinator for the Murmuration Project

I believe that anti-oppression work can’t go far without deconstructing systems and institutions that aren’t built with BIPOC, disabled folks, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and trauma survivors in mind. It’s all too easy for those with privilege or power to say that they aren’t explicitly exclusionary, then absolve themselves of responsibility. In this regard, Mass Audubon is an institution that has shown great humility, initiative, and a commitment to taking actionable steps to diversify the outdoors.

On a more personal note, many facets of my identity have historically been excluded from the outdoors, and often make traditional birding communities feel uncomfortable or inaccessible. I appreciate how invested Mass Audubon is in building equitable access to nature, and wanted to use Bird-a-thon as an opportunity to show community members how powerful outdoor spaces can be when one is intentional with their efforts to make it inclusive.

What were the results of the inclusive stationary count circles you organized for Bird-a-thon?

We had almost 70 participants—we welcomed people who dropped by for short stints over the 24 hours of Bird-a-thon, so I don’t have an exact count. Ages ranged from 4 to 88 and fell within an incredible spectrum of racial, gender, and disability identities. Some had been participating in Bird-a-thon for decades, while others had never attended a birding event before.

Those birding from the 25-foot wide, wheelchair-accessible circle at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton spotted 77 species. The Feminist Bird Club (Boston chapter) was impressed by our inclusive initiative and decided to help rack up our species total by setting up their own stationary counts on the coast, adding another 25 species to the tally. So, we observed 102 species total, and we raised $1,300 for Mass Audubon.

It was exciting to have this all recognized with the first ever Sitting Duck Award. No matter how you want to measure it, this event was groundbreaking and an epic success.

Group of people and chairs in a circle at Arcadia.

What did you learn from your organizing during this year’s Bird-a-thon?

In birding spaces, the presumption is that being a competitive birder and an inclusive birder are mutually exclusive. For Bird-a-thon this year, I’d set out to prove that inclusion works, even when success is measured using traditional metrics. It meant a lot to have the support of the West Region’s Bird-a-thon organizing team to prove this hypothesis. I was humbled by the number of people that came out for our event. It’s easy to forget that you’re an introvert when you’re surrounded by people who believe in you!

I learned that I don’t have to give up competitive birding to make space for everyone outdoors. In order to meet our accessibility goals, our count circle was located in pretty unremarkable habitat (in many birders’ opinion), but I found my lifer Yellow-billed Cuckoo from our little corner at Arcadia!

You can try to separate anti-oppression from conservation efforts, but the reality is that we are better together. I hope that we’ve set an example that will become a Bird-a-thon tradition, and will be trending within Mass Audubon and in birding communities across the country.

Mass Audubon and the West Region team are grateful to Meghadeepa for their leadership and bringing so many into the joys of birding throughout the year and during this year’s Bird-a-thon.

Lily with goats

In Your Words: Lily, Age 18

Lily is a goat volunteer at Habitat Education Center in Belmont. If you’d like to get involved at Habitat, check out the award-winning Habitat Intergenerational Program (HIP), a volunteer community service and learning program that connects people of all ages and enables them to participate in environmental service projects together.

Volunteer Lily with the Habitat Goats
Volunteer Lily with the Habitat Goats

As a city high school kid with an interest in the environment looking for volunteer opportunities, it was clear to me that Mass Audubon would provide the experience in nature that I have always craved. Goat tending at Habitat Education Center in Belmont is unique, hands-on work that has brought me closer to nature than I’ve ever been.

There are plenty of rewarding and demanding chores to be done each day, from keeping the feeders stocked with hay to sweeping and scooping manure, but running the goats from their greenhouse home to the meadow is one of the most thrilling parts of being a volunteer.

All passersby love to watch as three or four of us run alongside the herd of six chubby goats, with the person in the lead shaking a tin can of pellets while trying to keep ahead of the two alpha males. Although they often seem quite lazy while basking in the sun for nearly half the day, goats don’t mess around when it comes to treats!

Habitat’s resident Nigerian Dwarf goats provide ecological care
Habitat’s resident Nigerian Dwarf goats provide ecological care by clearing several acres of meadow land each year, reducing carbon emissions, and removing invasive species.

While I have an important job to do as a volunteer, the goats have their own mission: they are perfect “meadow mowers” in the summer. They eat invasive plant species and poison ivy and help to trim down woody plants in the meadow.

The goats certainly have unique personalities and traits. Lily is often dubbed the “roundest” goat by many visitors. Jacob sometimes requires a little more encouragement and attention from staff and volunteers, but he cracks us up when he won’t budge or refuses his medicine. Kudzu brushes against us asking for a rub, and Chester loves to lead the group to and from the meadow. They never fail to keep me and the other volunteers busy.

Each week I volunteer, I gain even more experience and responsibility working with animals and interacting with visitors. Goat tending has also become less of a job and more of an outlet to unwind from my busy life of AP classes, swim practices and meets, and family responsibilities. Sitting with the goats and brushing their fur or watching them nibble hay from their feeders are the little things that make me happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!